Azzam's virtue is all by design

As teams take a break before the start of the real race, Volvo Ocean Racing competitors are abuzz about Team Abu Dhabi's early pace in port and the little innovative things about its design.

ALICANTE, SPAIN // As the Volvo Ocean Race week started barrelling toward its momentous Saturday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing awaited a Monday off.

Ian Walker, the skipper, planned to play golf with Ken Read, the Puma skipper. Butti Al Muhairi, the reserve Emirati sailor and a man of exemplary curiosity, thought he might hop on a train to see a bit more of Spain. Mike Danks, the technical manager of the impossibly industrious shore team, said he planned to sleep.

Monday, the path toward this coming Saturday would begin heating up, even as Walker said the yacht, Azzam, would go out for "final checks" and then, if all goes well, "it means we might not sail again" until Saturday, when the six contestants nudge off the shore toward the 6,500-nautical-mile trek toward Cape Town, South Africa.

While Walker often gives days off in staggered form - one sailor one day, another the next - this one went for the whole team.

"Sailors need to be fresh," he said, and then corrected himself and said, "They're not going to be fresh, but fresher" than they are after a torrid weekend.

Abu Dhabi won the first in-port race of the 10-stopover marathon this past Saturday, and wise voices immediately had to stem the surge of conclusion-jumping over that.

Patrick Shaughnessy, the Farr Yacht Design president, whose Maryland-based company concocted Azzam, reported having fielded a reporter's question about whether it made Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing "the favourites". Shaughnessy, rather startled, said: "No, I don't think we are the race favourites. Instead, I think we should be viewed as a team that's overachieved, given the circumstances," by which he meant mostly time constraints.

Some of the chatter the past Saturday evening around the marina centred on the decisiveness of Azzam's 14-minute win in the in-port, but Danks ladled some caution on that.

"It's great to win," he said, "but don't read too much into it. Sure, the boat's got some pace. But I wouldn't read too much into it."

For one thing, "Once in front, you can defend" the lead, and for another, "We got on the right side of the hole" in the wind. "It could have gone the other way".

Read, the American Puma skipper, said: "It's the fun of participating in a development class. If there were all one design, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

"The Farr office obviously did their homework. You look at that old boat" - the Farr design Team Sanya will use in this race after Telefonica used it previously - "compared to this one, and you really can't go much more extreme. They obviously thought they had some changes to make and made them well."

Shaughnessy does not go quite that far with the "extreme" theme, saying he did not find the design as radical as that of the Camper, Team New Zealand's boat.

"I am proud of it," he said of Azzam, "and, in any case, I think it's a boat that clearly demonstrates innovation.

"There's a lot of little innovative things about it. I think you can look at the boat and see that we gave a lot of thought."

When people look at the boat nowadays in the marina at Alicante, they see it has moved over to the far right of the six-yacht row.

That is the position for the boat that will begin the meaty offshore portion in first place.