x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Azzam's Rob Greenhalgh is definitely a man's man

Rob Greenhalgh, one of Azzam's two watch leaders, is described by his crew as 'committed', 'organised' and a 'man's man'.

Rob Greenhalgh, a watch leader of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, knows what it is like to win the Volvo Ocean Race having helped ABN Amro One’s Black Betty to victory in 2005/06.
Rob Greenhalgh, a watch leader of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam, knows what it is like to win the Volvo Ocean Race having helped ABN Amro One’s Black Betty to victory in 2005/06.

Certain tree trunks might envy those upper arms, and if you cannot find Rob Greenhalgh at a given moment, Ian Walker, the skipper, might say, "Just go hang out in the gym tomorrow morning".

Greenhalgh's best friends do seem to include barbells and protein, and they do not seem to include drama and verbosity.

"He's a man's man," Sarah Burney, the physio, said of Greenhalgh, a 34-year-old English watch leader from Hamble, Hampshire. "Rob is very black-and-white. It is what it is and he just gets the job done.

"He's very, very organised. He allows for everything. He knows where stuff is. You need the first-aid kit, he knows it's over there. Because he put it there.

"I can't imagine him ever getting emotional over anything."

That is apparent when he fields a question about the telephone call that started his decorated Volvo Ocean Race career. The New Zealand skipper Mike Sanderson rang in February 2004, bestowing Greenhalgh with a job offer for the ABN Amro One team, the ultimate winner of the 2005/06 race. So, where was he when he answered? At home? On a boat? At a marina?

"Just in the UK, I think," Greenhalgh says, which while unspecific and undramatic, did rule out 195 other countries.

Said Sanderson, whose Team Sanya will oppose Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam and four others in the Volvo Ocean Race: "When I employed Rob, he was the current 18-foot and 14-foot skiff world champion. I have always felt that the Volvo Ocean Race is about bringing together the best group of fast sailors, and fast sailors equal a fast boat. The fastest boat has always won the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race.

"What better credentials than to be the world champion of two of the fastest development-based monohull classes in the world? That was the thinking behind my choice, and he proved me right, and has gone on to great achievements in the Volvo Ocean Race and outside of it."

Lacking offshore, big-boat experience at the time, Greenhalgh did count as an educated guess and, in an interview with Louay Habib of Yachts & Yachting, did recall bouts of apprehension. Asked the other day to describe himself back then, Greenhalgh said: "Inexperienced, I'm sure. … But, you know, I had the skills required. It was just a case of transferring them."

As the only Briton on a team that also featured Azzam's Justin Slattery, Greenhalgh spent time training, pumping his body from 78kg to 90kg.

Then ABN Amro One's Black Betty floundered in the first inshore race and began the offshore with a battering and a broken tiller arm. The Daily Telegraph reported that Greenhalgh arrived at the first stopover in Cape Town "with a redraw face that looked more like a mountaineer returning from high altitude."

Yet Black Betty led, and resoundingly won, and Sanderson's choice of Greenhalgh as a helmsman/trimmer got reviews as prescient while Greenhalgh's name amassed heat. With trademark effusiveness, the man's man pronounced himself "pleased with the result" to Tim Jeffery of TheDaily Telegraph and said: "I would never go out on a boat and just sail. I do it because it's competition. It's toughened me up. It's gloves-off sailing. I'd like to think I might be back."

He liked to think accurately, given his watch-captainship for Puma in the 2008/09 Volvo, just a year after skippering a winner in the daredevil Extreme 40 Series. And here he comes seven years after the telephone rang (perhaps in the UK) as a seasoned sort with a bustling CV.

He handles the crucial packing of the food, an elite sailor sitting on the floor monitoring weight, parcelling foodstuffs for each day and saying measuredly of the task: "Well, I don't know if you like or dislike, but it's something that needs to be done."

"That's a really good man," said Butti Al Muhairi, the 27-year-old reserve Emirati sailor and avid learner. "If you make a mistake, he treats you respectfully."

"Very rational," Wade Morgan, the bowman, said. "Very committed to it. Seems tough when the breeze comes in … He goes from a wild card with ABN Amro to a watch captain with Puma, from a very successful skiff sailor and dinghy guy … to a first and a second."

"I mean, I think we're where we want to be," Greenhalgh said of Azzam. "We're late starting in the campaign, but I think we've got a good boat and a good team.

"Of course," said the wily old champion, 34, "you don't really know till you get to Cape Town."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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