Saturday, January 12, 2013
Yesterday we had a shamal - a wind funnelling down from the Turkish mountains and over the Gulf countries. Wind was over 20 knots and we decided not to race but instead to go out for some blast reaches and other fun. Lots of fun and challenging with the blustery conditions giving me several occasions to wash off the sand from my sails with a quick dunk in the water. But never mind the occasional capsize - a screaming reach or two is all it takes to remember why dinghy sailing is so exhilarating.
But the real treat of the day was after dinner, almost a year to the day since I watched Azzam win the Abu Dhabi in-port Volvo Ocean race.
As I have mentioned before, one of the advantages in living in a place like Abu Dhabi is being able to easily access world-class events like the Volvo Ocean Race in a way that would not be possible in many of the larger stopovers.
I was at one of our outdoor bars with a few fellow sailors following dinner and I noticed a familiar face over at the bar. It was Ian Walker, the skipper of Azzam, the Abu Dhabi entry in the 2012 race. As luck would have it, I was wearing a Volvo race windbreaker (yes, the savage depths of an Abu Dhabi winter require a light windbreaker at outdoor bars) and a colleague was wearing a Farr shirt. A few minutes later Ian was gracious enough to come over to our table and spend the next hour chatting amicably with us.
He was amazingly open and candid about the race and various personalities from sailors to royalty, etc. It is always interesting to hear a real insider's version of things and especially from a world-class sailor chatting about everything from the Volvo to the Vendée Globe (Mike Golding is an old friend), the Olympics, various encounters with celebrities and royalty, etc., all the while delivering the information in a completely down-to-earth way.
For the next Volvo, it is clear that the Farr 65 one-design aspect will be a fundamental change for the race - lowering the costs and doing what a one-design should do - levelling the playing field not only for the boats and equipment, but also weather information. The budgets of the 2011-2 teams varied enormously - with Groupama, the winner, spending more than twice what most teams did. As Ian said, basically each team will order a boat from Volvo and take what it gets.
As to Ian's role in the next race, stay tuned. Volvo says it will start announcing the route of the next race as early as next week.