“With its historic and comprehensive Fastnet victory, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Azzam achieved instant international recognition for the team and Abu Dhabi,” said Sheikh Sultan. “Much work has been done to get to this point and more remains. Ian and his crew have already shown the world that Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is a force to be reckoned with and I am confident the team, and the boat, will really prove their mettle in the Volvo Ocean Race.” Walker who returns to the squad’s pre-race preparation camp in Cascais, Portugal, this weekend, insisted the Fastnet win had relieved some pre-race pressure and galvanised the team for final fine-tuning ahead of the Alicante start.
“Winning is a habit and you cannot force a winning mentality into people – they either have it or they don’t,” said Walker. “It’s fantastic to have won such a prestigious international sailing trophy on Azzam’s competitive debut; it is a reward for the sacrifices the team has already made and will continue making during the race. “We have now sailed 5,000 miles in Azzam and the Fastnet victory has really made us feel like a winning team.”
Topping the list of sacrifices the crew will make during nine, grueling months of globe-trotting of the ‘Everest of Sailing’ is Emirati team member Adil Khalid’s decision to surrender his dream of contesting a second consecutive Olympic Games to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race. Instead of chasing Olympic glory in London next summer, Adil – who represented the UAE at the 2008 Games in Beijing – has joined Azzam’s push for Volvo Ocean Race glory and is reveling in an ambassadorial role designed to help encourage a new generation of young Emiratis to take to the water.
“The Olympics would have been amazing,” said Adil. “But for me, this is bigger. From a developmental perspective, I am learning so much about the technical aspects of team sailing on Azzam, while being the first Arab to compete in this race is an amazing personal achievement for me. There will be other Olympics, but being a part of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Abu Dhabi’s debut participation in the Volvo Ocean Race is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” And Walker says though the competition in the Volvo Ocean Race will be tough, Azzam, which means ‘Determination’ is amongst the front runners. “The boat is strong and light. It is going to be a very close race between the five new competing boats. We still haven’t sailed in all wind conditions but I would say we are definitely in the race with a podium chance.”
ADTA specially commissioned the state-of-the-art Azzam which was designed in the USA and built in Italy. The authority is also building a dedicated ‘Destination Village’ on Abu Dhabi’s stunning Corniche which will be the focal point of the activities and celebrations held to mark the hosting of the third leg of the race this New Year when the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will sail into the UAE capital for a fortnight’s stay. Celebrations will include in-port sailing and a headline New Year’s Eve concert.
“This is our chance to show the world the richness of Abu Dhabi’s maritime heritage and sailing infrastructure proposition. We will not disappoint,” said HE Mubarak Al Muhairi, Director General, ADTA.