Fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's skipper says very little separates the teams who prepare for Leg 4 from China to New Zealand.
Ian Walker looking for 'that extra bit' from Azzam
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is determined to bounce back from a fifth-place finish in the Abu Dhabi-to-Sanya 4,600 nautical mile sprint in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race to New Zealand in a fortnight's time.
Having arrived in the southernmost city of the People's Republic under the cover of darkness on Saturday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – which finished eight hours behind eventual leg winners, Team Telefonica – has already begun work on Azzam, as it looks to ebb out extra speed for the 5,220 nautical mile leg to Auckland – widely regarded as the most challenging in the round-the-world sailing odyssey.
"We were happy with the way we sailed; it was a tough leg mentally and physically. If you look at it, there was only one or two per cent separating the top five yachts. We now need to find that extra bit in Azzam," said Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper.
With little historical data to call on, Walker believes Leg 4 from Sanya to 'The City of Sails' is the most difficult tactically of the entire race. Amongst many other challenges, the fleet will yet again have to negotiate the Doldrums – this time at their widest point on the planet.
"There is a lot we need to prepare for in the next leg. The opener is a long fast reaching course past the northern tip of The Philippines and then south towards Auckland which will be tough, as conditions on the open sea at this time of the year can be very unpredictable. We need to get it right tactically and be sure of our sail selection, as destroying a sail very early on is a very real possibility," added the double Olympic medallist.
"The second half of the leg will be the great leveller; we can choose to go with the traditional routes where we usually have stronger winds or take the direct route south west. Either way we need to make a decision early on and have strength of our conviction. Play it wrong, you could see massive losses. Get it right, and you'll be in the mix to win for sure."
And Craig Satterthwaite, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Kiwi watch-captain, who is no stranger to the next leg's conditions and potential pitfalls, knows that sticking to the game plan will be key to success.
"To me it doesn't matter whether you're at the front or back you still sail the same and do the same manoeuvres and same jobs and keep the same intensity. Whether it's the good times or bad times you have to keep going," said the Auckland native, who was part of the victorious 2007 America's Cup Alinghi team.
"This is not a one-day race it takes a long time so you can't give up, you have to keep going. We know what to expect and have the right people onboard to navigate us through the challenges."
Before the Leg 4 start on February 19, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – which currently lies fifth in the overall standings behind Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg – will be looking to continue its impressive in-port racing form in Sanya, having won two out of the three previous events including the Abu Dhabi showpiece in front of tens of thousands of home supporters.