x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Volvo Ocean Race fulfils a sailor's long-held dream

22-year-old is due to be the only Emirati in an 11-member crew on the eight-month Volvo Ocean Race, described as the 'Mount Everest of sailing'.

Volvo Race team members seen during a practice sail near the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club last month.
Volvo Race team members seen during a practice sail near the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club last month.

ABU DHABI // The training boat went into storage for the summer last night but for two Emiratis the real training is only now beginning.

Adil Khalid, 22, is due to be the only Emirati in an 11-member crew on the eight-month Volvo Ocean Race, sometimes described as the "Mount Everest of sailing".

Butti al Muhairi, 26, meanwhile, is set to be a member of the shore crew - but he needs to be ready to take Khalid's post, just in case.

Khalid says he has always dreamed of competing in the race, and has been working hard since January when he won a slot on board the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing boat.

Although he represented the UAE in sailing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he has never before sailed in this kind of carbon-fibre 21metre yacht, nor on the open ocean.

The two sailors "are improving", says the boat's skipper, Ian Walker. "Don't forget, they had no experience when they first started."

Khalid has been working on trimming - getting the sails up and making sure they are tight enough to catch the desired amount of wind.

"It is very hard," he said. "It's like pushing a car up a hill - it's very heavy. It's not for one person, there should be six people lifting the sails."

He has the best resources and training at hand. Two weeks ago, he and al Muhairi went to the UK for a taste of what lay ahead, spending a day with a former marine who coached them in fitness and goal setting.

Khalid was told to gain eight kilograms of muscle - he will need all his strength to hoist the sails, which when fully spread are the size of a tennis court. So every morning at 6am he is in the gym for two hours lifting weights.

He need to gain not only muscle but also reserves of energy for the eight-month trip ahead. On his first long trip at sea with the team, he managed to eat only three meals over six days, and lost three and a half kilos - which is partly why he is putting away six or seven meals a day at present.

"This is serious," he said. "I saw on YouTube what can happen. Anything can happen, this is the sea we are dealing with."

His skipper knows it will be no easy task for any of the crew. Setting sail from Spain on October 31, they will encounter waves three storeys high, and 40 knot winds.

"They don't seem intimidated by that," said Walker. "There is a lot of progress but we are trying to pack 20 years experience in to six months. It's not going to happen in one month."

Under the rules of the race, sailing on the training boat stopped on March 15 and has been in use for corporate promotions since. The race boat, though, is still not ready; it is being prepared in the workshop in Italy and should be in the water by July.

Between now and then, Khalid and al Muhairi will race with their skipper in the Hong Kong to San Fernando regatta.

Walker will return to supervise the packing of the containers that will follow the team to each of the 10 ports around the world, while the two Emiratis will return to the UK to train on the open seas.

The first goal was to make them safe on the boat, teaching them to manage themselves and not break equipment.

"The second is getting the best out of them in terms of their performance," Walker said.

And they are just one of his priorities. "We can't be investing too much energy in training Adil and Butti when we need to invest all our energy in optimising the boat and the rest of the team.

"We all have to get better and we all have to improve. It is just balancing all that out to move the whole programme forward."

eharnan@thenational.ae