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Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew aboard Azzam are hoping for light winds and difficult sailing, conditions that favour their boat in the in-port race.
Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew aboard Azzam are hoping for light winds and difficult sailing, conditions that favour their boat in the in-port race.

Volvo Ocean Race: Azzam's final port of call has arrived

'So many things have to happen', says skipper Ian Walker, but the final in-port race is Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's last chance at some consolation glory in the Volvo Ocean Race.

 

At a news conference last month in Lisbon, Portugal, Azzam skipper Ian Walker assured listeners that nobody sails the Volvo Ocean Race to win the in-port title.

Yet now that title remains the last item in question as the round-the-world slog reaches its final day before an expected large crowd in Galway, Ireland.

As the six boats sail the in-port race Saturday at Galway, four have a chance to win the title for accruing the most points across the nine in-port events.

With the French boat Groupama already clinching the overall title on Leg 9 from Lorient, France, to Galway, sailors will hunt the last available points in the race, awarded on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 scale, with the Spanish/Kiwi entry Camper and the American boat Puma standing on 39 in-port points.

Just behind lurks Groupama on 38, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam still holding faint possibilities at 35.

"It's pretty hard because there are so many boats up there and so many things have to happen," Walker said on the race website.

"You certainly can't control it, you just have to try and have a good race. It is no coincidence that we're won the three lightest-wind in-port races because those are the conditions where our boat is OK. If we want one thing it's nice, light, shifty, difficult racing."

Abu Dhabi handily won the first in-port race and held the first lead overall, way back on October 29 in Alicante, Spain. It also won the in-port race on January 13 in Abu Dhabi for a home celebration at the third stopover, and the in-port race in Miami on May 19 at the seventh stopover.

That made Azzam the only boat with three in-port wins, but in recent in-port races, Azzam has finished fourth in Lisbon and fifth in Lorient, France, to bring its in-port deficit close to insurmountable.

After winning one of the nine ocean legs, Azzam has 125 points overall and holds fifth place in a race Groupama won with 250.

Camper could add the in-port honour to a heady campaign that has seen it all but clinch second-place overall, with 226 points, despite not possessing one of the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed boats considered the fastest in the race. "A win would be huge for us," skipper Chris Nicholson said.

And Groupama crew will try to pull themselves together again after the crescendo of celebrating.

"We are now in a position to be in front of the inshore leaderboard, so we'll try to keep the chance alive as long as possible and fight for that," skipper Franck Cammas.

"The overall result is most important, and we are very happy to win that. The in-port is not as crucial, but for sure on Saturday we will try to finish the racing as successfully as possible."

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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