x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Azzam crew beat the clock to rejoin Volvo Ocean Race fleet

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew have their boat back in the water, with the new mast and rigging in place just in time for the in-port race at Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday.

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team's Azzam was making good speed before her dismasting. Captain Ian Walker and crew have gotten the sailing yacht re-rigged with a new mast in place in time to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race for Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi.
The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team's Azzam was making good speed before her dismasting. Captain Ian Walker and crew have gotten the sailing yacht re-rigged with a new mast in place in time to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race for Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has completed the stepping of the new mast for Azzam as it prepares for its return to the Volvo Ocean Race.

The team has been working around-the-clock in Cape Town, South Africa - the second race stopover - to step the new mast after the original broke in high winds and rough seas during Leg One off the Spanish coast - forcing Azzam to suspend its first leg bid.

The team has also installed its new set of standing rigging -a complex process that involved cables being made at its supplier's factory in Spain before being sent to Cape Town in refrigerated storage.

Curing of the rigging was carried out in a special on-site facility before fitting.

With all primary work completed, Azzam also made her Cape Town sailing debut as the team continues to refine and tune the new rigging system in preparation for the points scoring in-port race Saturday.

Leg 2 - from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi - starts Sunday.

"Azzam is back in the water and looking good for contention come the race restart," said Ian Walker, captain.

"There is still more work to be done on refining the mast and rigging, but we are committed to living up to Azzam's determination moniker and be fighting fit for our home leg to Abu Dhabi."

After dismasting and briefly re-joining the race in Leg 1, Walker and crew made the pained decision to retire to ensure Azzam arrived in Cape Town in time to complete all necessary repair work and refinement.

Azzam was subsequently shipped from Lisbon, Portugal to Cape Town in a bid to try and give the team plenty of time to repair the sailing yacht and return her to the water for the start of Leg 2.

Having analysed all data from the breakage, Walker is confident that the decision was the right one, with Azzam now back sailing.

"Retiring was one of the hardest decisions we have ever made but looking back it was the right one," he said.

"It is almost impossible to be 100 per cent sure of the primary cause for the mast failure, so we have decided to strengthen our checkstays and change the standing rigging to a replacement diagonal system (RDS).

"These modifications needed time, which forced our hand to retire from the first leg and get Azzam to Cape Town as early as possible."

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, which won the in-port race at the start of the first leg at Alicante, Spain, is currently fourth overall in the standings.

Two other Volvo Ocean Racing teams - Team Sanya and Puma Ocean Racing - were also forced to retire from Leg 1 after suffering hull damage and a dismasting, respectively.

The Spanish team, Telefonica, won the first leg and head the leaderboard with 31 points followed by Team New Zealand in Camper on 29, and France’s Groupama on 22.

"This is a long race and there are still many more legs, with many more points to take," Walker said. "The next leg, to Abu Dhabi, takes us into familiar waters.

"Whilst there is still a long way until we arrive home, we want to have done everything that can give us an edge to arrive in Abu Dhabi in first place."

And when they do get going on Leg 2, they will have some company.

The six boats contesting the Volvo Ocean Race will be protected by armed guards when they are shipped along a secret route to the UAE as part of an unprecedented anti-piracy plan, organisers said.

Because of the growing threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean they will not be able to sail all the way. Instead, the boats will be transported, without the sailors on board, on a heavy lift ship from an undisclosed port in the Indian Ocean to Sharjah in the UAE.

From there, the boats will make a short sprint to the Leg 2 finish line in Abu Dhabi.

“It was a very difficult decision but we took advice at every step of the way and in the end we were convinced we had no choice,” said Knut Frostad, CEO of the race. “We’re doing everything we can to minimise risk for the teams.”

On their way to the “safe haven port”, a wide exclusion zone will ensure they steer clear of the waters affected by pirates, who operate in a vast area off the coast of Somalia.

Organisers will not reveal the name of the safe haven port even after the boats have left as they may choose to go back to that location on Leg 3, which will follow a similar shipping route before the boats continue sailing to Sanya in China.