x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Emirati sailor Adil Khalid set for a memorable homecoming

It will be a dream come true for Azzam's Emirati sailor when yachts, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, enter Abu Dhabi harbour on Wednesday.

Azzam gets unloaded from a ship on Tuesday.
Azzam gets unloaded from a ship on Tuesday.

Here they go again, with an alluring twist.

The five yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race will sail from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi, a five-hour voyage that many sailors would call a day but these elite round-the-world types call a "sprint".

It will begin in Sharjah this morning and conclude in Abu Dhabi to great fanfare in mid-afternoon, the first crescendo to the third port of the nine-leg, 39,270 nautical mile race.

It will award six points to the winner and mark a first in the 38-year history of the maritime marathon.

This unprecedented, 98 nautical mile, flat-out, makeshift sailing segment was hatched from fears about piracy, which caused the two-part fragmentation of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. Cape Town to an undisclosed port became stage one of Leg 2, and today's 98 furious miles through the Arabian Gulf becomes stage two.

"It is unique. It's exciting," said Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper.

"Well, it's a sprint, isn't it? And it's going to be windy. A nice distance, a hundred miles, a big test of speed for the boats, I think. It's just going to be a blast down the coast."

It represents a daydream come true for Adil Khalid, the 23-year-old Emirati sailor who is part of the crew aboard the Walker-led Azzam.

Intermittently since winning his crew spot last January, Khalid has spoken of envisioning the sailboats entering the Abu Dhabi harbour for this inaugural Arab stopover.

Now the recent days in the UAE have flung some star trappings to Khalid's life, as the media-visible sailor fields questions from people who know him well and from people who walk up even though they have barely met him.

"All my friends, so many people coming to Abu Dhabi, they're like, 'Best of luck!'" Khalid said.

"I saw so many people from university, from college, I don't even know.

"They said, 'Adil, how was it on the boat?' 'What happened to you?' 'What is the craziest moment on the boat?' 'What is the time you were most scared, most excited?'"

Some of them pat his lean gut, shorn of five of its prior kilograms.

Beside him yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Destination Village stood two fellow Emirati sailors, younger men who underwent Khalid's tutelage in previous years and who laughingly brand him a demanding "monster" out at sea.

As instructors for youth training ongoing at the village, both will watch intently today.

"I will feel I am proud, and I will want to be there, and I want to be representing in the boat," said Omar Al Nuaimi, 20.

"Absolutely I will feel so proud of this, because it's my country," said Omar Al Hammadi, 17. "I hope I could represent my country as well as Adil. Inshallah, someday I will do that."

During Leg 2, Khalid found surprise. As he explained, never had he spent more than five days at sea, but the 16 days that made his expression legible with apprehension at the outset, wound up seeming shorter than 16, he said.

The team in general found exasperation, finishing fifth among the five boats that completed the Cape Town-to-secret-port segment and piling new urgency upon both this sprint and the in-port race of January 13 in Abu Dhabi.

Arriving 15 hours behind the winner and overall race leader Telefonica, which actually held last place early in the race, left Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing sitting on 17 points, fifth of the six entries.

Telefonica has 61 points, seven more than Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand, while at the other end of the table with four points remains the Chinese entry Team Sanya, absent today after detouring to Madagascar for rigging repairs.

"It was just frustrating, really frustrating, a very bizarre leg," Walker said.

"We didn't really see any other boats."

They began in the lead, then lapsed to the back, then regained a "nice lead" by Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Walker said. "And then we were frustrated, bashing up against the trough. Got dumped in the trough."

The deficit yawned beyond 100 miles, where Abu Dhabi coped for days until the calm-winded doldrums of the equator, where some brief surges turned out "just a tease, enough to touch and feel and believe" it could catch some of the others, Walker said.

"Mentally, a pretty tough leg," he said, especially for a boat that retired from Leg 1 after its mast broke.

"Otherwise," he said, "the boat seemed to go all right. Got back in one piece," one piece readying for Abu Dhabi today.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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