Team Blog – Ian Walker – 5th July 2012

Thursday, July 05, 2012 | by ADOR

It hardly seems possible that we only have one In-Port race left before the end of the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race. For Abu Dhabi it has been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. On reflection Azzam (‘determination’ in Arabic) was the perfect name for our boat. The team have shown a never say die attitude after the disappointment of a mast breakage on leg 1, structural failure on leg 5 but perhaps even worse the realisation that our boat was off the pace. Lacking speed in a race like this undermines everything you do and if you are not a strong team it can undermine the very substance of your team. I think we can take great pride in how we have stuck together and how our results have improved in the latter stages of the race.

Winning the transatlantic leg to Lisbon was nothing short of a miracle and will stand as our greatest achievement in the race. Raising the profile of sailing in Abu Dhabi and inspiring a new generation of young sailors will be the team’s legacy. We now have a new look to the next Volvo Ocean Race with Knut Frostad’s plans for one design, identical, organiser supplied boats. If people thought this race was close, the next one will be even closer. Until now the Volvo Ocean Race has been primarily about the design and build of the boat, whereas the focus will shift to the sailors, management and teamwork. This more than anything else would draw me back to sail a third race.

This will mean more demands on the sailors with people pushing the boats and people even harder. I think it could take a whole new approach as to how to win the race. For sure the bigger budget teams that start early and hire the best people may have an advantage but this time it may not necessarily be a race winning advantage. It has been fantastic to see Groupama’s team work together to raise their game and take the race win but it would be even more refreshing next time to see an even younger, new generation of offshore sailors, perhaps from the Olympic Classes match that achievement.

With a new one design boat maybe they have a chance that would not have been there before. One thing is for sure and that is without major changes to limit the budgets this fantastic race would have died. For that reason alone it is hard for anyone else to disagree with the changes. The Volvo Ocean Race remains one of the ultimate sporting endurance challenges. Right now I feel like I need a decent rest to recharge the batteries before I decide what lies ahead. After three Olympic Games, two America’s Cups and two Volvo Ocean Races I am beginning to feel like the old guard rather than the new. I cannot praise Groupama and all of their team enough for their performance in this race. They are very worthy winners – Bravo Franck!

date: Thursday, July 05, 2012 11:07:58 AM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 3rd July 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012 | by ADOR

After a cracking race with Sanya for a day and a half it all came to a crashing halt as we hit a lobster pot in the pitch black off the Aran Isles. We stopped dead in the water and could only watch as Sanya sailed right by three lengths away from us. It took us nearly ten minutes to back down and free ourselves, dropping us to sixth place. As you can imagine this is hugely disappointing for all onboard.

This leg has been a struggle from the start and I have my suspicions we will find some damage to the underside of the boat on inspection in Galway. This is the only explanation we can think of for 500 miles of struggling to reach our target speeds. As always the lads onboard have given their all and just as breaking our mast was not how we intended to start the race, this is not the way any of us would have wished to end our round the world odyssey. I do not wish to dwell on the negatives in this my last blog. I will choose instead to remember our victories and other high points of this race.

Above all I am thankful that we are all returning safely to our loved ones at the end of this adventure. My congratulations go to the victors – Frank, you and your team have done a fantastic job – bravo! My thanks go to all our sponsors and supporters who have followed Azzam and the team. Well done to Adil for completing the journey and becoming such a valued member of the team. Lastly my thanks to our fantastic shore team who work so hard to prepare everything for the sailors to perform their best. I have no doubt Galway will be a fantastic stopover and fortunately we still have an in port race to go on Saturday so we still have another chance to end the race on a high. Thanks for reading!

date: Tuesday, July 03, 2012 11:03:23 AM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 14th June 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012 | by ADOR

Last night saw us hit our fastest speeds of the race so far. Lying in 5th position we decided we had little to lose by pushing as hard as we could. With boatspeeds surging to over 40 knots and averages in the low to mid twenties we thought we might make some gains on somebody ahead.

Sadly this fleet is so strong that the best we could offer still saw us losing a little to the leaders. It appears that nobody has had any breakdowns enough to slow them down and everybody is pushing just as hard as us! Despite all the crashing and banging we seem in reasonable shape as far as we can tell. We have just slowed down a tough for 20 minutes to change out a steering cable that was showing signs of wear. A broken cable would not be much fun at these high speeds. If everyone stays in one piece it looks like the race will be decided tonight by whoever gybes in the best position – getting the gybe in 40+ knots is not going to be easy either. Life onboard isn’t much fun right now. Eating and sleeping are both hard but we can console ourselves with the thought that all being well we should be in L’Orient tomorrow.

date: Thursday, June 14, 2012 3:16:56 PM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 13th June 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | by ADOR

Whilst it is nice to have all the boats in sight I can’t say I have enjoyed watching Camper sail up and around us. It’s not the first time in this race we have seen their potency upwind. Everyone is jockeying for position as we sail into the corner of the high pressure. The wind has been as light as 5 knots but right now it has filled back in again to 9 knots and we are all moving well. Everyone is only too aware of how important it is to stay in touch with the leaders as the rich will certainly get richer when we head north on port tack after San Miguel.

Our plan was to stay just north of everyone but we haven’t been able to hold our height and we now find ourselves pretty much the southernmost boat. Maybe we will have to switch strategies and drive off for the shift instead whilst hoping we keep enough windspeed. Whilst too little wind is a worry right now, it will not be long before we may be hoping for less wind. All the weather models show a pretty intense low pressure for us to sail through on the way back to L’Orient so it is looking like a fast ride to the finish.

Whilst all the gear is as far forward in Azzam as we can get it right now, this time tomorrow I suspect we will have everything strapped on as far back as we can.

date: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 9:15:23 AM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 12th June 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | by ADOR

As predicted, Groupama and Telefonica are giving a masterclass in reaching speed as the fleet slowly curves up in the lifting breeze towards the Azores. There is simply nothing the rest of us can do to match them until the wind changes or some tactical opportunities open up. The good news for us is that after 24 hours we can still see them (just) and we have hung on quite well to Puma.

As we have seen before we are also slightly quicker than Camper at tight jib reaching angles so we are currently ahead of them by a few miles. I think this leg is going to be in three distinct phases. First we have about 650 miles of power reaching of which we have already covered 400 miles. Next we will have a light air upwind section as we skirt the Azores high pressure and tack to round San Miguel. This will be about 200 miles and will take up most of tomorrow and tomorrow night.

Finally we will have 1150 miles of windy downwind sailing to the finish on Friday. The big questions on my mind are how much of a shake-up (if any) the light wind section could bring tomorrow and in particular will we be able to fend off Camper through this upwind stage, but perhaps more importantly how windy will the last few days get and what opportunities could that present? Which teams will try to sail the fastest route that negotiates gale force winds in the North and which ones will opt for a more conservative approach further south? Will the leg be won in stage 1, 2 or 3 above? Either way our task remains the same which is to sail as fast as possible for now and see what opportunities open up.

date: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 3:20:56 PM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 11th June 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012 | by ADOR

I find it funny that by now in the race it feels more normal to be offshore than it does to be on land. Although Lisbon was an incredible stopover and reminded us fondly of our training days in Portugal before the race, we’re happy to be back at it. “It just feels natural at this point, we just seem to pick up where we left off” explains Wade Morgan.

The last sched had us losing slight ground on the Juan K boats that seem to really thrive in these conditions. However, we are still holding our ground, and remain on the virtual podium in third place. Camper is climbing up in course at the moment, allowing us to gain a fraction of a mile on them. Sanya continues to hold bearing with us for now, but seem to be sailing a bit lower to pick up speed.

The leg at this point it is still looking quite quick barring no issues with the Azores high-pressure system. “Our goal is to just stay up with the leaders until we get to San Miguel – once we bare off and begin sailing wide fast angles our chances improve” explains Justin Slattery. It will not become easy at that point however, there will be only 1100 miles of runway and any deficit will be difficult to gain back before the finish.

Should be a wicked week of racing in the North Atlantic…

date: Monday, June 11, 2012 3:26:07 PM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 31st May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012 | by ADOR

After a tense night in light winds we seem to be poking our way through the high pressure ridge into better wind but I am not taking anything for granted yet. These features can have a habit of swallowing you back up. It is not really any clearer which of the boats will emerge in the strongest position. We may currently be closest to Lisbon but the boats to the south will have a better angle of wind all the way in.

Everything has been calm onboard and much less intense than expected. The ridge heralded a dying breeze and very gradual windshift to the left. We never actually stopped in no wind but came close on two occasions. We tacked three times and that was that. It appears that we now have to contend with a fairly light wind run to Lisbon including what could be a very tricky finish at night in the River Tejo. This could test everybody’s nerves – especially at night and against the current – hopefully our local knowledge there will come in handy.

Everyone onboard Azzam is fully focused on trimming, steering and stacking as well as we can. Each 3 hourly position report is eagerly awaited with both anticipation and fear! It is certainly nice to be in contention in the last few hundred miles of a leg and no more than this team deserves.

date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 12:45:14 PM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 30th May 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | by ADOR

The barometer is climbing fast and steadily as we sail out of the frontal line that has given us speed for the past three days. From here, the breeze will moderate along with the sea state and we will begin to feel the effects of the high-pressure ridge in about 200 miles time. Forecasts are showing that the ridge could produce at least 12+ hours off near drifting conditions until we are able to pop through the other side into the northerlies. I imagine this will be a mind-bending experience as we either watch our lead extend or slip away.

In the last hour the breeze has dropped and headed slightly. During the watch change we peeled from the G1 to the fractional zero and are now sailing a slightly lower and faster course. The latest scheds are still showing that the boats furthest back are making the bigger gains on us, which really only proves how fast we are sailing out of this front. Fortunately, we have managed to keep the angry kitty (Puma) at bay and still hold a small buffer zone of 30+ miles.

The fire in team morale still burns strong. Jules and Ian have been non-stop with performance analysis and weather updates. Since we are being chased by what feels like a pack of dogs (and one cat), the general theme has been to sail the fastest angle possible. So the boys have been really pushing Azzam for the 36 hours. Hopefully it will have been enough to give us an advantage when we hit the ridge off Portugal.

date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 2:48:49 PM (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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