x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Azzam crew fighting fit for the next test

Fresh-faced members as yacht arrives in Cape Town for Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing navigator Jules Salter keeps an eye on Azzam as she is lowered from the container ship to the water after arriving in Cape Town.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing navigator Jules Salter keeps an eye on Azzam as she is lowered from the container ship to the water after arriving in Cape Town.

CAPE TOWN // As the landscape of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront got a fresh dose of black yesterday in the form of a newly arrived and elevated Azzam, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing seemed to start afresh.

Note that “fresh” part, because if any advantages can stem from missing a leg and forgoing the points in the nine-leg Volvo Ocean Race, freshness makes the list.

Sailors would rather emerge from 20-day sails looking bearded and haggard, but looking like regular blokes will have to suffice.

“It does have some positives,” said the helmsman/trimmer Simon Fisher, in his third Volvo campaign. “The sails are in better condition. There’s less work to do on the boat. There was time off to take a rest, so everyone’s sort of fresh.

“All that sort of can work in your favour. You’re less likely to feel burnt-out. In that respect, it can be a good thing.”

Ian Walker, the skipper, said: “Everyone kept going to the gym.” A plus given the scarcity of full service gyms amid the Atlantic.

Abu Dhabi’s US-designed, Italian-built boat broke its mast on November 5, then used a replacement mast to sail briefly in the Mediterranean Sea on November 10 and 11 before cautiously retiring from Leg 1 and sailing to Portugal for shipping.

During that unplanned stopover, the media crew member Nick Dana blogged about leisurely lunches and joked Abu Dhabi might bring the heaviest team.

The ship arrived to port yesterday morning, with Azzam in base camp just after midday and on her cradle by midafternoon while the sailors looked dissimilar to how they would had they sailed.

As opposed to “unrecognisable”, as Sarah Burney described the usual, Azzam’s sailors look as they did when they started. “I don’t mind a kilogram or two,” the physiotherapist said yesterday, “because they’re going to lose it” sailing.

“We don’t want them fat because then they’d lose all their fat straightaway [in the leg] and they’ll come back ridiculously skinny and unhealthy”.

Having arrived from their respite last weekend, the shore crew attended to the yacht yesterday, while the mast for Leg 2, originally the back-up, had gone into a tent for an “oven” effect, the team director Jamie Boag said.

That way, even in Cape Town’s hot-cold climate, technicians could go about curing the modifications to the rigging.

“We have to cook the rigging,” Boag said. Pointing to moderate structural changes, he said: “We think it might allow the diagonals [in the rigging] to move a little more so it just puts the diagonals under a bit less pressure.”

The original mast, meanwhile, has been rebuilt to become the back-up. All told, Boag and others felt happy just to see Azzam, which arrived before Team Sanya’s ship arrived with its stricken boat yesterday afternoon, even though the Sanya ship had a head start.

Said Burney: “It’s interesting talking to each guy. They’re all talking positively. It’s like they’ve moved on from what’s happened. You can see it in their eyes, they’re sort of keen to get out there. They’re hungry. And I think the in-port race is going to be cool.”

The in-port race is on December 10, one day before departure for Abu Dhabi, and after five days or so of curing, Walker hopes to get in some sailing next midweek.

cculpepper@thenational.ae