x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

After taste of big one, Azzam are hungry for more

Buoyed after winning Transatlantic leg Abu Dhabi team is eyeing more podium finishes. Ian Walker interview

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team did not lose hope and were rewarded with a win in the leg 7.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team did not lose hope and were rewarded with a win in the leg 7.

The tide has turned. At least that is the hope of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew after overcoming a tempestuous challenge to claim their maiden victory in Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race, a 3,600-nautical mile sprint from Miami to Lisbon.

Azzam, the boat named after the Arabic phrase for determination, held on against all likelihood to finish first amid a flash of fireworks over Lisbon late on Thursday.

The Abu Dhabi-backed team headed Groupama, the new overall standings leader, to realise a seemingly unattainable goal by becoming the first Arabian team to win an offshore stage of the eight-month around-the-world contest.

Now Ian Walker and his crew are eyeing further success before the race wraps up next month in Galway, Ireland. Wade Morgan yesterday spoke of his pleasure at finally slurping success after a few too many gulps of misfortune.

"We've had our share of bad luck, so to win a leg as special as the Transatlantic, one of the three big ones, is amazing and we are really stoked," said Morgan, who has sailed in two America's Cup campaigns and in three Maxi Yacht World Championships.

"It was made even better as for a lot of it we were not sailing in our favoured conditions. The extra work we had to put in really paid off."

They were only too aware of how close they came to being swallowed up by the overpowering Team Groupama yacht. With only two hours between Azzam and the finish line, their rivals had closed the gap to within two miles, but Morgan and his 10 teammates knew what was required and held on for a historical triumph.

"In the last 30 miles, we were really close to Groupama and as we hit the river mouth, we were in danger of being washed back up, so we had to act fast to avoid that. At that point they were doing double our speed, too, so it was so close," he said after helping Azzam reach the line six minutes before their rivals.

"It is amazing that this keeps happening in the Volvo Ocean Race, leg after leg: You go out to sea for 10-25 days and finish within minutes of each other. This win has been a great relief for us and has made us even more determined to keep mixing it up and pushing for podiums."

Rob Greenhalgh echoed his teammate's belief that Thursday evening's win can act as a catalyst to further success.

The Briton, recognised as one of the most talented next-generation sailors after winning major championships in everything from small dinghies to round-the-world yachts, was heralded by his skipper immediately after the race.

Now he is already thinking about the next leg, which will see the teams begin the charge from Lisbon to Lorient in little more than seven days time.

"It is fantastic to win a leg after so much effort," Greenhalgh said. "We knew the team could do it; we have a really great bunch of guys and the team really performed well under pressure.

"There are still two legs to go and hopefully we can get a few more podium finishes."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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