PORTOFINO, ITALY // Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team officially unveiled their state-of-the-art Volvo Open 70 racing yacht yesterday.
The sleek, black, 14-ton yacht carried the "Abu Dhabi" script logo on its hull along with a falcon, the UAE's national emblem.
Jamie Boag, the team director, took the microphone at the waterside and extolled the nine months of "engineering, phone calls, e-mails, blood, sweat, tears, happy moments, difficult moments" that culminated in the unveiling in the Italian Riviera.
In less than four months' time, a crew of 11 will begin to sail Azzam around the world in the 39,000-nautical-mile Volvo Ocean Race.
"Unique," said the Australian bowman Wade Morgan, who first saw the yacht several months ago before it even had its deck on.
"Powerful and raw," said the Englishman and double-Olympic medal-winning skipper Ian Walker, who saw Azzam through every stage of evolution.
The yacht took more than 49,000 man hours to construct. Walker added that it "just looks fast. Kind of powerful. It's quite an unusual shape".
Adil Khalid, the 22-year-old sailor chosen from more than 120 Emiratis, said: "My dream. And it should be number one. We need to be first. To win this event. It's a dream.".
With the boat unveiled, the team will now undergo its last sessions of training in Europe.
They come together after spending the past several months around the world, engaged in various aspects of preparation that include practices and yacht development.
As the upcoming edition of the Volvo Ocean Race unfolds, Abu Dhabi will play host to teams in the first half of January 2012.
The race begins in Alicante, Spain, on November 5 and the final leg, from Lorient in France to Galway, Ireland, starts on July 1 next year.
"I want to sail her in more wind," said Walker, who has sailed Azzam four days so far. "It feels great. The steering feels great. The systems work well."
Walker added that a crucial test tilting the boat brought success. "Fundamentally," he said, "the boat has to be strong and light. And I know that it is very light, and I believe that it is very strong."
From the experts assembled, it drew praise for its open cockpit, its unusual flatness, its sails that allow easy crew-member movement, its flush deck that briskly disperses water - which at times can weigh a ton-and-a-half.
"Well, you know, coming from a sailing perspective, I'd say it's probably the most radical design, from what I can see, in the race," said Nick Dana, an American media crew member.
"You don't know till the boats all line up in Alicante [for the first leg on November 5] but I think [Bruce] Farr [the American designer] has tried to set themselves apart here and try different things."
"Unique," Morgan said. "I saw her many months ago and the deck wasn't really on," and he noticed "an aggressive hull shape", "full in the bow" and a "very different deck layout to a lot of other boats".
Yet the most elated face belonged probably to Khalid, who joined with fellow Emirati sailor Butti Al Muhaira of the shore crew for a photo opportunity with the UAE flag during the ceremony.
His eyes beaming, the 22 year old said of the boat: "It's just a different world. You cannot say anything. This is your life. This is your home for the next nine months."
October 29: In-port race, Alicante
October 30: Pro-am race, Alicante
November 5: Leg 1, Alicante to Cape Town
December 11: Leg 2, Cape Town to Abu Dhabi
January 14, 2012: Leg 3, Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China
February 19, 2012: Leg 4, Sanya to Auckland
March 18, 2012: Leg 5, Auckland to Itajai, Brazil
April 22, 2012: Leg 6, Itajai to Miami
May 20, 2012: Leg 7, Miami to Lisbon
June 10, 2012: Leg 8, Lisbon to Lorient, France
July 1: Leg 9, Lorient to Galway