Adil Khalid, an Emirati channelling the past and forging ahead in Volvo Ocean Race

Osman Samiuddin finds the sailor on arrival to his home port and documents the progress he's made aboard the Azzam through two legs of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Emirati sailor Adil Khalid shown aboard the Azzam during the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. Matt Knighton / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing / Volvo Ocean Race
Emirati sailor Adil Khalid shown aboard the Azzam during the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. Matt Knighton / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing / Volvo Ocean Race

ABU DHABI // Publicly, at least, Adil Khalid is not the most loquacious member of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam. But, as one teammate said, his smile does much of the talking for him. It is not a lie.

When Azzam sailed into Abu Dhabi, in third place, Khalid was happily received by a small group of fans as he walked off the presentation stage. They wanted the usual: photographs, autographs, a little chat.

Khalid did not say much, but there was enough genuine warmth in his smile to make up for the lack of words.

But his eyes did light up at a revealing moment, one that found him at his most ­articulate.

Azzam was at sea for the UAE’s National Day when Khalid decided to put on the kandura.

He kept it on for three days, some of it to do with the comfort and air it provided in warm temperatures. Much of it, though, was to do with history.

“I wore it for three or four days and it was a great feeling,” he said yesterday.

“Why? Because it takes you to the past, to those old days, when our grandfathers and those beyond them, they used to go pearl diving on dhow boats.

“They used to stay out there for one or two months at a time. Imagine, they were there in the kandura for all that time and not in sailing clothes. It is a totally different thing. They would just wash it in the seawater and then put it on again.”

Khalid kept his on, even sleeping in it. It made for one of the best photographs of the leg, Khalid asleep with unused sails as his bed.

It also, as he pointed out, made for a pretty dirty kandura at the end of it. “The colour wasn’t right.”

He got so excited at the prospect of home the closer he got, he could not stop asking how long before they reached shore. It was like, skipper Ian Walker said, kids on a long car drive.

This is an important race for Azzam but it is especially so for Khalid.

It is his second and where the first passed by in celebration and acknowledgement of his status as the first Emirati, and Arab, to sail in the world’s most prestigious ocean race, this time it is about the race.

Khalid knew this back in February when Azzam unveiled its crew and Walker made a point of it then.

This was the race, he said, in which Adil would step up and, though only two legs have been completed, it would seem he has done that.

“It’s hard because you live through the change [in a person on the boat] and you don’t notice it so much,” Walker said.

“But looking back, the first race, you had to tell him what to do all the time, ‘Adil can you do this, Adil can you do that’.

“Now, he’s a lot more proactive so it could be Adil who says we should move the sails forward or let’s ease the jib, or even if to change sail. He’s obviously grown in knowledge and ­confidence.”

Khalid was most proactive as Azzam approached the home strait, by Muscat.

There he perked up, drawing from his knowledge of local conditions and having his say in how the boat was placed.

It was good intuition, too.

“I’m always happy to defer to whoever has the greatest experience,” Walker said. “Adil was the most experienced around the waters of Muscat.

“I wouldn’t say we based everything of what we did on him but his input was taken into the decision-making process for sure.”

This is an important step. Unlike many of the other sailors in the race, Khalid is not just sailing, he is representing.

As much as this year is about the race, Khalid knows there is greater weight on him still.

It is why, when asked about greater on-board responsibilities, his reply automatically segued into his broader role.

“Of course, there is more responsibility,” he said.

“I have to look after the team and do well there, then come back home and talk about it and get people interested in the race, and get more people into the VOR in the future and into sailing in the UAE.

“I have a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”

The dream is to be one day the skipper of a boat in the race, but that is no easy thing, as Walker can attest.

Skippering a team is like running a mid-size business, “with so many responsibilities that go beyond the sailing of the boat, that’s something you can’t teach, that’s something you take on”.

The more significant aim, Walker said, might be to have an all-Emirati crew.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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