Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi team wins in home town in port race. Matthew Sheahan reports from Abu Dhabi
Ian Walker’s roller coaster Volvo Race took a turn for the better today after his team posted a commanding win in the Abu Dhabi in port race. The victory was the team’s second in port win after their blistering start in Alicante, but since then their campaign has staggered.
As he’s demonstrated in the past, Walker frequently performs better under pressure and he had plenty today. Sailing in the team’s home port with the Duke of York aboard there were few more important days on which to perform.
Starting at the far end of the line on port on the opening downwind leg, Abu Dhabi quickly found themselves out on their own, banging a corner as the rest of the fleet headed towards the right hand side of the course into the thick of the spectator fleet. At one point the first part of the leg looked like being a battle between Camper and Groupama who were locked in their own private match race. But by the bottom gate it was Abu Dhabi who came through with a narrow lead.
For a short while, splitting tacks with second placed Groupama demoted Walker into second when the pair came back together, but Walker and his team were in short course tactical mode as they dipped the stern of Groupama to secure the right hand side of the beat. The strategy worked, placing Abu Dhabi back in the lead, a position that they held to the end, extending their winning margin leg by leg to the finish where they led by a shade under 1 minute.
“We so wanted to win the race so we were prepared to take risks. We knew if we could win it would be very special for everyone,” he said.
“We’re involved in a nine-month odyssey round the world, but today is the most important day for Abu Dhabi. We have never seen this many boats out on the water to watch racing, and there are lots of people out who are new to sailing. Right now all they are seeing is their country flag being waved. It’s a real thrill for that to happen.”
Clearly to win on home waters after such a punishing two offshore legs made Walker and his team the talk of the town. But there was another boat that was being talked about as the sun went down in the UAE city of skyscrapers – Groupama.
Considered by many to be one of the outsiders, Frank Cammas’ team have been delivering surprise results in the practice and pro/am races of the previous days. Today saw them deliver a punchy performance taking second place leaving many competitors and experts to re-assess this team’s future chances.
Among those having the worst day were the current race leaders Telefonica who saw their overall margin reduced to 6 points over Camper after they finished last today. Clearly a quick boat, their crew work let the side down as tangled spinnaker drops and fluffed mark roundings saw them trail the fleet.
Kenny Read’s Puma had a miserable time after having to perform a penalty turn shortly after the start dropping them to the back of the fleet on the opening leg. Although they managed to pass Telefonica, the news didn’t improve from there.
While the points on offer from today’s in port race are small fry compared to those available offshore and that the racing didn’t reveal anything of the boats’ relative performance, the message that came through loud and clear was that despite the faltering start, this Volvo Ocean Race has every indication of being one of the closest in the history of the event.
Leg 3 starts tomorrow at 1400 local (1000 GMT) but will only run as far as Sharjah where the boats will be lifted onto a ship and sent back out through the stealth zone to the secret location in the Indian Ocean. The stress for the organisers isn’t over yet and for the sailors, the race has yet to get into its full stride.
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 6 points
2. Groupama sailing team 5
3. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 4
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 3
5. Team Telefonica 2
1. Team Telefonica 68
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand 62
3. Groupama sailing team 47
4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 31
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 25
6. Team Sanya 4*
* Team Sanya can still score points for Leg 2 and the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi In-Port Race if they complete Stage 1 in racing conditions.