Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing overhaul Volvo race contenders and smash race record to build confidence.
Skipper Ian Walker reassured by Azzam's performance on the sea
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and their state-of-the-art yacht Azzam won their class in the iconic 608-mile Rolex Fastnet Race, taking line honours and smashing the race record.
Ian Walker, the skipper, and his 10 fellow crew members got some insight on the intricacies of the newly built Azzam, and an invaluable psychological boost.
The American-designed, Italian-built, multi-national-crewed and Emirati-envisioned Azzam won the monohull division among the 314 entries in the 86-year-old race, and when the black-hulled 70-footer churned into Plymouth at 7.49am BST on Tuesday, it also obliterated the monohull record with an hour and 39 minutes to spare.
And it defeated two of its six fellow entries for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race that begins on October 29, the France-sponsored Groupama 4 and the China-sponsored Team Sanya.
"It was a fast, tough race," Walker said, "and to cross the line with the record and the honours is a big relief and shows that we are really competitive. It is a great boost for the team, both the shore and race crews, to help them feel they are part of a winning outfit. Winning can be a habit, and it is certainly a habit we want to get into."
Mubarak Al Muhairi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority which conceived Azzam and launched it on July 5 in Portofino, Italy, called it "a clear indication that all of the efforts made since launching this project have paid off and we are on course to make good on our promise of fielding a title-contending outfit."
Hitting 30 knots on a few occasions, Azzam clearly mixed it up with Groupama 4 and Team Sanya, each taking at least one turn with the lead.
An ADTA release reported that Azzam tore out to the initial lead, stretching it to two miles over the two ocean race rivals, then overhauled both in the final 20 minutes after falling behind.
Sail World reported that Azzam and Groupama 4 shared the lead, then lost the lead to Team Sanya. Azzam then regained the lead and overhauled Groupama 4 as they rounded the south Cornwall peninsula, ultimately winning by four minutes, 42 seconds, with Team Sanya an hour behind.
In assessing Azzam, Walker found it "reassuring that she can withstand a race of that pace and intensity" while noting "key learning points to take away from the whole experience."
He and his crew, including the navigator Jules Salter, who won the 2008/09 Volvo Ocean Race and joined the 100ft ICAP Leopard in setting the previous record at the 2007 Fastnet, gathered "a lot of data which will be extremely helpful as we make the final push to be Volvo Ocean Race ready", Walker said.
Azzam will now resume training off the Portuguese coast.