Editor’s note: The Englishman Ian Walker again will be the skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s boat, Azzam, in the Volvo Ocean Race, which begins in October. He will write a monthly message leading up to the race.
It hardly seems possible that in 12 months we will be lapping up Abu Dhabi’s fantastic hospitality after having completed 12,000 miles of the next Volvo Ocean Race. We might be only two legs into the race by the time we get to Abu Dhabi but we will have sailed nearly one-third of the total miles and no doubt the pecking order will be well established.
I suspect 2014 will pass in a blur. A new boat, some new team members, fresh rivalries and, of course, new friendships, too. One of the things I like about the Volvo Ocean Race is the bond that links the sailors. Yes, we desperately want to beat each other, but you never know who might be the ones to help you out in a time of need, far out at sea.
It is the start of a new era with the much-talked-about one-design Volvo Ocean 65. I’ve always been a big fan of one-design and there is no doubt the race would have died without major change. But it will be sad to see the end of boat and sail development and the intrigue of which team will have an edge in which conditions. I am sure there will be frustrations at the inability to change things that do not work as well as planned on the boats, and for sure the boats will be limited in performance by the quest for reliability and simpler handling, but the up sides of a level playing field and more teams in the race are too great to ignore.
For each and every race sponsor there will be the knowledge that their team technically has the same chance of winning as everyone else, and for the sailors, there will be nowhere to hide.
I am really looking forward to sailing the new boats although I am not sure February’s sea trials will be that appealing. Certainly a long way from Abu Dhabi’s warm, clear blue waters at that time of year. I’ve eagerly listened to comments from anybody who has sailed the new boats. Rumour has it the 65s are well put together and fun to sail, but they are considerably down on sail area from the Volvo 70s we are used to. All of this, and the shorter waterline length, adds up to more time at sea but if it means better racing and less chance of gear failure then again it is a price worth paying.
I’m most excited about early February when our team assembles for the first time since 2012. We will have a nice mix of familiar faces from previous races and some fresh new blood. I not only want to win the next VOR but I also want to have a great time doing it. That starts with getting the right people involved. Neal McDonald and I have worked hard to get the balance right and with Guy Barron assembling a fantastic shore team, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing should be in a very good place. Watch this space for new crew announcements in the coming weeks.
One unusual thing for only nine months before the race, is not knowing much detail about our opposition. The one-design rule has meant teams have had more time to raise their money and there has been no need to rush to enter the race. As of now we know of only four entries. Other than us, we have SCA, which will be crewed by women; Dongfeng and Brunel. I’m confident more teams will be announced soon.
I am going to be racing in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race this Christmas with the excellent team on-board the Ragamuffin 100. It will be my third Great Race and it is always a good chance to remind the Aussies how much better the Fastnet Race is. Sadly, it looks like I will be getting some stick thanks to our cricketers, but we have had a good run for the past few years.
I am not a huge fan of New Year resolutions, but if I were to name three for 2014, they would look like this:
• To delegate more to the excellent team I now have around me
• To get fitter and stronger than ever before
• Don’t break the mast on the first night
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fans. I hope to see you in Abu Dhabi for Christmas and New Year 2014/15.
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