Ian Walker warns of ‘nasty’ Leg 7 conditions as Abu Dhabi looks to build on Volvo Ocean Race lead

Two wins and consistency has been the secret to putting Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam vessel in a strong position in the Volvo Ocean Race with only three legs of the 2014/15 race remaining.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew member Luke Parkinson pictured during practice ahead of the Newport in-port race. CJ Gunther / EPA
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew member Luke Parkinson pictured during practice ahead of the Newport in-port race. CJ Gunther / EPA

Two wins and consistency has been the secret to putting Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in a strong position in the Volvo Ocean Race with only three legs of the 2014/15 race remaining.

But despite a six-point lead in the overall standings Ian Walker, the Azzam skipper, is wary of outside conditions interfering in their hopes of victory, and is concerned by potential difficult conditions for the start of Leg 7, which runs from Newport, Rhode Island in the United States to Lisbon in Portugal.

Walker said the Abu Dhabi team expected to take a severe pounding from big seas thrown up by strong winds blowing against the flow of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

“Wind against current can be a nasty combination,” Walker said. “The two opposing forces drive up large steep waves which can act as take-off ramps for the yachts. Get the landing wrong and you can easily break the boat.”

Azzam have won Leg 1 and Leg 5 of the event thus far, were runners-up on Legs 3, 4 and 6 and were third on Leg 3 to sit on 11 points, six ahead of Dongfeng Race Team, who have also won two legs, and 10 clear of Team Brunel, who are third.

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Adil Khalid believes the approach for he and his crewmates on Azzam will be one of caution on this Leg, with their points advantage giving them a cushion at the head of the standings.

“It’s a delicate balance between sailing fast without risking serious damage that could put you out of the leg,” the Emirati sailor said. “We need to be cautious but we are also need to keep in touch with the rest of the fleet.”

Leg 7, the shortest so far with an expected distance of 2,800 nautical miles, sees the fleet return to Europe for the first time since leaving from Alicante, Spain last October and is expected to take between eight and 10 days to complete, meaning little or no time to recover ground in the event of a breakdown.

Simon Fisher, Azzam’s navigator, said he was expecting a complex weather scenario for the Atlantic crossing, during which, as well as negotiating the Gulf Stream, Azzam will also have to find the fastest way around the Azores High, a persistent but unpredictable vast mid-ocean area of light winds blocking the way to Lisbon.

“The Azores High can change shape, move about, or even split in two,” Fisher said. “Timing is going to be key as the weather routing shows a wide range of very different options depending on how things play out.

“The truth is, we can only plan ahead so much and we will need to think on our feet a lot on this leg.”

Having been narrowly beaten to the United States on the previous leg from Brazil by Dongfeng, Fisher said he and Walker would likely try to stay close to the Chinese/French crew again to minimise the risk of losing points.

“The maths works in our favour if we can finish ahead or right behind them,” Fisher said. “However, when you are racing across oceans that’s not an easy thing to do.”

The leg is expected to start at 10pm UAE time, and Azzam will be joined by Australian actor Ryan Kwanten for the preliminary one-hour inshore section and will jump from the Abu Dhabi yacht’s stern at the Newport leaving marker.

Kwanten, who has starred in Australian TV series Home and Away and American drama series True Blood, said: “I have huge respect for what the crew go through to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“I’m thrilled to get the chance to sail on Azzam as they set off for Lisbon and I will do my best to pull off a spectacular jump when my time comes.”

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Published: May 16, 2015 04:00 AM

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