x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Volvo Ocean Racing crews ready to get their feet wet again

Azzam and rival boats back in the water at the Corniche.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam is lowered into the water at Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam is lowered into the water at Abu Dhabi Corniche.

Abu Dhabi // The five Volvo Ocean Race boats to have made it to the UAE capital reacquainted themselves with the water yesterday as they prepared to resume their round-the-world challenge.

The yachts had been left high and dry over the weekend but by yesterday evening, as a full moon rose, they had lined up side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side at the Abu Dhabi Destination Village.

From their weekend resting posts skyward on their cradles, they had descended by massive crane in advance of practice today, a practice race tomorrow, a pro-am race on Thursday, an in-port race on Friday and the start of Leg 3 toward Sanya, China, on Saturday.

Meanwhile the sixth entry, Team Sanya, had shoved off from Madagascar at last after two weeks of rigging repairs, with a skeletal six-man crew still seeking the points available for finishing the first stage of Leg 2.

"The boat feels good," the media crew member Andres Soriano reported on the race website, "and we are all genuinely happy to be making progress in finishing our first leg."

Team Sanya retired from Leg 1, as did the broken-masted Puma and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

However, Mike Danks, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's shore crew technical manager, said: "No problems with the boat. The boat's all good. Lots of little stuff. Nothing major."

The usual list included servicing winches and running ultrasound on the rig.

Since finishing Leg 2 with a 98-nautical-mile sprint last Wednesday, the teams have gone about the stopover drill of analysing the finished leg, studying years of weather patterns for upcoming Leg 3 and making hardware adjustments.

The Spanish entry Telefonica leads overall with 66 points, having won the first two legs, with the Spanish-Kiwi entry Camper With Emirates Team New Zealand in second place on 59 after two runner-up endings, the second by just one minute, 57 seconds after an intense, last-gasp Telefonica overtake.

As the 70-foot yachts spent days rubbing shoulders on their cradles, their human caretakers tried checking off the impossible task list.

"I think that's one of the attractions," said Camper's Chris Nicholson, a first-time Volvo skipper.

"You can never get enough done. It's plain and simple. You cannot get it all covered. It's not possible. I've always said that since day one, if we get 80 percent of things right, we'll win the race."

Experts do give them strong chances for the next leg, given the upwind nature and the Camper boat's apparent affinity for same.

Other experts - navigators - watch weather statistics on laptops in makeshift back offices at the village. Nearby might just reappear the boat designers, as with Patrick Shaughnessy of Farr Yacht Design, the American company that formulated Abu Dhabi's Azzam.

"When you research and design the boat you have, you have tools that tell you about it," Shaughnessy said.

"The tools are only so good, so we're learning about the boat as they [the sailors] are. We're all learning. We're just trying to help them out.

"Every boat has strengths and weaknesses, and you have some things you can trade against each other a little bit in how the boat's set up.

"The techniques you use to sail the boat, the direction you sail the boat, that's all a learning process. The way you use the boat will be different at the end than it was at the beginning."

Abu Dhabi stands fifth on 19 points after winning the in-port race in Spain (six points), retiring from Leg 1, finishing fourth in the in-port race in Cape Town (three points) and fifth in fragmented Leg 2 (10 points, all told).

Ian Walker, the skipper, headlined an Olympic flag-raising ceremony yesterday at the British Embassy and said, "How proud I am to lead the Abu Dhabi team. And I'll be even more proud this week, because Abu Dhabi has done such a fantastic job" with the stopover.


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