x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Attention to detail vital to Slattery on the Azzam

Justin Slattery's experience makes him an important asset to the Azzam crew.

Justin Slattery is part of the Azzam team competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Justin Slattery is part of the Azzam team competing in the Volvo Ocean Race.

As an antithesis of laziness, we find the 37-year-old Irishman Justin Slattery, a human being so unafraid of work that even elite sailors marvel.

That is rare praise, given the tireless nature of their ilk.

The sailors of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam speak glowingly about Slattery who, with what The Irish Times once called "the arms of a prop and the body of a scrum-half", doubles as accomplished bowman and unwitting role model.

The former distinction rings with his integral part in ABN Amro's win in the 2005/06 Volvo Ocean Race, while the latter comes from somebody Slattery didn't even know until lately. Butti Al Muhair, the 27-year-old reserve Emirati sailor, himself a bastion of diligence and labour, reckons that if he could emulate any sailor, it would be Slattery.

Others feel likewise.

Mike Danks, the Shore Team technical manager, calls Slattery "just a good, hard-working guy" who can be "quite a funny guy when he gets into it".

Wade Morgan, his fellow bowman, goes with "super-experienced" and "tough" and then: "There's a lot of guys out there that can sail the boats but there's not necessarily a lot of guys out there that also can fix the boat and get the best performance out of it".

Slattery's ability to do just that comes from a steadfast aversion to any incompletion, especially in preparation. "You hope you would cover everything, anything that would break, and find any weakness in the boat that you can," he said.

"That's whether it's an engine part, a carbon structure. You can hurt people, damage the boat and put yourself out of the race all in one hit … When you look under the covers, there's a lot that can go wrong.

"On deck, a simple winch failure can lock you out. For some reason if you can't charge your batteries, you're toast. Then all of a sudden you have no instruments. Then all of a sudden …"

He trails off there just as he exerts routinely in part to avert whatever peril would come after that passage.

Asked for a source for his unflagging effort, this second of four County Wexford children cites his father, Jim, who with his mother, Breda, had three successful daughters and one uncommonly sturdy son.

At various times Jim Slattery, 63, managed a mill and a division of a food company. In his spare time he has, oh, you know, run some marathons.

Justin Slattery said of his parent, "there's one thing I learned from him: When you start a job, you always finish it. You've got to take on the responsibility of seeing it through … He was very much self-made. He started from scratch, himself."

It is fitting and maybe even amusing, then, that his son took on a profession, and now a race, in which the workload hardly ever ends.

Justin Slattery helped the noted adventurer Steve Fossett set the round-the-world record in 2004, but by Slattery's own admission, satisfaction could not come until he had tried the hardest race in the hardest place: the southern oceans.

In the understated tone of his genial personality, he describes those low-lying latitudes with vivid imagery such as "ten-story" icebergs.

"It could turn into 50 knots for two weeks," he said, "and you're just absolutely pushing the hell out of the boats and yourselves." So, of course, he would wind up smack amid that.

"He's a career bowman, basically," Morgan said.

"He knows all the tricks. A hard little [individual]. Justin has been around the world four or five times. He takes on his area really well."

By this summer, with that Volvo win and a third-place finish with Ian Walker, the Azzam skipper, aboard Green Dragon in 2008/09 and a Fastnet win aboard Abu Dhabi's sleek new yacht, Slattery's weekly hometown newspaper New Ross Echo wrote: "A keen young Wexford man who started sailing with Wexford Harbour Boat Club has become one of the greatest yachtsmen in the world. … Wexford has a proud maritime and seafaring history, but now the county has a hero that is leading the way on the toughest sport of all, riding high on the surf of the world's varying and demanding oceans."

And the father who believed in finishing? He never did demur when his son began sailing at 16 and opted for this rarefied career.In fact, he is full-on into it.

"Sometimes if you're not doing well," Justin said, "he'll take it worse than any of the crew."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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