Abu Dhabi Youngsters Meet Their Hero and Tour Azzam

29 Dec 2014


Abu Dhabi, UAE , 29th December 2014 - A group of Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) fans from an Abu Dhabi school yesterday got an ‘Access All Areas’ pass for the Volvo Ocean 65 ‘Azzam’ high-tech, super yacht sailed by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) - the UAE capital’s entry in the 2014-15 race.

The pass came as the VOR fleet contestants got back into the water at the VOR Stopover Destination Village on Abu Dhabi Corniche Breakwater, which also spans Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club, after three weeks of preparation for Leg 3 of the race, which leaves the UAE capital for Sanya in China on January 3.

The students, from the British School Al Khubairat, have followed ADOR’s exploits since its skipper, Britain’s double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker and Emirati Olympics star Adil Khalid – the only Arab sailor in the race -  visited the school last September to give them a thrilling insight into the nine-month, round-the-world sailing challenge.

Since then, the eager fans have tracked ADOR and Azzam’s progress using the online Race Tracker and got the chance to again talk to the team via satellite phone ahead of Leg 2 action, which ended with a thrilling finish in Abu Dhabi, in which ADOR came third.

And with the team now in Abu Dhabi city, the kids, who won a school design competition to get on Azzam,  explored the yacht’s inner workings for the very first time, got up-close-and personal with their ADOR  heroes and discovered more about the mental and physical challenges the crew face during the incredible 39,000-mile challenge.

And the access-all-areas experience left a lasting impression with many of the schoolkids.

 “It was very interesting, and inspiring to go onboard Azzam and meet Ian Walker,” said 11-year-old Michael Clark. “I have seen the team on TV before, but now that I’ve seen the boat and met the skipper, it’s made me want to see more of the race. I know the race is all tied at the moment, but I want Azzam to win. ADOR is my favourite team and I will be watching them in 2015.”

And the Year 7 competition-winner was not the only one pledging to follow ADOR into 2015, with fellow winner Jonathan Selvaraj, also excited to see how Walker and the team perform as the Race goes on.

“After meeting Ian and seeing Azzam up close, I will follow Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for the rest of the race much more closely. I am looking forward to watching next year until the finish line,” the 11-year-old said, adding. “I think it’s quite wonderful how the crew stay together, especially in all the bad storms that they have to deal with. It’s amazing that they can sail through that.”

The bravery of ADOR was not the only thing that made an impression with the tour group, either, with Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club member Ben Haines, aged 9, impressed by the mental skills the team obviously need.

 “It’s very fascinating, especially how they don’t get confused with all the ropes and things onboard,” said Ben. “I think Ian Walker is a very good skipper; he seems very organised and calm. I don’t think I could sail around the world after hearing all about the Volvo Ocean Race… but maybe I could do long distance.”

After the tour, Nigel Davis, Head of Geography at the school, was full of praise for ADOR and Ian Walker, and especially the educational aspects of the experience.

 “This is the third time the students at British School Al Khubairat have had the opportunity to interact with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, and lots and lots of the kids took part in the competition to win the chance to come along and see the team and the yacht up close,” Davis said. “They had to design a poster with information about one of the stopovers on the race route, and the best designs won the chance to get onboard Azzam and have a Q&A session with Ian Walker.

“The strong relationship that has formed has been brilliant. It’s been a great way to teach longitude and latitude, as well as other geographical information and the VOR has proved to be a useful tool, especially with our interactive map in the classroom that charts the race and keeps the kids constantly engaged.

“It’s been wonderful to get the chance to meet the world-class sailors on Azzam once more - and see the yacht up close.”

As well as the Q&A session and the tour of the boat, the students also got to sign a sail used by Azzam, writing good luck messages to the team that will travel with them as the race continues into 2015.

One of the mothers attending the tour along with her son, Ben, Anna Haines was especially impressed.

“It’s an amazing experience for the children, to have such a close relationship between the school and someone like Ian Walker, I don’t think you’d be able to do that anywhere else in the world,” she said. “It’s fantastic. I’m very much into sailing myself, but I love the atmosphere here in the Destination Village. I think anyone coming here who didn’t like sailing before, would definitely love it by the time they left!” 

The general public can also get up-close and personal with all the yachts at the Destination Village with special viewing pontoons available so fans can check out Azzam and the rest of the racing fleet as final preparations are made for the resumption of racing action on January 1, with the pro-am races, followed by the In-Port Race on January 2 and Leg 3 departure the day after.

The village is open daily to visitors from 12 noon until 9pm on weekdays and on weekends from 11am to midnight until January 3. Opening times on December 25th and 31st differ with the village accepting visitors from 4pm until 10pm and from 10am – 8pm respectively.


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