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Abu Dhabi has been chosen as a stopover in the 11th Volvo Ocean Race.
Abu Dhabi has been chosen as a stopover in the 11th Volvo Ocean Race.

Yachts set to herald start of 2012 in Abu Dhabi

All things being equal, the round-the-world sailors in the 11th Volvo Ocean Race should make their historic first landfall in the UAE capital as 2011 gives way to 2012.

ABU DHABI // Forecasting the speed of high-tech monohulls across treacherous seas between the Cape of Good Hope and the Arabian Gulf is a risky business. But all things being equal, the round-the-world sailors in the 11th Volvo Ocean Race should make their historic first landfall in the UAE capital as 2011 gives way to 2012.

The race is due to start from the Spanish port of Alicante in October next year. Abu Dhabi was confirmed last month as one of the eight stop-over ports for the gruelling 39,270-nautical mile race which has become known as the "Everest of Sailing". The race was inaugurated in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race. It is the first time in the history of the event that a Middle Eastern city has been chosen.

A fleet of 10 to 12 yachts is likely to enter, although only six have so far confirmed participation. They will spend a fortnight in Abu Dhabi before leaving on the third of nine legs on January 14, 2012, bound for the Chinese port of Sanya. From there they will visit Auckland, New Zealand; Itajai, Brazil; Miami, Florida; Lisbon, Portugal; and Lorient, France, before reaching their final destination of Galway Bay, Ireland, in June 2012.

By then the yachts will have spent about 130 days at sea over a period of nine months. A Team Abu Dhabi boat has been entered. It hopes to challenge for Ericsson 4, the Swedish vessel skippered by Torben Grael that won in 2009. The UAE entry intends to have an Emirati sailing crew. Two other syndicates have announced their intention to race in the last fortnight Puma, the runner-up last year, and Emirates Team New Zealand, which will race under the banner of the footwear company Camper.

Camper will be skippered by the Kiwi yachtsman Grant Dalton, who was victorious in 1994 on New Zealand's entry, Endeavour. Dalton said at the official launch of his team's campaign: "I have never lost my enthusiasm for sailing around the world. The Volvo project energises our team, allows our designers and engineers to get going, while in Camper we have found a great partner." The Puma entry will again be skippered by Ken Read, a leading American yachtsman.

"The last race was an amazing journey for me personally and for our start-up company," he said. "To have an opportunity to continue where we left off is a dream come true. We are all looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead." wjohnson@thenational.ae

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