x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abu Dhabi sailors ride wave of optimism into Volvo race

In a year's time the 10-man Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team will be sailing into its home port to the cheers of thousands of fans in the Volvo Ocean Race.

ABU DHABI // The captain of Abu Dhabi's entry in the Volvo Ocean Race will guide his boat through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Indian Ocean next week.

It is the same journey Ian Walker will make during the competition, one year from now. But next year, he won't turn back.

His practising is all part of the preparations he, the other captains and the 10 host ports are carrying out round the world. Abu Dhabi will see its leg of the competition kick-off on January 1, 2012.

But before then, a race village and accommodations for 250,000 visitors must be assembled, said Mubarak al Muhairi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority .(ADTA).

Although the village is still being planned, it will be host to live bands and concerts, exhibitions, food stalls and areas for interaction with the boats and teams.

It is expected to bring in 25,000 spectators from abroad. Galway, Ireland, one of the host cities in last year's race, reported a boost of €55.8 million for the local economy and more than 650,000 visitors to the race village.

On the wet side of operations, Walker, appointed in August as captain of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, has done far more than just sailing.

The Volvo veteran and holder of two Olympic medals has assembled a team of sailors who helped with the boat's design. The craft, on which work began at Perisco in Italy in October, will be ready by June.

Meanwhile, he and the crew have been working together on a practice boat, shipped from the US in October. Facilities in the Abu Dhabi Sports Club now include a sail loft and the team has its own offices there.

"We had to clear out some of the obstructions in the harbour so we could get the boat in and out, and of course get enough people to go sailing," Walker said.

Walker and the ADTA are also selecting an Emirati sailor to join the 10-man team. Mr al Muhairi said more than 120 Emiratis had applied for the position, but those who don't make the cut can still qualify for the shore team. Those decisions will be made by the end of January.

"This is a very tough environment. It is nine months' commitment in the race and another year ahead. We want them to know that, and the person going on this is the representative of the UAE," Mr al Muhairi said.

Abu Dhabi will be the third host port. So far, four teams have been confirmed for the gruelling round-the-world race, including Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, backed by the ADTA.

The race starts in Alicante, Spain, on October 29, 2011, and continues along the western coast of Africa to Cape Town, South Africa on November 25. The race will then go non-stop for more than 10,000 kilometres to Abu Dhabi. The teams are expected to arrive on January 1, 2012.

The race then heads off on a 4,600km leg to Sanya, China, 600km south-west of Hong Kong. The boats' final port will be Galway, six months later.

Abu Dhabi's sailing heritage will be brought to the fore, and the ADTA says it will put the region on the world's sailing charts.

"We will make it a celebration and kick-off an initiative ahead of 2011. It is a chance to create a celebration for the city and the sailing community," Mr al Muhairi said.

The event is far more than just a showcase for the region, however, he added.

"We are really participating to be on the podium. We want to create a buzz around it."