Monday, 16 January 2012

Racing again – the Etihad Airways' in-port race

Abu Dhabi: Winners of the in-port race.
Photo: Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race
Like restless animals before a storm, the five teams were anxious to get racing again.

The long Christmas and New Year break, together with the inconvenient diversion of shipping the boats, had broken the stride of these competitive sailors - and they were keen to get back to what they do best.

So after seeing the new year in with the band Cold Play, racing camels in the desert, riding record-breaking roller coasters at the amazing Ferrari World, being entertained by The Scissors Sisters and having half of Dire Straits play at the prize giving, speak to any of the racing crews and they would say "Thank you Abu Dhabi - it was a great stopover, but we want to go racing now".

Desert Shamal
They finally got their wish on Friday for the Etihad Airways' In-Port Race. The forecasted light airs were blown away by an unexpected desert Shamal wind, that arrived as if it had been ordered especially by Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed himself.

The last thing the teams wanted was a light and fluky lottery of a race.

The pressure on Ian Walker and his team was immense. Things had not been going well for them, pulling out of leg one and finishing a disappointing fifth on leg two, they really needed a result. Not wanting to add to the pressure of the day, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, joined them on board.

Sea legs
"I'm delighted to be here," the Prince said from on board Azzam. "I've been following the race for many, many years. I'm no stranger to sailing, I have my sea legs, and I'm very much looking forward to the day."

The race got under way on time, perfectly fitting the schedule to link up to the many television channels around the world broadcasting the race live.

Hundreds of spectators also watched from an armada of small and large pleasure boats.

Escaped animals

The course marshals struggled to keep them off the field of play. So much so that only two minutes after the down-wind start, Camper and Groupama had to weave through the eager onlookers like escaped animals in a busy market place.

Even though their rout through the crowd had been unconventional, all but Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had chosen to sail down the right side of the course.

The fleet was looking strong in more wind and a good angle.

Arabian genie
The local team, some two nautical miles away, looked in trouble. However, as if they had been issued with their own personal Arabian genie the team's wish came true. A late shift in the wind angle and a near perfect lay line into the bottom mark, put Abu Dhabi into the lead.

For the next leg they had to vigorously defend the French as Groupama were still very close. Their crew work and tactical placement finally won them the result they needed. A home win !

After the race, Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi said: "We so wanted to win the race, so we were prepared to take risks," he said. "We knew if we could win it would be very special for everyone.

Important day
“We’re involved in a nine-month odyssey round the world, but today is the most important day for Abu Dhabi. We have never seen this many boats out on the water to watch racing, and there are lots of people out who are new to sailing.

“Right now all they are seeing is their country flag being waved. It’s a real thrill for that to happen."

Final results of the in-port race:
  1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 6 points

  2. Groupama sailing team 5

  3. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 4

  4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 3

  5. Team Telefonica 2

  6. Team Sanya (Did Not Start)

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