Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing completes hat-trick of Volvo Ocean Race leg podium finishes
Abu Dhabi, UAE, 27th January 2015: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) held off the challenges of three Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) rivals to finish second in a thrilling final sprint for the Leg 3 finish line in Sanya, China, completing a hat-trick of podium finishes so far in the round-the-world race.
Azzam - meaning ‘determination’ in Arabic - fended off the close attentions of Team Alvimedica, MAPFRE and Team Brunel to claim the runners-up spot behind runaway winners Dongfeng Race Team from China.
The team - led by double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker - now has six race points, putting them in second place overall in the epic, nine-month race – one point behind Dongfeng, who was first into its homeport by a margin of 3 hours 19 minutes.
For the first time in the team’s two VOR challenges, ADOR came out top in the IWC Schaffhausen 24-hour Speed Record Challenge for Leg 3, after recording the longest run – 337.7 miles - for a 24-hour period en route from Abu Dhabi to China.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority-backed team, that has also claimed podium finishes in the three in-port races so far, crossed the Leg 3 finish line in Sanya at 10:50am local time on Tuesday, January 27 after a little over 23 days of non-stop racing.
Despite having to settle for second place, Walker said he and the crew were pleased with the result, which came after three weeks of what he said had been the tightest racing he had ever experienced.
“This has been far and away the closest leg we have ever sailed,” said a weary but smiling Walker on the dock in Sanya. “We have pretty much been in sight of MAPFRE and Team Brunel since Sri Lanka two weeks ago - and then Alvimedica hove into view and joined the fray as we arrived at ‘Pula We’ (a small Island at the mouth of the Malacca Strait).
“With Dongfeng so far ahead and effectively out of range during the second half of the leg, it was vital we held off the chasing pack as we approached China - we’ve really won the ‘race within a race’ here, and we’re pleased with that. It’s another podium, and keeps us right on track at the top end of the Race leaderboard.”
UAE Olympian Adil Khalid said the leg had been a tough one mentally rather than physically, but said the crew glued together well when things did not go their way.
“This leg was brutal at times. There were times were we had to watch miles we’d gained over the fleet just evaporate – and that’s hard to deal with mentally. But nobody onboard weakened, and we just had to refocus and get on with clawing our way back.
“When the competition is this fierce it puts more pressure on your decision making and how you sail the boat,” Khalid said. “But it also means we have learnt more on this leg than ever before and that knowledge will no doubt serve us well as the race goes on.”
ADOR led the six-boat fleet out of its homeport of Abu Dhabi on January 3 but lost the lead to the Chinese crew in light downwind conditions in the Gulf of Oman. Walker’s men used the next week of close-quarters sailing to observe their rivals, fine-tuning Azzam as they raced. By the time the fleet made the left turn around the southern tip of Sri Lanka ADOR was back on terms with the fleet.
“We were sailing Azzam wrong in light winds and we didn’t figure it out until Sri Lanka,” Walker confessed. “This let Dongfeng get away and allowed MAPFRE and Team Alvimedica back into it.”
Uncharacteristically light winds across the Bay of Bengal made for tortuously slow progress for the yachts, but some smart tactical navigation saw ADOR pull into second place in the confines of the infamous Malacca Strait, a notoriously hazardous stretch of waterteeming with hundreds of commercial fishing boats and strewn with dangerous floating debris, that separates the Malay Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
After spending some nervous days and nights dodging fishing nets and other debris, Azzam emerged in second place from the melee of commercial shipping off Singapore as the fleet took on the final upwind section to Hainan Island.
Revelling in the stronger winds, Walker’s crew consolidated their position in the South China Sea and after a frantic night of short tacking through more fishing boats along the Vietnamese coast, ADOR led its nearest rival by almost 10 miles when they tacked towards Sanya for the final time. Azzam eventually finished just over an hour ahead of Team Alvimedica, which secured its best result so far with the third-place finish.
Walker was full of praise for the Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier and his crew who he said sailed a perfect leg.
“I am delighted for Charles and his team,” he said. “They are setting very high standards for us all to chase. It must feel great to win your home leg and their victory will be very good for the profile of the Volvo Ocean Race in China. I am particularly pleased for their two Chinese crew members as I know they would have felt a lot of pressure representing their country coming into this leg.”
With three legs of the nine-leg race completed Walker said ADOR remained on track to challenge strongly for the VOR trophy.
“We’re in a good place - our plan since the race began was to always finish on the podium, so after three legs we are exactly where we want to be. There are two thirds of the race still to go and we will be sticking to our plan as we move forward.”
ADOR faces a quick turnaround in Sanya with fewer than two weeks to get ready before the Sanya In-Port Race on February 7 when the crew want to improve on their third place result during the 2011-12 VOR. The very next day, February 8, they will set out from Sanya on Leg 4 a 5,264-nautical mile passage to Auckland, New Zealand.