Team Blog - Ian Walker - 3rd November 2011

Thursday, 03 November 2011 | by ADOR

It seems unbelievable that the start of the Volvo Ocean race is now upon us. In two days time we will be setting off on the 6,500 mile trip from Alicante to Cape Town.

Azzam is loaded. My bag is packed and we are all ready to go. The team has been buzzing this week after a fantastic win in the first in-port race. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has already made its mark on this race and hopefully we have a lot more to offer. It feels great to be at the top of the leader board – long may it last!

Some people are now saying that we are the favourites for the race but let’s not get carried away. One light air race win does not mean that we have the boat and sails to win offshore.

What it does show is that we have a really good team and that we are well prepared. There are five other teams in the same position. Leg 1 is a one of my favourite legs with lots of downwind sailing and tactical decisions. We have been studying the weather closely and working on our outline strategy.

It is going to be very tight as to whether we can exit the Mediterranean and link into the trade winds before they shut down or not. The weather here is rain and no wind today with a large Atlantic storm approaching so it’s a good job we are not starting today.

We still plan to sail this afternoon for a final system and sail check. After that my family arrive so it will be time for a bit of relaxation tomorrow and my last good night’s sleep for three weeks.

date: Thursday, 03 November 2011 14:24:33 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 23 October 2011

Sunday, 23 October 2011 | by ADOR

What a crazy week it has been so far! After a couple of lovely days off at home with my family it has been one of the busiest weeks of the program.

We have been practicing our inshore sailing every day, plus we have had to complete our last 110 mile qualification passage which we did Monday night.

Our chief sail designer JB has been here from the US to look at our final sail designs for the race as has Chris Bedford our weather expert.

Whenever we haven’t been sailing it has been briefings, debriefs, weather lessons or sail discussions. What with an increasing amount of media to deal with too, it is just 24/7.

Fortunately things should calm down now for the next week. Azzam is out of the water for the underside of the hull to have its final ‘tickle up’ (sanding and polishing) as well as a re-spray of the foredeck to improve the non-slip and make it safer for the crew to work up there. The mast is on the ground for its final checks. Whilst the whole project has felt like a race against time for the last year, the reality is the race for real starts in one week’s time.

date: Sunday, 23 October 2011 11:32:44 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 8th October 2011

Saturday, 08 October 2011 | by ADOR

As we sit just a few hundred metres to leeward of Groupama, you can imagine the intensity as the sun rises and the wind continues to shift.

However, the chat on board is still hovering around the rugby. Wales and Ireland are playing this morning, and there are a few friendly discussions going on amongst the boys. One of whom, is Irish. Every ten minutes Jules or I is asked to check our computer – not for the latest weather updates, but for the latest scores.

Rugby aside, Azzam and the crew on board are going well. It has been very shifty this morning so far, and a bit frustrating at times to be honest. Early last night we were hoping for a strong right shift that was forecasted to come through, but never ended up materialisng. So we have been pushing hard to regain traction on the lead boats.

And there it is; the email from Race HQ with the Rugby scores. Wales is beating Ireland. I’m told it’s my duty to wake Justin Slattery up from his second hour of sleep in 24 hours and tell him to come on deck so he can heckled!

date: Saturday, 08 October 2011 09:03:46 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 4th October 2011

Tuesday, 04 October 2011 | by ADOR

After a fairly windy and bumpy slog upwind to Alicante the team are settling in to their new home well. We encountered 35 knot headwinds in the Straits of Gibraltar and I was relieved the boat came through unscathed.

This was a final offshore test before the practice race or ‘leg zero’ as it is called which starts this Friday. Arriving in Alicante was very exciting as we got to see all our competitors’ boats for the first time. It is amazing how different the three new hull shapes from the three different design offices are. I am desperate to see how we perform and what everyone’s sails will look like.

In the next week all will be revealed. Our shore team broke down our base in Cascais in record time and sent it on its way to Cape Town. Meanwhile an advanced party started setting everything up in Alicante. It is incredible to think that in five days we have built the shore base, taken the mast down, replaced the standing rigging, broken down the keel to add some more weight and depth to the bulb, put it all back together and successfully passed some key measurement tests before re-stepping the rig.

At the same time a host of other jobs are being completed onboard so that we are well and truly ready to race. Leg zero starts in three days and will consist of a 360 mile trip to Palma, Majorca and back. The result is not important in the long run but the performance is. All eyes will be on us for sure and there is a lot at stake.

date: Tuesday, 04 October 2011 11:07:56 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 25th September 2011

Sunday, 25 September 2011 | by ADOR

One thing you have to get good at in the Volvo Ocean Race is packing your bags and upping sticks to move somewhere else. No sooner do you get comfortable in a venue then it is time to pack everything away and move on.

Since June we have run the operation from Italy, the UK and Cascais, Portugal. Now it is time to relocate to the starting host port of Alicante. The shore team are getting used to what needs to be done and the logistics team are tested to the full – travel, accommodation, shipping all needs to work like clockwork.

So we are saying good bye to Cascais Marina – what a fantastic place this has been to train. A nice town, good facilities and superb sailing conditions. Thanks to the staff and local people for their help and support.

It will feel like coming to our second home when we return to Lisbon after leg 7. But on we must go – one day earlier than planned to avoid the worst of some bad weather in the Straits of Gibraltar. This three day trip will be our last real offshore training before the start. After that our focus will be on final detailing of Azzam, measurement and some inshore training.

We have ended this training session with two days of ‘inshore training’ and I can honestly say it is going to be a real struggle getting these boats round a short course with only 10 crew onboard. The spectators will be in for a few thrills and spills if it’s windy.

date: Sunday, 25 September 2011 11:06:12 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 19th September 2011

Monday, 19 September 2011 | by ADOR

Amazingly we only have one week to go before we pack up to leave our training base in Cascais.

As I literally type, Azzam is being craned out of the water for some final measurement checks. We have just weighed in on the official Volvo loadcell and all is well. Over the weekend we returned from a few days offshore. It was another excellent trip during which time we conducted over 100 ‘speed tests’ – these are 10 minute tests of boatspeed sailing at different angles whilst testing different variables. All of this information will greatly help our ability to set the boat up well and optimise our routing solutions.

I am pleased to say that the job-list didn’t get any longer despite some quite lively conditions. Our new sails have started arriving and so we have begun the long process of applying all the branding. It will take six people two weeks to fully paint and brand our race sails. The sails may look big onboard when hoisted but they look even bigger when you are stood there with a stencil and a paintbrush!

date: Monday, 19 September 2011 11:04:24 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 14th September 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011 | by ADOR

Today we have a work day ashore so I can pause for breath and catch up in the office. In the last week I have sailed three days in Cascais and spent four days in Abu Dhabi working with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).

I was lucky enough to be able to present His Highness Sheikh Sultan, Chairman of the ADTA, with the Fastnet Race prize and the winning battle flag signed by the team. I also toured the stopover village venue and was really impressed by the work that has gone on and the plans in place for New Year in Abu Dhabi. I can’t wait!

Back in Cascais the program rolled on with Rob, Craig and Jules running the testing sessions. Slowly but surely we are building up our performance database and answering some of the outstanding questions we had on sail shapes and sizes. It is a lengthy process but with Si Fi collating all the data into a daily performance review we can all sit down and make sense of the numbers at the end of the day.

A good debrief is crucial to getting all the lessons or ideas discussed and written down. A typical training day is to meet at the base at 9am after the morning gym session. We briefly run through the plan for the day and get off the dock by 10am.

The Cascais winds have been very reliable so we are quickly into testing certain angles and sail configurations. We focus on the wind speeds and angles that we think we will see most in the race and where we have outstanding crossover or design queries.

In order to sail downwind for 90 minutes in strong wind we may need 40 miles of runway which would mean a four hour upwind slog to ‘make room’. Reaching is of course easier as you just blast out and back.

Every day there are normally other things to test like a manoeuvre, a new system or some new rigging. Yesterday we hit 35 knots boatspeed and I think we will hit 40 before too long.

We try to be back at the dock by 5pm to give the shore crew time to work on the boat when we get in. Tomorrow we head off on a three day offshore practice which enables the shore crew to have a day off and gives us the ability to sail much longer speed tests.

We only have a handful of testing days left before we head to Alicante for the start, so every hour counts. It is exciting to see how much we are learning about the boat and how much we are improving as a team. It is also great to have had Bruce Farr here sailing with us this week imparting his wisdom to the team.

Thanks for following ‘Azzam’.

date: Wednesday, 14 September 2011 11:02:40 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 21st August 2011

Sunday, 21 August 2011 | by ADOR

I am writing this blog from about 40 miles off Cape Finisterre (NW tip of Spain) as we head back to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s training base in Cascais. We have had a lovely run down from Plymouth and are currently enjoying 22 knots of northerly wind.

Jules is up on deck steering as we tick off the miles quickly. It has been a useful trip in terms of gathering much needed downwind data. We have our sail designer Jeremy Elliott onboard and he has been checking out all our latest downwind sails.

The guys have all been very tired after the exertions of the Rolex Fastnet Race so it is good that the weather has been kind. It looks like we will complete the 760nm trip in a little over two days and then a comfy bed awaits.

The Fastnet seems to have passed by in a whirlwind. It’s amazing to think so many of the boats are still out there battling away having not enjoyed the favourable winds of the bigger boats. Everyone onboard Azzam is still reflecting on Rambler’s capsizing and how fortunate all our friends were to survive.

Next week we have a sea survival course to help us learn the survival skills we will hopefully never call on plus the preventative plans to help us stay safe. It has been a very good week for the team and one everyone can look back on with some pride.

Hopefully our Fastnet record will stand for many years. It is great to have checked in with some other boats and completed our first race as a team. We know we have lots to improve and several areas we need to address but for now it is a very good start for Azzam and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

date: Sunday, 21 August 2011 11:00:18 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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