x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Azzam sails with new mast

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Race crew is on its way to South Africa, but caution is recommended in the absence of a further back-up ahead ahead of long the trip, says the team director Boag.

Azzam returned to the water on Wednesday night in bid to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race.
Azzam returned to the water on Wednesday night in bid to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race.

ALICANTE, Spain // There was an orange sunset in one side of the sky and a moon nearly full in the other when Azzam made her re-departure last night towards the Mediterranean Sea and possibly the Volvo Ocean Race.

Across the way, forklifts and workers cleared the remnants of a bustling international sporting event, its temporary pavilions once more skeletal.

Far from the fanfare of that event last Saturday when six yachts began the nine-month, 39,270-nautical-mile race, this send-off featured only about 30 in the autumn chill, but only those 30 knew what they knew.

Across more than 79 hours, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing sailors and shore crew and support team had seen Azzam return on Sunday morning maimed, with her mast in three chunks, then refurbished and returned to water midday yesterday with a back-up mast.

"It looks like it should," said an admiring Jo Elliott, who handles the voluminous team logistics.

Hours later, after a meeting with some of the mast manufacturer's technicians, the team director Jamie Boag hurried to join the boat that would follow Azzam partway and said, "It's great to see the boat's back at sea looking like a proper yacht, great to see our beautiful boat back in her natural habitat instead of on a cradle."

While that sentiment came at 6pm (9pm in the UAE), an occasionally nervous day preceded it. Ian Walker, the skipper, paced occasionally. Having spent two-and-a-half days high on her cradle, Azzam returned to water with her new mast, which underwent ultrasound testing to determine seaworthiness, the results set for continued study into the night.

Boag stressed the importance of caution, eyeing a possible 6,500-mile trek to Cape Town, South Africa with no further back-up mast.

Through the uncertain afternoon, the sailors and shore crew loaded up the boat with sails, with supplies and with bowman Justin Slattery carrying on a large, metal spoon, a sure sign of departure, shortly after 5. They left at 5.45pm, planning to raise the mainsail, test at sea and sail for 12 hours at six knots to reach, by race rule, the point of suspension 100 miles away. There, Walker and crew would opt to continue for Cape Town or return.

The path to 5.45 had been formidable but possibly galvanising. "It's certainly not a situation for egos and opinions," the bowman and boat captain Wade Morgan said. "There's a guy in charge in every area, you just pull in his direction and that's it."

He added: "Everyone wants to be here. I think the team's strong. I do."

And as that effort subsided, for now, Azzam left with a new adornment, a small logo on the left edge of the stern reading "Azzam", which means "determination."

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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