x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Fans turn out for Azzam victory

Fans and fun-seekers alike turned out in their droves yesterday to see the penultimate chapter of Abu Dhabi's stage of the Volvo Ocean Race.

ABU DHABI // Fans and fun-seekers alike turned out in their droves yesterday to see the penultimate chapter of Abu Dhabi's stage of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Five teams set off on the in-port race - won by the Abu Dhabi yacht Azzam - with no shortage of people to spur them on.

Alison Harding, from Australia, came to the race with her husband Mark and two children, Oli, 4, and Hannah, 9.

"We haven't ever been to anything like this before," she said. "So we thought it would be a good experience for the kids, something different to do and it's a race so of course it's exciting. It's a big international event on our doorstep so it's crazy not to come and learn a bit more about it."

After the race, it was all hands on deck to prepare for today when the teams set sail for China in the next leg of the race.

Michele Bella is a sail maker on team Groupama, which won second place yesterday. He has to ensure that when officials check the boat before the race proper resumes today, everything is in top shape, with any last-minute stitching, cutting or glueing to ensure the correct sails are in place for each race.

"Sometimes there are modifications to be made, it depends on the weather or if the sails are new," Mr Bella said.

"One day's sails can be different from the next," he said. "It's all decided the night before the race."

Meanwhile, his teammate Charlie Coulborn, a boat builder, had an early start yesterday to ensure the boats were clean, free of any marine growth which could slow down its progress. "It's an important part of the race preparations," he said. "The sailors want to know they have the cleanest boat they can get."

He and the onshore team ensure anything non-mechanical is in pristine condition.

After yesterday's race, they would be ensuring there was no structural damage to the boat, and no refinements to make before the team sets sail.

Ben Wright, the team's shore manager, has been pulling together every team member to ensure today's race starts without a hitch.

Managing the day's tasks and timings, seeing who needs help, and what tasks need to be prioritised, he is the eyes and ears of the preparations.

"We're handing the boat back to the sailors so they can do their magic, so we have to make sure everything's ready, the sail, masts, rope works," he said.

After two weeks in Abu Dhabi, he said it was time for the shore team to wrap up the party, taking three and a half weeks off with the family before the next leg begins, although the team members are on call in case anything goes wrong during the race.

"We get our lives back for a short while, but this has been an amazing place to stop, so exotic and different," he added.

Watching yesterday's win by team Abu Dhabi, the fans were delighted. The Emirati Ahmed bin Salem, 28, said he would now be following the remainder of the race. "It's amazing to see your home team win. I've really enjoyed the sailing since the teams came here, but I didn't follow it before. It makes you feel proud."