x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team scatters ahead of ocean race

Romance of the racing yacht obscures the arduous planning ahead of Volvo Ocean Race.

ABU DHABI // Spending time on the water is crucial for professional sailing teams, but logistical preparation on shore is just as important.

Since 2010, the Dubai International Marine Sports Club has been a hive of activity as the base for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Ian Walker, the skipper, has overseen the creation of one of the world's finest sailing outfits at the club, but it has become quieter in recent weeks, with the team prepping ahead of the October start of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The 70-foot training boat no longer goes out to sea, containers have been packed and international shipping documents have been signed. The 11-man crew and 35-strong shore team have been finalised and a long list of duties has been assigned.

"Since March 15, a lot has happened," Walker said. At that point, he explained, teams with a new boat for the upcoming race had stopped using their training boats. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's boat is still under construction in Italy and will be launched in July.

In the interim, the sailing team has had an opportunity to get themselves into shape - both mentally and physically. "They've had time off to see their families and time to work on strength, fitness and conditioning," Walker said.

"I've been doing spreadsheets, budgets, in the gym and spending as much time as I can with my family."

Some team members have already left the UAE, such as the crew in charge of the mast. They are working with the mast builders and testing sails in wind tunnels in Auckland, New Zealand. Packing up the UAE-based operation began a few weeks ago and it was always part of the plan to move everything as the start date neared. The race gets under way in Spain and eight months later, after stopping at nine host ports including Abu Dhabi on New Year's Eve, it will finish in Galway, Ireland. Also racing around the world are two sets of four 40-foot containers that will, between them, visit each of the ten host ports. Each set of containers has two workshops, an office and a storage area.

"We fitted those containers here in Abu Dhabi and loaded them up with a lot of what we need: tools, support boats, office equipment, sandpaper, screwdrivers - we've built it up.

"That is now all in transit. One set is going to Italy where they will be sea-trialling the boat and the other is going to Cascais - near Lisbon in Portugal." Cascais will be the team's pre-race training headquarters.

"When the race starts there is no time to pack it up and get it from Alicante to Cape Town, because the ships won't get there faster than us. We will ship from Alicante to Abu Dhabi and then what was in Cape Town will go to China. They will basically leapfrog around the world," Walker said.

"There is a whole world of boring corporate logistics that have to go to make things happen. We are running a medium-sized business that will have to operate in 10 countries. There is a whole layer of stuff people don't appreciate. Everyone concentrates on the sailors."

Walker will leave Abu Dhabi today to spend a week with the boat builders in Italy. "Its nice that we've stopped sailing. It enables us to get well organised," he said.

Yet the skipper is well aware the competition is already training in their new boats. "Would I prefer to be sailing on the new boat, yes," he said.

But that will have to wait until July, when he - and the new boat - will be en route to Portugal.

eharnan@thenational.ae