x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The yacht club is a small one in Volvo Ocean Race

This Volvo Ocean Race game might boast the ultimate intersection of hot competition and warm familiarity.

Nick Dana, centre, Azzam's media crew member, co-owns an old car with the bowman of Puma, Casey Smith.
Nick Dana, centre, Azzam's media crew member, co-owns an old car with the bowman of Puma, Casey Smith.

Seeking a comment from the renowned yachtsman Mike Sanderson, a neophyte reporter just burrowing into sailing (that's me) received a helpful email from a Leslie Greenhalgh at Sanderson's Team Sanya, one of six entries in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Noting the uncommon surname "Greenhalgh," this unbelievably shrewd reporter (that's just a joke) mustered the gumption to ask the idiot's question, something like: "Are you, by any chance, kin to Rob Greenhalgh?"

The question toward Sanderson, after all, would concern Rob Greenhalgh, a watch leader aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam, so it came as great fun - and continuing education - that Leslie Greenhalgh very kindly went to Sanderson to attain and relay a comment lauding the capabilities of a rival who happens to be her husband.

"This small," Mike Danks, the Abu Dhabi shore team technical manager said, holding finger and thumb close together while describing the travelling global sailing society. "The same faces keep popping up."

Sometimes they pop up in a nearby bunk on the southern ocean, and then often they pop up on a nearby boat as a rival in a marina. This game might boast the ultimate intersection of hot competition and warm familiarity.

Sanderson creatively plucked the then-green Greenhalgh for his 2005/06 team, but now would relish giving him a few defeats here and there.

Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi skipper, and Ken Read, the Puma skipper, planned to play golf Monday.

Abu Dhabi's media crew member Nick Dana and Puma's bowman Casey Smith co-own an old car.

When Sanderson got married during a stopover of the 2005/06 race in an apparent attempt to set the world stress record, all crews attended - as individually invited guests. Groomsmen included Justin Slattery, now of Abu Dhabi.

The Kiwi mainstays Stu Bannatyne and Brad Jackson shared the sailor-of-the-year award in New Zealand in 2009, having served as watch captains aboard the winning Ericsson 4. Now in their sixth go-arounds - tied for the most of all crew members in the race - Bannatyne watch-captains Camper, with Emirates Team New Zealand, while Jackson watch-captains Puma.

"By the time you've done a few races," Abu Dhabi's Simon Fisher said, "you've probably sailed with quite a lot of the guys on each boat."

All elite sports feature former teammates, current friends and lifelong loved ones seething in temporary opposition. The American basketball coach Tubby Smith once coached against his first-born son, a point guard.

When the San Francisco 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens in an NFL game three weeks hence, the rival head coaches will be brothers born 15 months apart. Should they reach the Super Bowl, that will be one overhyped pillow fight.

Still, athletes in these other games go home nightly to single-family dwellings with posh showers. They don't coexist for three-week swatches across nine-month slogs upon vessels precarious enough that, as Abu Dhabi's Craig Satterthwaite put it: "There are places on these yachts where you just don't stand, and if you stand there, you're going to get washed and smashed up."

They don't prepare shoulder-to-shoulder with the "enemy" as do these six boats in Alicante's marina.

To an outsider, the close-knitted-ness might ring almost nepotistic when it's almost the opposite.

"There's a good feeling among all teams, generally," the Abu Dhabi navigator Jules Salter said. "You have a lot of respect for all the competitors in the race because you know how hard it is. I think this is what I like about it, is there's a lot of respect."

It can go on just about forever. Observe the 1989/90 Whitbread, the race name before the Volvo became the Volvo. Aboard Fisher & Paykel, the crew of skipper Grant Dalton just could not catch up to Steinlager 2, whose crew included watch captain Kevin Shoebridge.

For years, these two Kiwi chums and rivals have joked about it, even nowadays in their employment at Emirates Team New Zealand, with its Camper entry here, for which Dalton serves as CEO and Shoebridge as COO which, given the eminence of the CEO position, you might chalk up as a suitable form of vengeance.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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