x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ocean race Emirati prepares for adventure

The Emirati sailor Adil Khalid leaves behind his infant son but hopes to set an example with a successful around-the-world race.

Adil Khalid, the only Emirati crew member of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht Azzam, with his three-month-old son Abdul Raffa at the Dubai Marine Club.
Adil Khalid, the only Emirati crew member of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht Azzam, with his three-month-old son Abdul Raffa at the Dubai Marine Club.

ABU DHABI // Sacrifice, hard work and life-changing experiences are all part of the adventure for the first Arab to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Adil Khalid, the father of a three-month-old boy, hopes to be an inspiration for his young family by competing in the gruelling around-the-world yacht challenge.

At the start of the year, Adil was one of 120 Emiratis vying for a single berth on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's 21-metre yacht, Azzam.

Since then he has discovered training and fatherhood have similarities, not the least being lack of sleep. In the race, the crew will work four-hour shifts with only four hours of sleep at a time.

Adil said fatherhood had been the perfect training for such a demanding schedule. When his son Abdul Raffa was born he was awakened nearly every hour.

Adil does not believe he will be distracted on the dangerous seas, but when not grinding the sails or pulling heavy ropes he will be thinking about home.

"I want to be the role model for him," he said. "I want him to look at me and say he wants to be like me. I hope to see him some day as a gold medallist."

Adil said he had already given thought to when he would teach his boy to sail.

The UAE's flag bearer in the 2008 Beijing Olympics has made other sacrifices to be part of the Volvo Ocean Race, passing up a chance to compete in next summer's London Olympics.

Two months before the Games, Adil will be racing in the final leg to Galway, Ireland.

One of his comforts at sea will be his iPod, filled with photos of his son. He and his family will celebrate his 23rd birthday and his third wedding anniversary before he embarks on the first 6,500 nautical miles from Alicante in Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. Adil said his family was happy for him. "This is my life and this is the moment," he said. "This is a moment I have the chance to do something for my country and my family and my son. It's about sacrifices."

He said he thought he knew what he was getting himself into, but his experience on the waters off the British Isles in the Fastnet Race in August with skipper Ian Walker was the opposite of what he was used to in the Gulf, with its calm, warm waters.

"It was like a shamal," Adil said. "The waves were crashing all over the boat. Ian shouted 'bad wave', and before I knew it I was washed up the boat as far as the wheel. My life jacket blew up with four others. In one hour I used two life jackets."

Adil and his fellow crew members face other perils in this race. As they round Cape Horn, the chances of hitting an iceberg in the dark at 30 knots will keep the crew on red alert.

Although race requirements include safety courses, he found they did not prepare him for the harsh conditions he would face.

"The waves go straight in your face," Adil said. "You can't open your eyes because of the salt and the wind."

In the Fastnet, his main experience with this level of extreme sailing, Adil experienced heavy rain and high winds. He likened the training to that of special marines.

"It is harder than what I thought it would initially be," he said. "I have to give it 100 per cent in the training and in the gym.

"You lift huge sails that weigh 150 kilograms. When they're wet they can be 300kg, making the lifting twice as hard."

For now, Adil is trying for last-minute weight gain and plans to weigh in at about 80kg.

"It's interesting. You have a son, you plan for your son's future," he said. "Will he be an athlete and a sportsman? Either way, I will help him plan for his future.

"I will think about the race for now because this is my dream and I have the support of my family.

"If they're happy, I'm happy."

eharnan@thenational.ae