It might feel as though we’ve been waiting for the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race for months, but at last it’s finally upon us. Considered by many to be the world's toughest sailing event, it’s essentially six boats, racing through four oceans and five continents, over nine months. Got all that? Now add this figure to the equation – each boat has only 11 crew members, making the whole experience that much more intense and grueling. But somehow they manage, and the whole fleet will be arriving in Abu Dhabi, the third port of the race, between December 31 and Jan 3 for a two-week stopover. While they’re here, you’ll be able to watch the in-port race, attend the celebratory New Year’s Eve concert and visit the Destination Village to find out more about the race and the teams.
We caught up with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker just before the start of leg two, who told us all about how the race has been going.
Can you give us a quick summary of the race’s events so far?
Well, dramatic is the word! We started well, we won the first in-port race by a large margin, so everybody was happy, we felt well-prepared. Then we started the race and six hours in, albeit in very strong winds and on a dark night, we broke the mast and had to retire from the first leg – so we sort of went from the biggest high to the biggest low in a very short space of time. Now we’ve had a bit of time to reflect on it. It’s quite unusual, I mean, Puma also broke their mast since, and the Chinese team hit something and smashed in their bow so they retired [from the first leg] as well. Half the fleet was knocked out in leg one! It reinforces how tough the race is and how you have to try to look after your boats. But breaking a mast is quite an unusual thing, nobody broke a mast in the last race and it’s not something that’s happened to me before.
It must have been such a shock. What actually happened that night?
Well, a piece of carbon-fibre rigging broke, that supports the mast, and essentially the mast is only as strong as the rigging that holds it in the air. That led to a succession of events which caused the mast to break. We do have a spare mast, we did even get sailing four days later with our spare mast and considered carrying on to Cape Town, but then decided we were so far behind the fleet it would leave us very little time in Cape Town to do the necessary maintenance if we got there. So, it was a very difficult decision to not complete leg one, but a decision that will put us in much better shape for the rest of the race.
Are you still confident that you’re in with a good chance of winning overall?
Yeah for sure. The way the race rules are written, it’s a little bit like a football league, where if you lose one match it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the league. Obviously we’ve given up some points now and it’s going to take a couple of legs to try and claw those back. But it’s a long race. We've just got to start crossing off the miles and get into it.
If there is such a thing, could you describe an average day onboard the boat?
We’re divided into watches, so everybody’s paired with somebody and you change every two hours. In effect you do four hours on deck and four hours off. The most anybody will sleep at any one time is about three hours. It’s very hard to sleep on-board as well because of the noise and the motion – like trying to sleep on a rollercoaster, a noisy rollercoaster. You just adapt as you go along.
What you are looking forward most about getting back home after the race?
I’m looking forward to most going cruising with my family.
You don't want to stay on dry land for a bit?
[laughs] No, we’re going cruising for a week in Croatia when I get home with some friends. But I think, other than that I think it’s just the normal things – it’s sleeping in a bed and, you know, taking your kids to school and just doing stuff that normal people do rather charging across oceans or, you know, being stuck in far-flung lands.
Make the most of the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village
Hear Marmo the Octopus tell stories
Marmo the Octopus will be visiting the Puma Quad daily between 11am and 5pm to tell stories to little ones about how important it is to keep the ocean clean. He’ll also be wandering around the Destination Village, doling out hugs and posing for photos – so make sure to go and give him a squeeze if you see him! Story sessions last about half an hour, and kids will be given free Marmo transfers too!
Learn to paddleboard
Puma has teamed up with surfing superstar Laird Hamilton to produce a brand new design of paddleboard. Laird collaborated with the designer of Puma’s yacht to produce a board that’s inspired by sailing technology and surfing. You can try it out for free at the Puma Paddleboarding school, which will be setting up shop at The VOR Racing Destination Village beach every day during the Abu Dhabi stopover.
Fans of the seven-time Grammy award-winning Coldplay were thrilled to hear that the British rockers will be playing a New Year’s Eve show to mark the start of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Abu Dhabi. Get your tickets at www.thinkflash.ae.
Hit the Puma Quad
There will be a whole host of parties and events held at the Puma Quad and Social Club during the stopover. During the fortnight, you'll be able to boogie to Latin beats, watch late night surfing movies, mosh at indie nights and hear mixmasters such as Dj Diplo, Dany Neville and Dj Solo hit the decks. Keep an eye on TOAD and Puma Ocean Racing's facebook page over the next few weeks to find out exactly what's one when.
See the races
The in-port race will be taking place on January 13 where the teams will get the chance to pick up a few extra points. Then they'll set off to Sanya on Leg 3 the followong day. Get down to the Corniche and wave them off!