x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Wade Morgan is Azzam's biggest presence

Wade Morgan enjoys the variety of responsibilities he undertakes on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam.

Wade Morgan will compete on the Azzam in the Volvo Open Race.
Wade Morgan will compete on the Azzam in the Volvo Open Race.

Some people you notice and some people you do not, a quirk of life that goes for any functioning group. Among the sailors of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam, the Australian Wade Morgan might well win most noticeable.

For one thing, he is a 6ft-4ins topographical formation of a 30-year-old man, and you really have not lived until you have seen him climb a mast to make adjustments while hovering above the seas, his yacht mates barking taunts from below.

For another, his bigness of stature comes with bigness of personality, meaning he can take the usual barbs jovially, converse with aplomb, prove hospitable to interlopers and, all told, pretty much live up to the affectionate nickname by which everybody seems to address him: "Bubs".

"I never thought I'd be doing this for a job," he said one day last summer, as if dreams really do come true.

Back in his teens, with all the world's possible corrupting forces, Morgan fixated upon videos of the Volvo Ocean Race, then the Whitbread Round the World Race, which might count as corrupting depending upon your viewpoint. "If you're going to sit there and rewatch a video over and over again, it's probably something you want to do," he said.

His father, John, sails. Wade began at eight with his older sister, Julie, and they are both sailing still. He learned much on the salt-water Lake Macquarie, just a channel from the Tasman Sea.

By his teens, he already began hoarding merits that by age 18, he weathered the cut from 60 young Australians to 16 for a yacht specially tilted toward youth who would participate in the Louis Vuitton Challenge for the 2000 America's Cup.

He still rates that his foremost sailing achievement, even after a whole bale of America's Cups and Sydney-to-Hobart races that included a win and what he once called "a very traumatic second".

So even though this will be his first Volvo Ocean Race, his ease and temperament in the setting betray a veteran's comfort and a knowledge.

As the navigator and sage, Jules Salter pointed out any group of human beings living for 25 days in a confined space in a savage setting while also competing tensely would do well to boast a mix of personalities, and Azzam does have "really loud people and really quiet people", with Morgan tilting toward the former.

Still, for a debutant and a later arrival first contacted in an e-mail from watch leader Craig Satterthwaite, curiosity reigns. Morgan reminds that while he has competed fiercely in those hotly-contested Sydney-to-Hobart races, one leg of a Volvo equals 10 of those back-to-back.

"I'm most curious about, I guess, the dynamic on board with the people," he said.

"And yourself as well after 20 days. It's a long time out there, and intense for a long time. Just how well we all make it, how some people react, the highs and the lows.

"I'll be interested to see how our boat goes. The first indications are that we are not going to be slow. If you are equivalent to everyone else, you can win at sailing. If the boat's slower, you're not going to win. Everything here sort of points toward a good boat."

As he put it on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing website: "I think you need a unique personality that thrives on discomfort."

To his job as a bowman, Morgan adds a role as "boat captain," which dovetails with his keenness for construction.

As he describes it, a boat captain needs to coordinate maintenance, report broken parts and instruments and connect with the Shore Team, which repairs said broken parts and instruments.

That figures because, if not for a sailing career, Morgan probably would have opted to become a boat builder or house builder, and around Azzam you might spot him interacting with the Shore Team, making suggestions.

"I like building things," he said. "I'm an apprentice boat-builder."

He is also the grown-up version of the teenager who watched all those videos, and who senses for himself a further and unofficial role, that of helping keep things genial and light.

He does have the knack, even as his sailing CV takes another leap, his family in Australia follows online and his father is "pretty stoked," Wade said.

After all, it was only a decade-and-change ago that Morgan eyeballed videos of sailors who must have seemed like stars.

"That's pretty cool now," he said, "to go sailing with the guys in that race.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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