x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Walker happy with fourth place for Azzam

Normality restored at In-Port Race in Cape Town following forgettable first leg.

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team were fourth in Cape Town's In-Port Race on Saturday.
The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team were fourth in Cape Town's In-Port Race on Saturday.

CAPE TOWN // A fourth-place finish in Cape Town's In-Port Race on Saturday left Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing slightly further from the overall lead but one sail closer to overall normality.

Like its five rivals in the Volvo Ocean Race, Azzam will begin Leg 2 from here to Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and it will begin at the intersection of ready and eager.

"The boat feels great," said Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi skipper. "We're right back to where we were in Alicante. We're pretty excited about the next leg."

Alicante, Spain, was the outset of this nine-month, 39,270-nautical mile journey, and there Abu Dhabi won the In-Port Race on October 29, while the Spanish entry Telefonica finished last.

In the 42 days since then, Telefonica has hoarded both Leg 1 to Cape Town and the Cape Town In-Port Race, becoming the chic boat of the moment with the early lead on 37 points.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, suffered a broken mast on the first evening of Leg 1, on November 5, retired from the first leg on November 11 and spent the days in toilsome repairs and reworked plans before Saturday. For a telltale start under resplendent sunshine in winds that started at around 17 knots, Abu Dhabi opted for what Walker called a "more conservative" path, which "wasn't the right call in the end".

Softening winds on the first leg justified the approaches of those who started at the other end, Walker said, and the race became all about the Telefonica-Camper-Puma half-fleet.

Telefonica scurried to the early lead, lost it to the comebacking Puma near the first marker, then retook it just after Mark 4 when Puma "blew our kite up at the mark," skipper Ken Read said.

That led to a bit of a risk to compensate, and from there, with Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand also overtaking Puma to grab second place, form held in a steady westerly wind sometimes passing 25 knots.

"The fleet sailed a pretty solid race," Walker said. "It was hard to overtake anyone. It was a follow-the-leader course."

He said Azzam primed to capitalise on mistakes but that, "there weren't any".

Telefonica finished in 52 minutes, 55 seconds, with Camper trailing by 43 seconds and Azzam some 1:19 from the lead. Puma held third to tie Abu Dhabi at nine points (and fourth place) in the overall table, while France's Groupama and China's Team Sanya held fifth and sixth. With all of that, Telefonica and Camper continued their early gaudiness, sitting on 37 points and 34, respectively, ahead of the 5,430-nautical-mile trek to Abu Dhabi, which will include a detour to load the fleet onto a ship out of pirate concerns.

"It's important for us to do well here in Cape Town after struggling in Alicante," Iker Martinez, the Telefonica skipper, said, while choosing a general caution over excitement. And while Read took blame for Puma's reaction to the ripped spinnaker, he said: "The boat did its part today. I think we might have let the boat down a little bit."

Seeing as how Puma arrived by ship from the remote Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha only on Tuesday night, and used its spare mast and plenty of its spare parts already, it counted as helpful to relearn it was fast.

With Abu Dhabi in similar circumstances even while sailing the wrong side as it developed on Saturday, Walker concluded: "Yeah, we're good, I think."


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