x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Emirati sailor Khalid has both hands on deck

Five days at sea with unfamiliar faces and without much sleep or food give young Emirati his first real experience at sailing.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 9,2011: Crew members of the Volvo Race team during the practice near the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club in Abu Dhabi. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Sports Stock
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 9,2011: Crew members of the Volvo Race team during the practice near the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club in Abu Dhabi. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Sports Stock

There is more to elite international sailing than mastering the basic skills of helming, trimming and grinding. That was a lesson learned by Adil Khalid, the young Emirati who has secured a place in the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team for this year's Volvo round-the-world race.

Khalid, 22, emerged from a punishing five-day training session under the command of the team's skipper Ian Walker and concluded he still has much to learn before the "Everest of Sailing" sets off from Alicante, Spain in October.

Accustomed only to regatta competitions - when he was mostly single-handedly in charge of his destiny - Khalid struggled initially to cope with the requirement to fit into a team game, where survival can be dependent on a well-honed machine working efficiently for nine months on the high seas.

The youngest member of Walker's 11-man crew managed to eat only three meals during the five-day voyage around the northern tip of the UAE and into Omani waters. He could not persuade his aching body to take its allocation of four hours' sleep when his duty shifts were completed.

"Learning how to sleep and eat at the right times has proved very tricky so far," said Khalid, who believes he will learn much from the experience. "It all came a shock to me and I ended up feeling very tired and weak because you must eat enough food and get enough rest in order to do what you have to do on the boat."

He is confident he will deal with those issues when the team reassemble in Europe in May to prepare for the journey of 37,000 nautical miles.

"Slowly I got used to it and forced myself to sleep when I was supposed to and how to wake up on time," he said. "There are a lot of things to learn. It's a big process. Every day you find out something new."

Retaining information is vital, he said. "Once you are told something you have to make sure that there is no need to be told the same thing again. I write things down and try to learn so that I don't have to ask again. You need to remember everything.

"I have learned bow man, sailing the boat, trimming, how many degrees you need to move the sails. Tough things."

Khalid also appreciates the urgent need to bulk up physically for the demanding task that confronts him.

"I am training every day in the gym, pushing very hard to try to gain the respect of the other guys," he said.

"The rest of the crew are stronger than me because they have many years of experience and are more mature than me."

He pushes himself through the pain barriers because he knows he is on the brink of creating history in his homeland.

"I am doing this because I love the UAE," he said. "Sailing is my life. There is no time for other outdoor interests. Winning the place on the boat was my dream. I need to give everything I have to this because I'm the first local to do it.

"I want to show others that it can be done so that they do it in the future. I am trying my best to prove to them that I am worthy of my place in this special team."

Walker, who took part in the lengthy process of recruiting Khalid ahead of more than 100 other Emirati applicants, offered a cautious but encouraging verdict on his young crew member's rude awakening to the world of ocean racing.

"It was a shock to the system for him but he has got time to cope with that," said Walker, the English skipper of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority entry.

"Adil was pretty comfortable on deck when it was windy and rough but the whole aspect of managing yourself at sea, with considerations like food and rest, is going to take some getting used to," he said.

Walker is also utilising the talents of Butti Ahmed al Muhairi, who made the shortlist of three for the Emirati place in the crew. Al Muhairi, 26, has been appointed to the onshore team for the race, and will be on duty at the 10 ports of call, the third of which is Abu Dhabi at the end of this year.

Al Muhairi is also on standby should Khalid need to be replaced for any reason.

"I think we need a back-up for Adil," Walker said. "If he falls down the stairs or suffers any other kind of mishap, it is important that we have somebody else trained.

"I am hoping [al Muhairi] will push Adil to a higher level. It will be a bit of healthy competition but also support for Adil because it could turn out to be quite lonely for him at times.

"Butti will be a big benefit to the team but I think we've got a long way to go before we can consider Butti to be a capable deputy. He's not got as much sailing experience as Adil. If Adil has a huge task to get himself up to what's required for this event, Butti has an ever bigger task. But I think we've put together a good programme for them and time will tell."

Al Muhairi, whose family have been sailing and fishing for more than 70 years, is delighted to have been selected for a role in the Abu Dhabi team after losing out in the final vote.

"I knew beforehand that Adil was the choice, so it was not that big a shock in the day," he said. "Adil and I have been friends for several years so I was more proud for him than disappointed for myself.

"Then they told me that I was going to be joining the team as backup for Adil so that was brilliant."

Al Muhairi, who has given up his job as an oil production operator to work full-time for the team, is hoping the late call-up grooms him for the role of succeeding Khalid when the race is staged again in three years' time.

"That is my ambition," he said. "But I know I have got a lot of work to do to prove myself capable of doing what Adil has done."

He relishes his role as Khalid's shadow. "I have to work hard with Adil and be like him," he said. "Just in case something happens to him while the team are preparing for the race.

"I have to prepare myself into thinking that I am going. I don't want to be unprepared if I am needed. I am going through exactly the same training programme as Adil."

Walker has devised that programme and the skipper is anxious to make use of all the time available to bring the Emirati duo up to speed, especially during the two-month gap between dispensing with the training boat next week and taking charge of the new racing yacht.

"We are going to send the guys to England to do some training in rougher weather than they are used to. They will do some courses, sea survival, et cetera.

"Then they are going to come with me and do some offshore racing in Asia [Hong Kong to the Philippines] in April. We want them to spend lots of time on the water and whenever we are not doing that then spend time in the gym to get them stronger."

Walker was happy with the recent training exercise and pointed out that it could turn out to be beneficial to the team when the race comes to the region in December and January.

"It occurred to me that this is the only stretch of water of the race that you do twice so it is obviously beneficial to get to know the conditions in the area," he said.

"The wind is pretty crazy out there. We have no idea what the prevailing wind direction will be in the actual race but we've been out there to make as many notes as possible.

"We have put quite a lot of effort into how to do it, intellectually. That of course does not mean that on any given day you are going to do it better than anybody else but it must help.

"Local knowledge could be decisive in determining the outcome of two legs [Cape Town to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China] and any edge for a team then could have a bearing on the outcome of the overall race."