AUCKLAND // Sailors competing in the Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta here have welcomed the addition of Abu Dhabi to the 2011-12 Volvo ocean racing, saying the UAE should now be regarded as the home of sailing in the Gulf. The announcement that the event will stop in the UAE's capital in January 2012 came as no surprise, according to Marcus Hutchinson, a former communications director of Volvo Ocean Race and now the director of TeamOrigin, the British outfit competing in the Louis Vuitton Trophy.
"Given the way the Gulf region has been promoting itself as a venue for major sports events, and the way the race is moving beyond just the traditional routes, it was simply a case of which Middle Eastern country," he said. "The last race was a huge success in commercial terms, for the sponsors and some of the venues, as well as in attracting a wider audience to the sport and bringing a fresh perspective to the race itself."
Paul Cayard, winner in 1997-98 and a veteran of five America's Cups before establishing the Artemis team who are competing here and in the RC44s, welcomed the news. "With the Louis Vuitton in Dubai in November, the RC44 there as well and the Volvo coming to Abu Dhabi, it's about the UAE as a whole raising its profile in the yachting world. It definitely broadens the landscape." Cayard suggested that, as well as any commercial benefits, there should be a trickle-down of enthusiasm and excitement, getting many more people involved in sailing.
"The children get pumped up, so it's good socially, as well as for the sport - just so long as places are made available to do it easily, at the grassroots level," he added. Dutch-born Simeon Tienpont, who is racing this week with Mascalzone Latino, was a crewman on ABN Amro 2 in the 2005-06 race and experienced the enthusiasm first hand. "What made one stopover better than another was the level of public enthusiasm," he said.
Although it's not compulsory for a host port to enter a team, it is strongly encouraged. Abu Dhabi's announcement that the capital would enter a team has caused a frenzy of speculation around the dock, some fanciful, about who would lead it (among others, Alinghi, Ian Walker, the British sailing champion, and Grant Dalton, the chief executive of Emirates Team New Zealand). Stuart Bannatyne, who began his round-the-world career with Grant Dalton's Endeavour campaign in 1993-94 and is working to build a syndicate to launch a new campaign, said that Abu Dhabi had invited syndicates to make a pitch and that the choice would now be made "quite soon".
He estimates that it costs a least ?20 million (Dh101m) for a competitive team with a new boat and professional crew. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org