Fear factor and friction a good feel for Azzam's Ferris

The helmsman/trimmer likens the sport of sailing to walking into a dark room where the senses are "much more alert".

This year's Volvo Ocean Race will be Justin Ferris's third after the Azzam helmsman/trimmer previously raced for Pirates of The Caribbean in 2005/06 and Puma in 2008/09.
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For a guy who did not hail from a sailing-bonkers lineage, and who started at seven or eight only because an injured foot put an end to a planned outing with his mother and sister, and who earns teammates' description as "quiet", Justin Ferris certainly explains the game evocatively.

Meet the sailors on Azzam

Chuck Culpepper profiles the members of the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team.

UAE member: Adil Khalid.

Navigator: Jules Salter.

The bowmen: Justin Slattery and Wade Morgan.

The Watch leaders: Craig Satterthwaite and Rob Greenhalgh.

Helmsmen/trimmers: Justin Ferris, Simon Fisher and Andrew Lewis.

Media: Nick Dana.

One day at the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing tent village in Portugal, the 35 year old from New Zealand got talking on the sport's appeal, and pretty soon you could feel it coursing through your own bloodstream. "Other adventure sports have that same rush," he said.

"What they don't generally have is the adrenalin rush for such a long period.

"We can go five days, six days, 24 hours a day and you're on the edge of surviving, and really I think that's what's so unique. People see a video of it and they might see 30 seconds with water blasting over and go, 'That's pretty cool'."

But such videos do not show pitch-darkness and mean-spirited waves. "There's adrenalin rush with the fear, isn't there? To me, that's the best part," the helmsman/trimmer said. "The scariest part, but also the best part.

"It's like when you walk into a dark room, all your senses are so much more alert. Sailing is the same thing.

"A lot more about feel and your senses, maybe. You can't see the waves. You can't see the wind shifting. You can't see the puffs coming, all the squalls.

"You've got to rely on feel."

Soon after that, the veteran of two previous Volvo races - second place on both Pirates of the Caribbean in 2005/06 and Puma in 2008/09 - got talking about childhood, and suddenly you could feel yourself at his family dinner table.

Ferris's sister, Sharon, older by 23 months, has sailed for New Zealand in both the 1996 and 2004 Olympics. She daydreamed about doing a Volvo herself, and has cobbled together a team aiming for a spot at London 2012.

Sharon used to "drag me along" for sailing speaking and fund-raising, Ferris said, "[but] we hardly ever talk about sailing. We were so competitive as kids, that sort of stopped."

Because: "We weren't allowed to talk about it."

Because: "It just got out of control, that's all."

Apparently the subjects included such parent-peeving pearls as who was better and who might have been cheating, so an official ruling shelved the whole topic and wrought peace.

And soon after that, Ferris got talking about distinctive Volvo teams, a spot of knowledge you might not have forecast for him until he came under the passionate tutelage of the renowned local instructor Derry Goldbert, who "started off with a bunch of ragtag kids and 20 years later he's getting results" with Olympians and America's Cup participants.

Each Volvo team have their own tone, he said.

"I guess it's a different feeling with Abu Dhabi as a sponsor," he said.

"It's a little bit more reserved ... more tranquil, less rowdy."

With Puma, he said, there swirled an unofficial saying: "If you get arrested, make sure you're wearing a Puma shirt."

Pirates, he said, "was more family-orientated, very careful about bad press". But then also, "It's all very similar," he said.

About this series

The National's sports columnist Chuck Culpepper introduces you to the crew of Azzam, the sailing yacht that will represent Abu Dhabi in the Volvo Ocean Race beginning on November 5. Click here for more profiles of the crew.

"It's the same dynamic. That's always going to be friction and then it's always worked out, always sorted out. This team is very good at working together ... We enjoy each other on shore. It just works. This team's working."

And at a seasoned 35, he soon elaborated on a telltale Volvo subject, the race aftermath. He goes home, sits around, tries to accomplish "nothing". He thinks, "That's over, that's good, now I can do something else with my life."

"Just going to mow the lawn, it's relaxing," he said, providing a serene picture of lawn-mowing.

Twelve months whirr by. He works his fine job as a sail designer. And sometime in that 12th month, a Volvo sailor starts missing the Volvo. It's crazy.

"And then," Ferris said, "you get an e-mail and a Skype call and a phone call and the next thing you know, you're on a plane to Abu Dhabi and signing contracts."

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