x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

No resting on laurels for crew while Azzam gets fresh tint of approval

With their early workload reduced by the new ‘one-design’ rule, the Azzam crew sampled some of Abu Dhabi’s tourist attractions after sweating it out on their fitness.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team skipper Ian Walker, far left, and the Azzam crew took part in sand boarding while the shore team was at work. Courtesy ADOR
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team skipper Ian Walker, far left, and the Azzam crew took part in sand boarding while the shore team was at work. Courtesy ADOR

Editor’s note: Englishman Ian Walker again will be the skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s boat, Azzam, in the Volvo Ocean Race, which begins in October. He is writing a monthly message for The National leading up to the race.

In the month since our sailing and shore teams came together, we have got off to a very positive start to our campaign.

While the shore team worked away on preparing our fantastic new yacht Azzam at the boatyard in Southampton, the sailing team enjoyed some of Abu Dhabi’s famous sunshine and great winter climate.

Between planning and training meetings we had some fun experiencing what Abu Dhabi has to offer; we would need more than a week to sample all its attractions.

With such a line-up of varied activities, from golf at Saadiyat Island to touring the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, splashing around at Yas Waterworld, racing rounds at Yas Marina Circuit, and an afternoon of desert adventures at Arabian Nights Village, it is hard to pick a favourite.

We are looking forward to being back in December to try out even more.

After a long sail from Cape Town on the race’s second leg, Abu Dhabi will be a welcome sight and we will be ready for some rest and relaxation with our families over the festive season.

Our sports science manager, Pete Cunningham, put us through a rigorous fitness evaluation during the first week of our coming together in the UK.

Everybody clearly knows his physical goals for the race and has plans for how to reach them.

It was no surprise that Luke “Parko” Parkinson, 23, passed the fitness tests in flying colours.

The rest of us did well but, being professional athletes, we always work to get fitter.

With the introduction of the race’s “one-design” yachts, all the boats are built to an identical standard, so our only real input has been in designing the graphics. Painting the yacht alone took more than 1,900 hours.

The new Azzam’s bright metallic paint job sets it apart from the rest of the fleet and has already attracted many admirers since emerging from the boat shed last week. Applying the sail design took a further three weeks.

After a flurry of activity fitting the keel and stepping the 30-metre-long mast, Azzam was launched on March 1.

Team members Carolyn Lashmar and Alex Wardell did the honours, jointly spraying the bow with sparkling date juice from the UAE as Azzam’s sleek yellow keel touched the water for the first time.

This is the yacht that will hold all our hopes and dreams over the next 16 months.

Training on land began months ago in the gym, but the sailing team is eager to get on the water to put the new yacht through its paces.

The plan this week is to structurally test everything on board, flush out any gremlins in the systems, check over all the sails and then, when all is ready, set sail for our training base in Portugal.

This first offshore trip is about 1,000 miles, three to four days’ sail, and will be a good chance for the crew to settle in to some routines under the watchful eye of our coach, Neal McDonald.

There will be no rest for the shore team, however, as they have to pack up everything in the UK and set up our new base in Cascais, Portugal.

A key element to master in the Volvo Ocean Race is quickly and efficiently packing and unpacking, since once the race starts we never stay in any one place for longer than two weeks.

After nearly 12 months of planning with the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and having watched three of our competitors already out there training, things are really about to get going for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and we are ready to give it our all.

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