x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Plain sailing so far at Destination Village

The capital's breakwater is being transformed into the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village, a maritime hub that will host thousands of visitors for two weeks of yacht racing festivities.

Preparations for the Volvo Ocean Race in progress along the breakwater at the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Preparations for the Volvo Ocean Race in progress along the breakwater at the Abu Dhabi Corniche.

ABU DHABI // It looks like any other building site in the capital, complete with armies of workers and cranes towering from behind the white billboards.

This time next week, it will be transformed. Thousands of people will descend on the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village for two weeks of yacht racing festivities complete with 3D cinemas, dhow-building demonstrations and international DJs.

The six 21-metre yachts taking part in the round-the-world race will sail into the capital some time during the first week of January, depending on the wind.

But today, the village still has some unfinished structures, bundles of bricks and dug up pathways.

"There are some finishing touches and they are going to level off the ground and put in some brick work," said Craig Rogers, the head of logistics for the Volvo Ocean Race. "That can be easily done in a few days."

Mr Rogers is part of the team that constructs a village in every one of the 10 ports on the race circuit and has become used to the chaos.

Abu Dhabi, he said, has been easier to manage.

"We are quite fortunate because the site was made available early. In some places, we have only six days to get everything in and that's really tight," Mr Rogers added.

The Volvo team, which travels the world assembling and dismantling the purpose-built villages, have two full weeks to complete Abu Dhabi's village.

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) finished the preparation of the site in September by installing infrastructure, pontoons and the foundations for two permanent buildings, which will be run by Abu Dhabi Sailing Yacht Club.

"We have been working with Volvo Ocean Race and all stakeholders since to ensure that we will be comfortably finished on all temporary infrastructure in time for the grand opening," said Faisal Al Sheikh, ADTA events manager.

A dedicated site for the shipping containers was an additional luxury for the Volvo team, which also had access to six on-site Customs officials to speed up the process.

"Those small things make a huge difference," Mr Rogers said. "If we lose two days of an eight-day build to customs then the 31st of December starts to look a bit difficult."

Tomorrow the team will start to unload the rest of the 80 containers that were shipped in from Alicante, where the race began.

Two sets of containers leapfrog each other and the second set, from Cape Town, will go to Sanya in China, the next stop on the circuit. The boats are expected to leave Abu Dhabi on January 14.

Within those containers are parts of pavilions, the 3-D cinema and the public attractions.

"This is without a doubt a huge undertaking. However, the team from Volvo Ocean Race has done this many times before and we have carefully planned all elements way in advance to avoid any delays," said Mr Al Sheikh.

Twenty-two tonnes of equipment is also being flown in, including TV equipment and specialist parts for the boats.

"The acid test for the air freight is if there is a unique piece of equipment or too expensive to duplicate it will go by air," Mr Rogers said. "For example, the 3D cinema goes by sea, while the 3D projectors go by air because it's that cost balance between buying a second one and finding that replacement."

Next week, things will pick up and the village will begin to take shape.

A team of 35 men travel the world erecting the two-storey Volvo Pavilion and then pack it away for the next leg.

Mr Rogers has seen 12 villages assembled and packed away. Finishing on time is within sight.

"It's close but never up to the last minute. We'll be open for 11am" on December 31, he said.

The finishing touches will be done on December 30 and the next morning there will be a final clean-up.

"With all the construction, there is a lot of rubbish created and we've got to make sure the site is cleared," Mr Rogers said.

The packing starts the day the boats leave for China. Cleaning up the site takes an average of four to five days.

"We are hoping to get an extra day here but that all depends on the shipping schedules," Mr Rogers said.

eharnan@thenational.ae