Abu Dhabi team virtually have Volvo Ocean Race in the bag

Abu Dhabi team virtually have Volvo Ocean Race in the bag

As Walker and his crew docked Azzam at the port in Lorient, France, in the early hours of Thursday morning, the Briton was yet to come to grips with what he and his team had just accomplished.



By James Jose (senior Reporter)

Published: Fri 12 Jun 2015, 12:17 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:13 PM

ADOR completed the punishing Leg 8 from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient in third place - Supplied photo

After 142 days, three hours, 48 minutes, 40 seconds and close to 39,000 nautical miles, in what is effectively a ‘sink or swim’ race, it hadn’t sunk in just yet for Ian Walker.

As Walker and his crew docked Azzam at the port in Lorient, France, in the early hours of Thursday morning, the Briton was yet to come to grips with what he and his team had just accomplished. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) have virtually won the gruelling Volvo Ocean Race, dubbed the ‘Everest of Sailing’ or the Formula One of ‘Sailing.’

“It has really not sunk in yet,” blurted out Walker, the double Olympic silver medallist. “When we passed the finish line, we all went quiet and asked ourselves, ‘Is that it?’” he added.

ADOR, backed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Cultural Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) completed the punishing Leg 8 from Lisbon, Portugal to Lorient in third place. Having finished in the top three in seven legs out of the eight meant ADOR, except for any hiccups in the last leg, will lay their hands on the prestigious trophy in Gothenburg, Sweden, in two weeks time.

Only a last place finish and two penalty points in Leg 9 can deny them in what would be a worthy win. It was even more proud moment as Adil Khalid became in the first Emirati and the first Arab to win the race. The Emirati was not part of the leg as well as the previous two legs because of a stomach bug.

“This is a crew of incredibly competitive people who don’t know how to hold back,” said Khalid who will re-join the ADOR line up for the Lorient In-Port Race and Leg 9 after missing Leg 8 due to sickness. “They want to win every race they sail and the Lorient in-port and final leg will be no different,” he added.

Meanwhile, the 45-year-old Walker said: “I can’t thank everyone enough. We put this team together with a plan to hire the best people we could and to let them do their job. Nothing has derailed that plan and that’s why we’re where we are today. I can’t wait to speak to the people in Abu Dhabi. They give us so much support and I bet they are going crazy about this result.”

ADOR began Leg 8 with a six-point lead over their closest rivals and with a chance of sealing victory if they could beat both Team Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team by more than one place.

Although the shortest in the race so far at 647 miles, Leg 8 proved to be a brutal challenge for the ADOR sailors who had next to no time for sleep for the entire three and a half days it took to complete.

ADOR left Lisbon in fifth position but were soon back up with the leaders as snakes and ladders conditions prevailed on a predominantly windless first night at sea. Azzam emerged in third place the next day as the fleet tacked along the Portuguese coast in a steadily increasing wind. Galician sailor Chuny Bermúdez took charge of tactics on the second day as ADOR rounded Cape Finisterre and headed east leading a breakaway group along the northern Spanish coast past Bermúdez’s home near La Coruña.

When the fleet converged again in gale force winds and huge seas in the Bay of Biscay, ADOR was still in third, but only narrowly ahead of Dongfeng and Brunel — making for a nerve-wracking final 150 miles. Crucially, as ADOR began the last 50 miles to Lorient on the moonlit final night, Spanish crew MAPFRE overtook Brunel to give Walker’s men the extra point they were hoping for.

“It’s been the toughest leg of the race in many ways,” said ADOR navigator Simon Fisher. “Constant sail changes and lots of tacks meant we have hardly slept. The last night was pretty stressful holding off MAPFRE in the dark.

“But none of that matters now!,” Fisher added.

Abu Dhabi’s sailors have just three days to rest up before they are back in action for the Lorient In-Port Race on Sunday June 14 and the start of the final Leg 9 to Gothenburg, Sweden (via a short pit stop in The Hague, Netherlands) on the evening of Tuesday June 16.

james@khaleejtimes.com 


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