x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's 'Azzam' sailing through early success

Azzam skipper Ian Walker says 'This is first step in a very long process' as the Abu Dhabi Racing's Azzam finish second at event near Ireland, reports Gary Meenaghan.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, right, get an early edge during the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Daniel Forster / Rolex
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, right, get an early edge during the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2013 on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Daniel Forster / Rolex

Record intact and challenger defeated, the Azzam skipper Ian Walker proclaimed himself pleased with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's performance in this week's Rolex Fastnet event off the southern coast of the UK.

The UAE-backed sailing troupe finished second overall in their class on Wednesday, despite the event attracting its largest fleet in history and Walker using the race primarily to test potential crew members vying to fill one of the two under-age-30 slots for the Abu Dhabi boat in next year's Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).

Esimit Europa 2 claimed monohull line honours in what has grown into a prestigious biennial international sailing event since its inception in 2005. The 611-nautical-mile race around the Fastnet Rock, located off the coast of County Cork in Ireland, attracted teams from Russia, Europe and North America.

"For us in this race, it was much more about learning," Walker said. "We tried lots of new people, including a lot of young guys. Half of our crew were under 30, so while we were very pleased with the effort and performance, this is just the first step in what is a very long process in trying to create a winning team for Abu Dhabi."

If the result was not crucial, ensuring the Abu Dhabi-branded monohull finished ahead of its fellow VOR rivals was the target among those on board. And if the record the team set on its competitive debut in 2011 remained unbeaten by close of competition, even better.

With less-favourable weather conditions, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's 2011 time of 42 hours, 39 minutes was never threatened and the Slovenian race winner finished almost 18 hours off the record.

Team SCA of Sweden however gave Walker and his crew a relentless fight. The pink yacht, which will feature an all-female crew when the round-the-world VOR gets under way next October in Spain, appeared to have the upper hand early on as it sneaked past Azzam during the night, before slowly building up a five-mile advantage.

Walker and his band of young mariners, however, fought back and with 100 miles to the finish only one mile separated them.

"We led for a while, but let them slip through in the night and then had to grind them down over the last three or four hours," Walker said. "It was a great fight, though, and we are delighted to beat them, especially as they have a very strong boat."

As well as a number of young sailors, the Emirati Adil Khalid returned to Azzam after taking time off from training to spend with his wife and newborn son.

"It was a big challenge to have so many people who aren't familiar with the boat to race it they way we wanted to race it," Walker said. "But Adil really pleased me by picking up right from where he left off after the last race. He clearly hasn't missed a heartbeat."

Meanwhile, Oman's 70-foot catamaran Air Musandam finished third in its class. Raiya Al Habsi, the first Omani woman to compete in the Fastnet race, called it "an amazing experience".

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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