Preparation for Volvo Ocean Race is a chilling experience
In northern Italy and in waters off the southern UK, the hearts have been churning and the anticipation has been mounting.
"Things are really hotting up," Ian Walker, the skipper, said as the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team reached a vital stage in preparation for the nine-month, six-continent, four-ocean, 39,000 nautical mile Volvo Ocean Race in which they will oppose five other teams beginning in late October in Spain.
In Italy, members of the team and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority have a dual mission: overseeing the completion of the boat construction for which it commissioned the Italian company Persico SpA, and seeking a site fit for a launching scheduled for July.
In the UK, the Emirati team members Adil Khalid and Butti al Muhairi have wrapped up an intensive three-week training regime, including days spent "shivering and wet," as al Muhairi put it.
"With our winter training base in Abu Dhabi packed away," Walker said, "we are using this non-sailing time to finalise as much as possible. With sail type and usage likely to play a major role in this edition, we have been working extensively on their development and our routing software. We are using 25 years of weather data to optimise our routing solutions, which can be a painstaking process.
"The team has also been working on their individual development programmes. Adil and Butti are flat-out in the UK learning the core fundamentals needed for competitive offshore sailing. Other members of the team are working on personal fitness and weight-training programmes. Bulking up and building muscle is the name of the game in the coming months."
"In addition, we are in the final and most testing phase of the boat build. With only a couple of weeks before we launch, every minute counts. On most areas we've been positively surprised by the results, and are looking forward to getting out on the water."
While the concentration of the team has settled in northern Italy, and a competition for naming the new boat continues at volvooceanraceabudhabi.com, the Emiratis chosen from among more than 120 Emirati applicants toiled farther north west.
Khalid, 22, the Emirati sailor who carried the UAE flag into the Beijing Olympics and who is expected to sail with the team around the planet, said: "Over the past three weeks, getting used to the water was one of my biggest challenges. I have been to the UK before, so I had an idea what to expect from the freezing cold and rain. However being in the sea is not like walking down the streets of London."
He cited the need for "being able to operate at 100 per cent in every weather condition" and called it "vital for us to be able to push ourselves to the max whatever we face.
"We went through tough fitness training linked to ambitious personal-development goals," he said. "Our bodies and minds were pushed to their limits, way outside of our comfort zones. Our time at sea was mostly sailing drills such as spinnaker work, helming and short races in the very tidal water found off the UK south coast. We were competing in channel crossings and races up to 300 miles long every few days.
"In one particularly tough offshore race, Butti and I were sailing for 40 continuous hours with no sleep or rest. That experience really pushed me. With every day of training, I feel more ready for the start."
Said Butti, 27, part of the shore team: "Looking back, I realise how much my life has changed since I joined the team. What used to be a dream is now reality and I believe there are no limits to where I want to reach. This is my chance to break through and prove myself, a path to where I want to be in the world of sailing and in life."
He noted the "30-knot winds," the "10°C" and being "soaked to the bone," saying: "I spent days shivering and wet, which is good preparation for possibly 30 days of this in the southern ocean."
Published: June 16, 2011 04:00 AM