x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'Painful' lay-offs for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing ahead of Leg 7

Azzam to lose eight members of shore team to leave over next two stages of Volvo Ocean Race.

Members of Azzam's shore team hard at work in Miami.
Members of Azzam's shore team hard at work in Miami.

MIAMI, FLORIDA // Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has begun scaling down, with the shore team that repairs and rebuilds the sailboat becoming gradually smaller during this seventh stopover in Miami and after the eighth stopover in Lisbon, Portugal.

The number of lay-offs of shore and support teams totals five, plus three "pre-agreed" contractual departures, according to Ian Walker, the skipper. Abu Dhabi are fifth in the Volvo Ocean Race standings, on 68 points, having suffered retirements from Leg 1 and Leg 5 after boat breakages.

"We've had a lot of extra expenses in the programme through the shipping of the boat," Walker said - from Portugal to South Africa and from Chile to Brazil. Calling the decisions "painful," he said: "It's not something we necessarily wanted to do but it was always obviously a reality we might have been facing."

While the decisions shave only weeks off the contracts of a two-year programme, the pain comes in missing the conclusion after all the work, and in general morale.

"Fundamentally," Walker said, "we're not going to have that much work to do" in Lorient, France, and Galway, Ireland, "and we've got however many people, 25 people, on the shore crew … Anybody looking from the outside would think you're crazy to take 25 shore crew when you've only got to do the in-port race. So you've got to balance the business decision against the sentiment."

"We'd obviously love to have everybody to the end of the race," the team director Jamie Boag said, "but in a modern world, we've got to run things in a businesslike fashion."

Those team members, notified at the previous stopover in Brazil, continue to work here in most cases but will miss the final two stopovers in Lorient and Galway, where the race concludes on July 7. At 1,940 nautical miles and 485 nautical miles, the closing two legs are by far the shortest in the round-the-world race.

"We're not allowed to take the boats out of the water in Lorient," diminishing the workload, Boag said. "It wasn't so much layoffs as just scaling the team back as we get toward the end of the race."

He said: "We've always planned on scaling the team down."

Spokespeople for the five other teams in the race said those teams had no similar plans.

Four of those - Telefonica (Spain), Camper (Spain/New Zealand), Groupama (France) and Puma (United States) - are inundated with the most contentious chase in race history, with only 17 points separating front-running Telefonica (164) and fPuma (147) in fourth.

Sixth-place Team Sanya (China), which had to retire from three of the first six legs with boat damage, entered the race largely for promotional purposes and inter-government relations.

"Despite our performance issues, for them [the Chinese organisers], they've achieved their objective," spokeswoman Leslie Greenhalgh said. Thus, a full-staff farewell is being planned for Galway.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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