Danish boat joins Azzam and Co for new Volvo Ocean Race season

Seventh team certain they will be ready in short time-frame, writes Osman Samiuddin.

The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew are hard at work aboard Azzam during the Artemis Challenge. Matt Knighton / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
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They left it late, but with less than two months before the start of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), organisers unveiled the final entry for the 2014/15 race, the Danish Team Vestas Wind.

That means that Azzam, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing boat, knows it will have six competitors in the round-the-world race and VOR all along wanted seven boats in the fleet.

It is one more than the last race, and it will come as considerable relief after only five boats had been confirmed in June.

Azzam will be considered the favourite by some, given that it is the only team returning from the previous VOR competition and the team’s early start in preparation under skipper Ian Walker.

As the Danish team was being announced yesterday, Azzam was travelling at 22 knots in the North Sea, the leader among five Volvo 65 boats warming up for the main event by competing in the Round Britain and Ireland Race.

The Danish boat will be skippered by the veteran Australian sailor Chris Nicholson, a six-time world champion and five-time VOR participant who finished second with Team Camper last time.

In a way, only someone with Nicholson’s pedigree could be expected to come in this late and still harbour hopes of a podium finish. As race organisers pointed out during the announcement yesterday, this is the latest a boat has entered the race.

Nicholson is close to completing his eight-man crew, which will be revealed in a few weeks.

“This came about fairly late,” he said. “It took some consideration from all concerned whether we had the time and ability to reach the milestones we all want to achieve as the race goes on.

“So far a tremendous amount of work has been done in a very short period of time. If we keep that momentum going, we’ll find ourselves in good shape for the race.

“We are very realistic with what we need to achieve. In the background, the end goal is that we want to be there on the podium. It’s an enormous task.”

Team Vestas is notable also for being the first Danish entry to compete in this race. Nicholson expects to have the experience of about 11 VORs between the crew.

“Finally, we have Denmark in the race,” said Knut Frostad, the VOR chief executive.

“Denmark has a strong sailing history as a nation and now a big team – giving new, young sailors opportunities is very exciting.

“The world is open for this team. They are going to have a tough mountain to climb to even get to the start line in good shape, but they have the same equipment and that is a good starting point.”

The painting of the boat was completed this week, but it will not be launched until August 21.

It will then sail the 2,000 nautical miles qualifying distance, which is a prerequisite of joining the VOR, before the first in-port race in Alicante, Spain, on October 4.

There is a theory that the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65 boats that all teams use levels the playing field a little, even for lesser-prepared entrants.

At the least, Frostad said, it would have been impossible for a team to enter so late before the one-design regulation. The entry will, nevertheless, come as some relief. Organisers had been in talks with several potential participants without sealing the deal. It was only when talks with another broke down that Vestas – a wind-energy company – stepped in.

“We were quite confident because we had quite strong interest,” Frostad said. “You never know 100 per cent, but based on the interest we had, especially over the last six months has been very, very strong. We were feeling better coming towards the start than ever before.”

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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