x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

All systems are go as Azzam set for South Africa

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team conduct final tests before the sailors pack their bags for the Volvo Ocean Race.

Preparations come to an end as the Volvo Ocean Race will be launched on Saturday.
Preparations come to an end as the Volvo Ocean Race will be launched on Saturday.

ALICANTE, Spain // Azzam went on Thursday for her final outing before she goes sailing for oceanic real.

In stout winds along the Mediterranean coast, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing motored out from the dock in the mid-afternoon to, as skipper Ian Walker put it, "check a sail and check a couple of systems".

That marked her last sail in a four-month preliminary sequence that has seen her zoom from her birthplace in Italy to Portugal, then to England for a Fastnet race victory, then back to Portugal, on various multi-day missions and around Gibraltar to Spain, where Abu Dhabi triumphed in the in-port race last Saturday afternoon, assuming the first lead in the six-boat race with a 39,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation.

The crew had thought the excursion on Tuesday might have been the last before Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race begins on Saturday and makes off for Cape Town, but Tuesday brought insufficient winds for the testing Walker sought.

With final preparations in progress, some family members who watched the in-port race then headed home for the week, began returning to Alicante for the first farewell that will send off the boats toward 6,500 miles of Atlantic Ocean duress into South Africa.

Sailors, meanwhile, began to pack, at least in the case of Adil Khalid, the 23-year-old Emirati sailor about to make his first three-week sail after a dinghy career that included the Beijing Olympics.

As he packed his vacuum-packed sets of shorts and shirts for one week each, the magnitude of his grand adventure struck him.

"Just nervous," he said, smilingly. "I'm thinking, 'What's it going to look like?' For a long time I see eight days [of sailing], maximum. And now I'm going for 25, 22 days.

"It's going to be freezing cold. Going to be wet. Going to be cold. When I'm packing my bag I'm thinking, 'Where am I going to? What am I doing?'"

He said that friends from the UAE had sent messages wishing him luck, encouragement and in some cases teasing. ("You're crazy, man!")

He also said that he has joked with Nick Dana, Azzam's American media crew member and fellow Volvo Ocean Race debutant.

Khalid, Dana and bowman/boat captain Wade Morgan are the three Volvo first-timers - although Morgan has had extensive multi-day experience - with eight other Azzam sailors ranging between one previous race (Walker) and three (Craig Satterthwaite).

As Walker prepared to do a Chinese TV interview, perhaps employing his self-proclaimed "two words" of Mandarin, he said: "We're all right. We're ready. Bags packed. I could go at an hour's notice."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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