Wind firmly in Azzam’s sails amid final Volvo Ocean Race preparations

Strong showings at Cowes Week and Round Britain and Ireland Race have provided good momentum going into final weeks of preparation, writes Ian Walker

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam crew is readying to take on ‘the Everest of Sailing’ – the gruelling nine-month round the world sailing race. Ian Roman / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
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The Englishman Ian Walker again will be skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s boat, Azzam. He is writing a monthly message for The ­National leading up to the race.

To say it has been a big few weeks for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) is an understatement. So much has happened since I last put pen to paper that it is hard to know where to begin.

I am delighted that the ADOR team is complete with the appointment of Daryl Wislang as pitman and boat captain, and Matt Knighton as on-board reporter.

Wislang, from Wellington, New Zealand, will be sailing in his third Volvo Ocean Race and, having finished second with Camper Team New Zealand in 2012, he is hungry to go one better this time around.

Knighton, from Chicago in the United States, will be in charge of showcasing ADOR to the world in his first Volvo Ocean Race.

We had a chance to trial our two new crew members and one of our under-30 reserves during our compulsory 3,200-kilometre qualification passage by sailing from Cascais, in Portugal, to Newport, Rhode Island, in the US. One week later, we returned across the Atlantic to Gosport in England.

These trips were perfect training, with one involving lots of upwind work and the other all downwind. There is no doubt that you learn more when out in the middle of the ocean than you do by day sailing during training camps.

After our double transatlantic crossing, we were on duty at the UK's most popular sailing regatta, Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight.

I remember watching the Volvo Ocean Race boats when I was a kid at Cowes Week, and it was great to be there showing Azzam off to the general public and raising awareness of the race and our team.

Cowes also had a serious side in the form of our first official race against other Volvo 65s – the Artemis Challenge around the island.

The 85km charity race was a very light wind affair, but thanks to the quality of our crew work we managed to eke out a comfortable lead and take the win.

We also won £3,000 (Dh18,280) in prize money, which we donated to UKSA, a youth education and training facility in Cowes.

The real highlight of the past few weeks has been a fantastic win for us in the Round Britain and Ireland Race.

Starting in the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, Azzam raced not only to the monohull victory but also set a world record for sailing round Britain and Ireland of four days, 13 hours and 10 minutes.

This took 32 hours off the previous mark and is a record that I think will stand for a long time.

Records are exciting, but the best thing about this race result was convincingly beating four of our rival teams for the Volvo Ocean Race.

As skipper, I was very proud to see the team we have built was capable of such a good performance.

There is no doubt that the detailed training we have carried out, which amounts to 18,000 sea miles, has prepared us very well for the challenges ahead.

While it is fun to look back at what we have achieved, we must focus on what lies ahead.

There is no danger of any complacency creeping in as we all know that nothing we have done so far counts for anything in the Volvo Ocean Race.

We will soon be travelling to Alicante for the assembly of the teams, which marks one month to the start of the race.

In these next six weeks, we need to delicately balance further training with making sure the crew is rested for the challenge ahead.

Now it is the shore team that will be working the hardest as we rely on it to prepare our boat as well as possible.

The start of the Volvo Ocean Race is approaching, and I guarantee that our team will be ready and raring to go.

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