x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Khalid and Al Muhairi are the latest figures in the maritime legacy

The two Emiratis will spend National Day working and preparing for the second leg of the Ocean Race, but their thoughts will drift home and they will tell companions of their pride of the growth of the country.

Adil Khalid, the Emirati sailor on the Azzam crew, will spend the morning of National Day in the gym and the rest of the day working on the yacht, ahead of the stage that will end in Abu Dhabi.
Adil Khalid, the Emirati sailor on the Azzam crew, will spend the morning of National Day in the gym and the rest of the day working on the yacht, ahead of the stage that will end in Abu Dhabi.

In a way, you can measure 40 years with two men.

While a nation celebrates National Day some 7,500 kilometres to the north-east, two young Emiratis will toil on a jetty, with a high-tech sailboat, in a far-flung land where the wind blows and the seals play and the people click their tongues when speaking Xhosa.

As a gauge of a four-decade climb, the very idea that Butti Al Muhairi and Adil Khalid work in this place on this day does fit nicely.

Who in 1971 might have imagined a "reserve Emirati sailor" and "shore-team member" (Al Muhairi) and an on-board "Emirati sailor" (Khalid), manning an Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team designed to lure the world to the capital, representing a young country in a gaudy round-the-world race?

"It's nice to be there," Al Muhairi said of the UAE, "but it's nice to be here as well, because you can explain to people."

He explained to people on Wednesday when fellow shore-crew members saw his "Spirit of the Union" button and inquired. Even though he remains only 27 himself, Al Muhairi has listened avidly to his elders, so he could explain about the seven emirates and the then-new country for which those skilful crew members work nowadays.

"The second of December means, for us, everything," he said. "Change. Everything. From a hard life to an easier life. From no jobs to having a job. Food. Electricity. Everything.

"Now," he said soon thereafter, "you see people coming from Fujairah to Abu Dhabi for the celebration by car. They get there in like two hours, and there's no border between us."

So while the cars do aim for Abu Dhabi and the celebration, Al Muhairi will rise at 5am in Cape Town (7am UAE) and call his family. If he were in Abu Dhabi, he would go dhow sailing with the sail he can show you on his phone, the one with the booming likeness of the UAE flag.

Instead, he will exit his hotel in Cape Town and walk to the Virgin Active gym just up the street, fitness being part of his job description.

He will work out at those excruciating hours, and later will walk the 15 minutes or so to the base camp, where time is squeezed and preparation is intensifying as Leg 2 looms.

Another lorry backed in yesterday, and pretty much the entire team went over to unload the sails and supplies and implements.

Hauling back some hardware, Khalid, 23, outlined his National Day plans: "Work. Prepare for the race. Be here for Abu Dhabi. … Every day's a special day for us because we are here, representing the country."

So, through this big Friday, you might find them in the workshop, or out on the docks, or airborne attending to the sleek, black yacht Azzam up in her cradle, her painted words "Abu Dhabi" a part of the Cape Town scenery.

Al Muhairi and Khalid join their nation's maritime legacy at one of its cruxes, and if somebody asks the son of a dhow-sailing family, Al Muhairi, about his button, he might explain: "The people before, they were living by the boats and there was nowhere to go except by sailing. It was a tough life." He might explain about the fishing and the pearls, and then he might say, as on yesterday, "A big, big change within 40 years."

cculpepper@thenational.ae