x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ian Walker turns his focus to Leg 2

Volvo Ocean Race: Events involving UAE capital are key, and safety concerns over pirates mean that the boat race will be interrupted from Cape Town.

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team were visibly dejected after having to retire from Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team were visibly dejected after having to retire from Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

After eager sailors spent months painting Leg 1 to Cape Town as telltale, the two legs involving Abu Dhabi suddenly become even more telltale for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

Cape Town to Abu Dhabi will tell something, and Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China, will tell still more.

The former was set for 5,430 nautical miles but will go interrupted at an undisclosed location, as safety considerations forced Volvo Ocean Race officials to arrange the loading of the yachts on to ships to pass through areas frequented by pirates.

The latter, some 4,600 miles, also has some pirate-related modifications but figures to hit the Indian Ocean as usual as it streams toward the Chinese island off the Vietnam coast.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing retired from Leg 1 on Friday while Azzam was still in the Mediterranean Sea, shy of the Strait of Gibraltar. On Monday, Azzam will be loaded on a ship going toward Cape Town, and that picturesque South African seaport will teem with even more importance than anticipated.

"It has been an agonising period but on balance we made the call that we needed enough time in Cape Town to make some modifications to our rigging," Ian Walker, the skipper, said on the race website. That means that upon arrival in Cape Town at the end of the month, a shoreside race will be on to ready Azzam for the Cape Town In-Port Race set for December 12, followed by the departure for Leg 2 and Abu Dhabi on December 13.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will arrive still sitting on the six points it won in the In-Port Race on October 29 in Alicante, Spain, while the leader by the Cape Town stopover will have somewhere north of 30 points.

As of Saturday, the schedule for next week called for four yachts and two ships streaming south. The yachts would be the French entry Groupama 4, the Spanish entry Telefonica, the American entry Mar Mostro and the Spanish/New Zealand combination Camper. The ships would carry Team Sanya, with its boat holed, and Azzam with its nagging uncertainties forged when its mast disintegrated at the effect of a wave landing two Saturday nights ago, the first night out at sea.

While the four yachts had spent recent days mining varying strategies out in the Atlantic Ocean, Team Sanya and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing never did reach the Atlantic, a galling disappointment for sailors, including Walker, who spoke of an expert's curiosity to see Azzam's performance downwind.

Azzam started out toward sea from Alicante, Spain, on Wednesday evening with a back-up mast installed, then resumed racing in the small hours of Thursday, but as it suffered light winds and dipped from 837 nautical miles behind to 955 during the first 24 hours, it sailed beneath question marks.

Walker and crew eventually decided among "a number of options" to forgo the 10 points they could have gained by sailing to Cape Town, especially as they have not pinpointed the precise cause for the original mast destruction - even while having narrowed in on strong, educated suspicions.

"If we carried on sailing," Walker said on the race site, "even if we had made it safely and our current set-up had got us there, we would probably not have the time to make the necessary modifications and really be able to race at 100 per cent in Leg 2, which is our main goal."

The rearranging of travel plans for shore-crew members already had been arduous through the last week, and that figured to continue as Azzam does reach the Atlantic at last, but only to sail achingly north back to Lisbon, Portugal, where it set up its base camp and trained for the race from mid-July up until September 28.

"Once there," Walker said, "we will have 36 hours for the sailing team to take the mast out, load everything up and put the boat on a cradle that we have built, and load it onto the deck of a cargo ship which will leave [on Monday] afternoon. It's pretty tight, but an achievable time frame which gets us to Cape Town before the end of the month."

There, another exhausting preparation chase - starring shore crew and mast manufacturers - will begin.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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