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Abu Dhabi Racing's Walker wins Volvo Ocean trophy

Abu Dhabi Racings Walker wins Volvo Ocean trophy

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing quietly slipped into port at Gothenburg, Sweden on Monday, to complete Leg 9, the final leg of the race in fifth.

By James Jose (senior Reporter)

Published: Tue 23 Jun 2015, 12:19 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:12 PM

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, led by Ian Walker, sails to Gothenburg at the end of Leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race. — AFP

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, led by Ian Walker, sails to Gothenburg at the end of Leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race. — AFP

Two days to the finish, Ian Walker, on the deck of Azzam, was humming the rock classic ‘Smoke on the water,’ by the legendary English band Deep Purple.

A day later, Walker explained what a surreal final night it was at sea, in his race notes, while sinking into his freeze dried meal.

The Briton could finally afford to put his feet up and, quite deservingly too, and enjoy and live the moment. Nine gruelling months and 38,739 nautical miles on, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) and their crew had put the finishing touches to what has been an incredible journey — a journey that culminated in winning the iconic Volvo Ocean Race.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing quietly slipped into port at Gothenburg, Sweden on Monday, to complete Leg 9, the final leg of the race in fifth. That was enough anyway. Victory had already been sealed in the race, dubbed the ‘Formula One of Sailing’ or the ‘Everest of Sailing,’ some 11 days ago after finishing third in the punishing Leg 8 from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient, France.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)-backed team were assured of victory irrespective the Leg 9 result and will be crowned Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 champions on Saturday at the Life At The Extreme Awards ceremony in Gothenburg. The victory makes two-time Olympic silver medallist Walker the first British skipper to win the highly coveted Volvo Ocean Race trophy—an achievement that comes on his third attempt.

“I said before the start of this race I was confident, but there’s a hundred ways to lose this race and only one way to win it,” said an emotional Walker as he crossed the line in Gothenburg.

“Olympic medals are special but this victory is extra-special with Abu Dhabi behind us and with such a great team on Azzam. This is my second Abu Dhabi campaign and I am grateful for our backers at Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority for their unwavering support and encouragement,” added Walker.

ADOR’s win sees UAE Olympian Adil Khalid become the first ever Arab to win the 41-year-old offshore marathon, at his second attempt. “This is the greatest moment of my life. I am immensely proud for my crewmates and my country,” Khalid said.

“The Abu Dhabi flag has been flown proudly at every stopover throughout the race and now we have sealed a wonderful victory our fans in the UAE and around the world can celebrate,” added the Emirati.

ADOR had to play catch-up for much of the first section of Leg 9 from Lorient to a pit stop at The Hague in The Netherlands after being slowed by large clumps of seaweed along the Brittany coast.

The Abu Dhabi yacht made it into The Hague in fifth place after a southerly route around a 140-mile exclusion zone failed to pay off. The fleet departed from The Hague for the 460-mile second section of Leg 9 in the order they arrived, with Walker’s men setting off three hours, 53 minutes and 43 seconds behind the leader.

The Azzam crew pushed the Abu Dhabi yacht hard in flat water and strong winds on the way to the northern tip of Denmark by the time they passed the Danish town of Skagen — the most northerly headland in the entire race — had closed to within visual range of the top four.

Light winds at the finish, however, saw Ian Walker and his crew have to make do with fifth as they turned their attention to the victory celebration awaiting them ashore in Gothenburg. ADOR navigator Simon Fisher who also sailed for Abu Dhabi in the previous race confessed he was relieved the team’s victory had been sealed before the final leg.

“Both sections of Leg 9 were complex with lots of exclusion zones and we were sailing conservatively to avoid any chance of penalties,” Fisher said. “It feels good to have our final offshore leg complete and now we can plan for the celebration next weekend.”

Two of the ADOR line-up are now double VOR winners: Ireland’s Justin Slattery, who has sailed with Ian Walker on his last three campaigns, first tasted victory as part of the ABN AMRO ONE crew in 2005-06; while Australian Phil Harmer has won back-to-back races after sailing with the French Groupama sailing team in the 2011-12 edition.

“This is my fifth Volvo Ocean Race and the introduction of identical yachts has made the racing the closest of all of them,” Slattery said. “So it’s very satisfying to have won with a leg to spare.”

And Harmer added: “I’m delighted to have done the double. The VOR remains the greatest challenge in fully crewed offshore racing, so to win it twice is very special.” As well as securing the overall title, ADOR also leads the separate short course In-Port Race Series with an advantage of six points over its nearest rival, with just next Saturday’s final Gothenburg test to go.

ADOR skipper Walker said he believed achieving a double victory was a realistic proposition for ADOR. “Nothing is guaranteed in the In-Port Races,” Walker cautioned. “But we would dearly love to bring both trophies back to Abu Dhabi after the race.”


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