Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing readies for super fast downwind ride to UK
ABU DHABI- Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) – the Abu Dhabi backed entry in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 – has left Newport, Rhode Island, and embarked on its second transatlantic crossing in less than three weeks.
ADOR’s Volvo Ocean 65 – Azzam, which is the Arabic for determination – completed the 3,116 nautical mile first transatlantic training run from Portugal to the United States with honours, despite some harsh weather conditions along the way.
“The first crossing went extremely well and even the adverse conditions we came across were helpful because they gave us valuable data on how Azzam performs in the open ocean. There were very few breakages and the job list was not a long one by the time we got to Newport”, said skipper Ian Walker, the British double Olympic silver medalist.
The crossing threw up some unique moments, including an unexpected three-blast salute from the iconic ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2 – the flagship of the Cunard Line – which overhauled Azzam as both vessels navigated the southerly edge of a self-imposed exclusion zone to avoid icebergs.
“We had just sailed five days without seeing another boat and suddenly the RMS Queen Mary 2 comes within 250 yards. I spoke to the captain on the radio; he came in close and gave us three very loud blasts. All the guests were on deck waving and taking photos of us as we were waving back and taking photos of them. Unbelievable moment,” explained Walker.
The encounter has proved popular on social media. The video posted on ADOR’s Facebook page was viewed more than 26,000 times in under two weeks and reached around 400,000 people.
Azzam’s short stay in Newport was enough for the shore crew to get the sleek Volvo 65 back on track and ready for the return voyage – a crossing that will bring back some good memories for ADOR’s Adil Khalid, Simon Fisher, Ian Walker and Justin Slattery who all crewed for the team in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race, when Azzam crossed the finish line in first place on Leg 7, after 12 days racing 3,500 nautical miles from Miami to Lisbon.
“The day before we’d set off on Leg 7, we won the Miami In-Port Race and were looking forward to the crossing, the weather forecast was complex and it was clearly going to be about how we used our brains as much as our sailing skills,” recalled bowman Slattery.
“There was never a moment to relax, from dealing with the Gulf Stream at the start, to fighting our way through a tropical storm on departure, before finally inching our way across the finish line to win in total darkness against the currents of the River Tagus in Lisbon.
“I have raced across the Atlantic more times than I care to remember, so I know that every crossing throws up some major challenges. I don’t expect this one to be any different but I’m also confident we have a world-class crew and a very strong boat to deal with whatever comes along.”
Azzam’s second transatlantic crossing will take in more than 3,000 miles to Gosport on England’s south coast. ADOR navigator Simon ‘SiFi’ Fisher said the return crossing will be in stark contrast to the upwind easterly passage to Newport and should feature more downwind sailing. “I’m expecting some really fast sailing in the first 48-hours – with winds up to 20 knots meaning reaching boat speeds between 25 to 30 knots,” he said.
Azzam’s second transatlantic crossing within just a few weeks of leaving Lisbon will be a real test of ADOR’s training and the team’s mental and physical preparation to date, according to Ian Walker.
“We are expecting more downwind conditions than on the way to the USA. It will be nice to not be bashing against the wind for days on end but we will be pushing the boat and ourselves hard the whole way,” he said.
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, Azzam will be prepared for her star appearance in the historic Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, where she will take on her first competitive outings – the Artemis Challenge Race around the Isle of Wight, on August 6, and the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, on Sunday, August 10.
“I always look forward to the Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week and this will be our first real chance to show off our great looking yacht,” said trimmer and helmsman Phil ‘Wendy’ Harmer. “Our time is split between corporate commitments and more training, but we are all excited about taking part in the Artemis Challenge and lining up against other Volvo Ocean Race teams. It’s going to be very exciting for the Facebook competition winner to be part of that experience, and we are looking forward to welcoming the lucky sailor aboard Azzam.”