x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Volvo Ocean Race launch done, Azzam gets down to business

Now that they have her, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew are going to do their best to "break" her to get the best out of the boat in the arduous race.

Azzam, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht, has been in the waters at Portofino in Italy.
Azzam, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht, has been in the waters at Portofino in Italy.

LA SPEZIA, ITALY // Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will set sail today as the team take the next step to prepare their state-of-the-art yacht Azzam for October's Volvo Ocean Race.

The freshly constructed racing yacht, which was unveiled on Tuesday evening, will be skimming through the Mediterranean on a requisite 2,000-mile qualifying run for the Volvo Ocean Race, the nine-month, 39,000-nautical-mile slog that will begin on October 29 in Alicante, Spain.

While race organisers mandate only a continuous 2,000 miles and compel no particular route — and while the Puma team, just for one, will sail the Newport-to-England transatlantic race — Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will cross from La Spezia, in northern Italy, wheel around Gibraltar and finish up in Cascais north of Lisbon in Portugal.

The trek will take probably seven to 10 days, depending on conditions.

"We just decided, 'Let's go out with it now, deal with it now,'" said Nick Dana, the American who, as media crew member, will videotape and chronicle the journey.

"If there are any issues with the boat, then we have time to deal with it before we go race in the Fastnet in August. It also gives some of the guys on the shore team a bit of a break, because they've been going hard for the last nine months."

The nine-month construction process took an estimated 7,000 man-hours of design and 49,000 man-hours of building before the official launch ceremony in the tranquil village of Portofino in Italy. The three-month process ahead will entail a different brand of chore.

The prodding of the new boat had begun in earnest even before the Mediterranean test run, with an exemplary session on Monday causing fret and then relief with a tilting of the boat to a 50-degree angle to simulate conditions that would be present in a capsizing.

"The boat passed the test, which is very pleasing," Ian Walker, the skipper, said, calling it "a very tough test".

Now, Dana said, the mission entails piling on more punishment.

"We've got a very hectic couple of months coming up," he said, "because we've essentially got to go about and try our hardest to break the boat, because that's what we'll have to deal with in the race."

Curiosity among the experts runs high because, for one reason, the American-designed, Italian-crafted yacht is "kind of a later build," Dana said. "Some boats have been in the water for two or three months already, testing. So, yeah, we're going to push it hard for the next three-and-a-half months."

Once up into the Atlantic Ocean and on to the coast of Portugal, Cascais will become the team's training base for the remainder of July, the whole of September and the frenetic lead-in of October, while August will bring an excursion to the United Kingdom for the Fastnet race.

Because of the schedule the team are not expecting very much time off in the near future.

"Haven't had a day off in a month," said Wade Morgan, the bowman and captain. "It's a big job, to commission a boat like this. They're very technical."

Asked about his last day off, he grinned and said: "I don't count."

And as the notoriously bland foodstuffs lay ready in the cabin - "Tabasco sauce helps", Morgan said - and the veterans prepared for another of their familiar journeys, the 22-year-old Emirati, Adil Khalid, told proudly of his 22-day-old son back in the UAE and of his indoctrination into the rhythms.

"You get used to it," he said. "Sometimes you sleep two hours, you wake up. Sometimes you sleep an hour and you jump from the bed. You need to have your mind busy all the time."

Engulfed in the voluminous amount of learning, he said, he anticipated the draining process alongside "the best crew, the best navigation, the best everything".

That crew planned to leave today for another nascent phase of the first Abu Dhabi entry in the race. Said Dana, "I think once we leave to do our 2,000-mile qualifier, that kind of signals the beginning of the boat."