x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Azzam's shore team has miles to go before they sleep

Just as they were looking forward to some much needed rest, the Azzam shore team are back at the dock and on the clock.

With the broken mast still in place, it's all hands on deck and dock for Azzam's shore team and sailors as the prepare the replacement.
With the broken mast still in place, it's all hands on deck and dock for Azzam's shore team and sailors as the prepare the replacement.

They had primed themselves for a needed break. Now the Azzam shore team is back at the dock and on the clock.

Their eyeballs did not dangle from their heads literally, but let's not dwell in technicalities as they labour through a concentric circle of fatigue, both deep and jarring.

Last Saturday night, they fanned out into the compact city centre of Alicante, primed for rest and frivolity and trips home after months of grinding work on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's yacht Azzam.

Monrday afternoon, they worked still more, having unpacked the camp containers they had packed so giddily on Saturday.

"They're broken" with exhaustion, their manager, Mike Danks, said. "You wind yourself up for a rest. You work so long on something.

"My eyes are hanging out of my head. You just try to keep positive that you can still do good. They're just running on empty. Just trying to hang in there."

They are the shore team, about 20 strong all told, and they are probably the utmost revelation for any novice learning the game, with motorsport pit crews a worthy comparison.

They all know sailing and they all can sail, yet in this domain they do not, customising boats shore-side while the sailors, themselves the opposite of lazy, lure the attention.

Watch them long enough, and you can feel happy for them when their beloved nemesis sails away and they reacquaint themselves with their lives.

Danks, for one, hurried to meet the guys on Saturday night when his telephone rang. Jamie Boag, the team director, said the rig had broken, five hours out on the first night of Leg 1 of the long-awaited Volvo Ocean Race.

Danks thought it a prank.

"It can't be," he thought. "Can't be. Rigs just don't fall down."

Yet after Azzam returned on Sunday morning with its mast in three chunks, they had reappeared, heads down and challenged eyeballs focused upon mast issues and stanchion repairs, this after unpacking the machinery, the support furniture, everything they had packed on the weekend.

"Those are all grotty jobs," Ian Walker, the skipper, said. "You just finish all of that and somebody says you've got to open it up and do it again."

The boat builder, Tim Collen, his passage booked for two weeks home in New Zealand, instead wore the kind of white suit one might wear into a nuclear plant. Will Best already had flown home to the UK, so at least the electrician could return with fresh electronic stuff. Tim Sellars, an engineer, amid dinner on Saturday when the telephone intruded, said: "You felt sick, basically. You felt sick in the gut. Everyone all felt sick in the gut."

Issues quickly flared.

Should Azzam motor to nearby Cartagena or return overnight to Alicante? (Alicante, given the infrastructure in place.)

Could they find the lorry driver who hauled the spare mast toward the Netherlands for storage during the race? (Yes, but even that wrought a little drama as they found him north of Madrid; not only was it lucky he had not departed Spain, limiting the paperwork, but Knut Frostad, Volvo race chief executive, had to finagle a Sunday return, not easy in Spain, the lorry driver saying that in 30 years he had never driven on a Sunday.)

In some sense, Danks said, only a fool would not expect breakdowns.

"It's just part of this race," he said. "It's just how this race is. They're so light, and they go so fast. And when you race, the pressure is on to keep the hammer down."

He knows in his bones and his brain. In 2005, he held the same job at Pirates of the Caribbean when that boat nearly sank in the Atlantic on the first night, when they had to help pump water out of it and, well, "When there's laptops floating by you, that's bad."

Then, during Leg 2 from Cape Town toward Melbourne, he fielded a 4am phone call from skipper Paul Cayard, learnt the hull had broken again in a way unrelated to the first, and (deep inhalation): flew five hours from Melbourne to Perth, drove six hours from Perth to Albany, Australia, spent 40 sleepless hours making a "steel thing", slept four hours, drove six hours to Perth, flew five hours to Melbourne and attended his sister's wedding the next day in New Zealand.

So this misfortune falls under the heading of not-as-bad-as-that, even as he and those around him churned in toward a hoped-for Wednesday evening re-departure.

"Then the shore crew will sleep," he said. "A lot."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Chuck Culpepper on @DubaiChuck