Skipper Ian Walker has pledged to recruit as much local talent as possible for Team Abu Dhabi's entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, but said he would not select a "token" Emirati for his crew. Walker said there are so many unknown hazards awaiting the crews who embark on the gruelling round-the-world race that it would be irresponsible to employ a yachtsman who was not up to the task.
"Our intention is to get one Emirati sailor on board and have other local representation in the on-shore team," he said. "But it really depends on the quality of the applicants and what skills they can make available to the team. We want to have as much local involvement as we can but only if those candidates are suitable." Walker is well aware of the hazards of the race. He was captain of the yacht Green Dragon, an Irish entry under Chinese sponsorship, in the 2008/09 competition.
Video: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing break Fastnet record
The team covered the 608-nautical mile sprint from Cowes to Plymouth,via the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland, in the record time of 1 day 18hrs 39mins.
"This is a very dangerous race and my primary role as skipper of the boat is to ensure the safety of the crew," he said. "You can't take people into the Southern Ocean unless they can look after themselves. "We can't afford to have anybody on board who is going to be a liability to the crew. There is a certain minimum standard required mental, physical and technical." Walker said his comments were not intended to dissuade local sailors from seeking a place in Team Abu Dhabi's first attempt in claim the round-the-world race.
"It is not as if the race is coming up on us next week. We have a fair amount of time to train people up for the various roles," he said. "Our aim is to find the right material for our on-shore crew as well as those who will be on the boat. I'm fairly confident we won't have a problem recruiting a suitable Emirati. "The team is going to be multi-dimensional. We are going to need people to help us with all kinds of things. Being in Abu Dhabi throughout the winter will enable us to tap into whatever local resources are available."
Walker will take up residence in Abu Dhabi at the end of September in preparation for the nine-month adventure that begins in October next year. Each team in the race are allowed 10 crew members and an extra "media" member on board whose task is to file daily bulletins. Three of the 10 sailors must be aged under 30. "It's funny. If you talk about any other sport most people are washed up by the time they are 30," Walker said. "But in sailing we think they are really young.
"We have to find three of them, but my email account is full of applications at the moment so I'm sure we'll be able to meet that age stipulation comfortably. I'm very confident that we'll be able to recruit some very good people." Walker believes his experience of captaining Green Dragon to fifth place in the last Volvo race will be invaluable to the Abu Dhabi cause. "I think this new team will be far better prepared technically," he said. "We have more training time and more investment in the boat than last time. And having done all this once before can only help." firstname.lastname@example.org