Friday, 1 June 2012

Determination wins the day for Walker and Azzam

Azzam skipper Ian Walker clinches his first leg win
Photo: Laura Martinez/Volvo Ocean Race
My great friend and old team mate, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker, summed it all up last night after winning one of the toughest Volvo Ocean Race leg finishes we’ve witnessed for many years. 

Hanging over the rail of the Abu Dhabi yacht Azzam and visibly overwhelmed, an emotional Walker said: "So much effort goes into these projects, and all for moments like this!" To me that says it all. 

All the waves, all the freezing conditions, all the sleepless nights and all the highs and lows come down to the raw primal emotion of knowing you have won. That’s why these adventurous sportsmen put themselves through this madness. 

Carried away
It may seem like I’m getting a little carried away. After all, this is leg 7 and I’ve been reporting on this race from day one. 

Yet I couldn’t help but get amazingly excited as  I sat watching the tracker and texting my mates as things started to get closer, and keeping an eye on the live comments coming in from both Abu Dhabi and Groupama fans. 

Night had fallen, the wind was dropping, and the chances of Abu Dhabi falling at the last hurdle was looming. It was all great entertainment. 

Live streaming
Then, with the French within pouncing distance and the finish line still tantalisingly close, Volvo started a live streaming connection with the boat. 

It was if we were there onboard, sat on the deck. This technology is down to the capabilities of Inmarsat and their partners. I know it’s my job to get excited about this stuff, but I can truly say, that was good TV!   

The win by Abi Dhabi Ocean Racing, aka ADOR, was made even more heartfelt because it was a re-run of the tortoise and the hare. 

Tortoise and hare
The yacht Azzam has not found the same boat speed as the other new-builds in this race. But after a great tactical play ADOR had pushed out a 90-nautical-mile lead. It was then down to the tortoise to hold off the hare. The slowest boat found itself fending off Groupama, the fastest boat to that point. 

In the end - and after 3,500 nautical miles and 12 days’ racing -  ADOR crossed the finish line just 5.30 minutes ahead of the French. 

Skipper Ian Walker, a double Olympic silver medalist, said afterwards that the win was one of the highlights of his sailing career.

Sailing team
Ian went on to say: “For all the people who follow the team in Abu Dhabi and all the people who follow Azzam, Azzam means determination, and the sailing team have proven that the whole of our team have as much determination as anyone out there.”

“This is my second Volvo race - that must mean I’ve sailed about 70,000 miles around the world and I’ve never won a leg,’’ he said. 

“Seventy thousand miles around the world is a lot of effort. To win a leg was one of my goals for this race and one of the whole team’s goals for this race.

“And it feels great.”

Mark Covell

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