New Azzam yacht gets rave reviews from crew as it sails for first time
The new Azzam, a 65-foot carbon racing yacht with which Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) will contest the Volvo Ocean Race 2014/15, has sailed for the first time with the crew, led by British double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, in sea trials off England’s south coast.
Backed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, the Volvo Ocean 65, whose name means “determination” in Arabic, was launched at the Williams Shipping facility in Southampton Docks after being transferred by barge from builders Green Marine in Hythe.
Before sailing, Azzam underwent a mandatory safety test on the complex hydraulic system that controls her 4.7-metre long canting keel. The test required Azzam to be hauled over by her mast to an angle of about 45 degrees before the hydraulic pumps lifted the keel and its 3,500-kilogram lead bulb clear of the water.
The ADOR crew strained to wind the winches and to pull Azzam on to her side while listening carefully for any untoward noises.
“She’s as strong as she is beautiful; those are gargantuan loads and she shrugged them off with ease,” Walker said.
Having passed the pull-down test, Azzam was put through a day of careful sail testing in the confines of the Solent Straits before the experienced international crew were satisfied enough to embark on two days of more rigorous sailing in open water.
Azzam is one of seven identical Volvo Ocean 65 yachts being built for the Volvo Ocean Race and the fourth to take to the water ahead of the race start on October 4 in Alicante, Spain. The ADOR sailors were unanimous in their praise of the yacht they are relying on to get them quickly and safely around the 63,000-kilometre course that includes a stopover in Abu Dhabi over the 2014/15 Christmas and New Year festive season.
Abu Dhabi navigator Simon Fisher, who spent much of the first day’s sailing studying Azzam’s performance data, said he was impressed by the initial numbers.
“We were doing over 20 knots in around 15 knots of breeze today, and that’s without really trying too hard. It’s great to get the first sailing time under our belts and it gives me a chance to start gathering valuable data from the boat,” Fisher said. “Every time we go sailing from now until the start of the race, we will be monitoring, measuring and analysing every little detail about how the boat performs. For now, though, we’re off to a great start.”
“On first impressions, I would say this new design is quite a bit tippier than the Volvo Open 70s, which contested the last race, and we will have to learn new ways of sailing to get the best out of Azzam by race time,” bowman Justin Slattery said.
Azzam’s first sail saw Emirati Olympian under-30 sailor Adil Khalid return to action after recuperating from a hand injury.
Khalid, who took part in the last race, said: “It’s great to be back with the team. The new Azzam looks as good as she feels to sail.”
With Azzam under his command, Walker is keen to move the ADOR campaign into the next phase and has put his crew on standby to sail the 1,600km to the team’s training base in Cascais near Lisbon, Portugal.
“The sailing we’ve done this week has given us a great deal of faith in our new Azzam,” Walker said. “It’s fantastic to finally have her to ourselves and we can’t wait for a bit of open water sailing.”
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