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Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing moves into 'race mode'

by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 23 Jun 2014 12:29 BST 23 June 2014
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing moves into 'race mode' for 8,000 mile double Atlantic Ocean crossing © Ian Roman

Double Atlantic Ocean crossing ramps up Volvo Ocean Race preparations as Azzam makes its maiden voyage to the USA

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) – the Abu Dhabi-backed contender in the 2014/2015 Volvo Ocean Race – has ramped up its campaign for the round-the-world endurance sailing trophy with its 65-foot racing yacht Azzam setting off on an 8,000 mile double Atlantic Ocean training crossing.

The journey from the team's training base in Cascais, Portugal to Newport, Rhode Island is expected to take the nine man crew around 11 days and will be the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)-backed 2014/2015 syndicate's longest offshore test so far.

ADOR's double Olympic silver medallist skipper Ian Walker says the voyage marks a major milestone in the preparation for Abu Dhabi's second consecutive Volvo Ocean Race challenge.

"So far we have completed a little over 7000 training miles on the new-look, Azzam," Walker said. "Our longest offshore sail to date was a four day 1500 mile training sail around Madeira, over to the North African coast and back to Cascais.

"There's a big difference between these smaller trips and going offshore for 10 to 12 days. The transatlantic is going to be a big step up but I think that mentally it will be good for the team to be offshore for a long period. I often get asked what the hardest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is. It's always a difficult one to answer as each leg has its own challenges, but for sure the Atlantic crossing has seen some of the worst conditions for many of the teams in previous races. You must treat the Atlantic with the respect it deserves."

During the journey the crew will continue to gather key performance data vital to identifying how to sail Azzam at peak performance come race time. However, Walker confirmed the sailors would be pushing the Abu Dhabi yacht just as hard as if it were a leg of the race.

"Everyone has been looking forward to this new training phase," he said. "We're going to be sailing in full race mode and our goal is simply to get to Newport as quickly as we can. We will be testing some of the race plans we have put in place."

As well as putting Azzam through her paces offshore, the ADOR crew will also be taking careful notes about how best to approach Newport from the sea – intelligence which Walker says could be vital when they race into Newport next year at the end of the 5000-mile Volvo Ocean Race sixth leg from Itajaí in Brazil.

"I've raced in Newport and the surrounding waters many times before but of course it is very different prospect when you arrive somewhere by sea rather than landing on an airplane and driving to the regatta," he said. "Getting the final miles of a leg right can make the difference between winning and losing. In the last race at the end of Leg 7 from Miami we managed to hold on to first place by mere minutes in really tricky winds and currents near the finish in Lisbon, mainly because we had sailed that area several times during training."

UAE sailor and Olympian Adil Khalid says setting off on this first Atlantic crossing for the new Volvo Ocean 65 Azzam yacht recalled memories of Leg 7 and the battering the fleet took from a fierce storm around halfway across.

"Crossing the Atlantic is always a big challenge because you have to deal with whatever the weather throws at you. I remember how brutal the storm conditions were mid-Atlantic in the last race, the wind screaming in the rigging and the driving rain stinging your face.

"Every member of the crew is ready for this crossing and we're all itching to see how Azzam can perform in the open ocean. We're all prepared to take on the Atlantic. I can't wait."

Sailing in 'race mode' means Azzam will be fully loaded with one tonne of crew gear, tools and spares, and enough provisions to keep the hard working sailors fed.

Weight of equipment and supplies on board is all-important on a racing yacht at this level.

"Weight on racing boats translates directly into a reduction in speed," ADOR's Irish bowman Justin Slattery explained. "We would need about 500 litres of water to last us 10 days at sea and this would obviously slow us down dramatically, so part of our daily routine is to produce our own. Using Azzam's watermaker we can convert as much as 50 litres of sea water into drinking water each day. This small piece of equipment is probably the most important item on the yacht. We can go without food for many days, but without water the situation deteriorates extremely rapidly."

When Azzam arrives in Newport there'll be just a few days of turnaround time to get her ready again before the return Atlantic crossing on July 9. On the return journey Azzam will head for England's south coast for an appearance at one of the world's highest profile annual regattas, Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight, and to compete in the 2000-mile Round Britain and Ireland Race.

ADOR fans will be able to track Azzam's progress from Portugal to the USA on the team's tracker here, my.yb.tl/AbuDhabiOceanRacing

Follow news of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team and hear the latest on the Abu Dhabi stopover for the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race by following on Facebook, on Twitter, online at www.volvooceanraceabudhabi.com, and on YouTube.

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