x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The calm before the storm hits the Volvo Ocean Race

The National visits a quaint Italian village for the unveiling of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's new craft.

Adil Khalid, left, and Butti al Muhairi, Emirati members of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team yacht, participate in a practice run.
Adil Khalid, left, and Butti al Muhairi, Emirati members of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team yacht, participate in a practice run.

While the Volvo Ocean Race that will begin in late October and persist for nine bloated months will rank among the more gruelling human exercises, the Abu Dhabi team will mark a milestone on Tuesday evening in one of the least gruelling places on the planet.

The keenly anticipated new yacht which Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's (ADOR) 11 sailors will inhabit and navigate around three oceans and six continents will arrive here on Tuesday afternoon, then preen quietly to a group of well-wishers here in a place so picturesque it has earned replications in Japan and Florida.

Here in this gumdrop of a village where a finger of the Mediterranean Sea comes in to say hello with bobbing little boats and lounging cafes in a U-shape around the quay, and where about the only jolting matter would be the staggering taxi fare from the nearby tourist enclave of Santa Margherita that must qualify as some sort of world record for taxi-meter accumulation speed, the new creation will materialise.

Having touched water last Thursday just up the coast around several bends at La Spezia for a six-day testing and commissioning period, it will have left La Spezia at 6 am on Tuesday for the 48-kilometre trek to Portofino for its unveiling.

Here by early evening, it will reveal its colours and take on an official moniker in a naming ceremony, with the name chosen from an Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-sponsored contest.

Built since last winter by the Italian company Persico, the boat will appear parked beneath the second-floor-level Il Pitosforo restaurant, which juts out from the edge of the row of storybook Italian buildings and looks down upon the quay. That will precede a tour by skipper Ian Walker, a spin around the water for the benefit of photographers and a celebratory dinner.

As for the gruel, that will begin on October 29 on another edge of the Mediterranean in Alicante, Spain, with conclusion predicted for early July in Galway, Ireland.

For the launch, the ADTA has chosen a place almost unearthly in its escapism.

The 493-strong village of Portofino, noted for its uncommon perfection, rests around curvy sea-edge roads from Santa Margherita, which rests a slow train ride through the sea-edged tunnels from Genoa, the city that sits about 70 kilometres southwest of Milan.

With its village and its cafes nestled among the cliffs, Portofino looks like a daydream and sports an unusual confluence of vegetation, with palms tucked here and there amid the myrtles and butcher's brooms and heathers, not to mention the nearby pine woods, chestnut woods, olive groves and vineyards.

The area is so small and serene that as of last evening amid about 75 small boats beneath quietly overcast skies, the three yachts of gigantic size looked out of place when parked beneath the restaurant in the place where Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's vessel will turn up on Tuesday.

Contrasting with a launch site of so little bustle that you can hear the water lapping harmlessly at the shore, and where it seems surprising to find a no-trespassing military zone at the end of one side of the walkway, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has been something closer to frenetic of late.

As one of at least six teams that will make a race that will alight in Abu Dhabi itself at the new year, ADOR has spent the non-sailing time preparing both in Italy and in England.

In Italy, as Walker noted last month, it has settled on sail types while using 25 years of weather data to "optimise our routing solutions, which can be a painstaking process".

In the cold and unsettled waters around England, meanwhile, the Emirati team members Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi have trained. ADOR will be Abu Dhabi's first entry in the 11-year-old event.

It will launch in tranquillity.