by BEN GLADWELL – BOATING NEW ZEALAND
For the first time, the Volvo Ocean Race is to be contested in a strict, one-design class. The emphasis is shifted from who has the best boat to suit the conditions to who has the best men – or women – onboard. The race will be decided on who can push themselves the hardest, for the longest and who makes the best decisions.
The skipper’s responsibilities are huge: trying to win the race while getting their crew safely across 38,739 nautical miles of some of the toughest, windiest, coldest conditions Mother Nature can throw at them. Who are they?
Team Abu Dhabi: Skipper – Ian Walker
“It’s definitely going to be the tightest race in history. Success will be about not having any bad legs. You have got to have a strong team, you have got to sail fast, keep the boat in one piece, be smart and sail the right way.” – Ian Walker
When Ian Walker’s Chinese-Irish entry Green Dragon crossed the Equator on the first leg of the 2008 VOR, a strange thing happened: the skipper was subjected to King Neptune’s baptism along with the other Equator-virgins. The British double Olympic silver medallist was a skipper in the most prestigious of round-the-world races although he had never crossed the Equator or circumnavigated the world – a far cry from skippering a successful TP52 campaign in the Mediterranean.
By race’s end, Walker’s entry was an also-ran, having spent a lot of time at the back half of the fleet and finished on the podium in only three of the 10 legs. They finished fifth out of eight, overall.
In his second attempt at the race in 2011, Walker headed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Walker surrounded himself with a strong crew that included navigator Jules Salter, who had won the previous edition. However the team was dogged by its Bruce Farr-designed, downwind-orientated boat in a race that predominantly featured jib-reaching conditions. These favoured the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed Telefonica, Puma and Groupama. Abu Dhabi still managed to win the extremely technical Transatlantic leg from Miami to Lisbon, but it was too little, too late as it had dropped its mast six hours into the race and abandoned the downwind, Southern Ocean leg five from Auckland to Itajai Brazil.
Now in his third challenge, finally on a level playing field with the one-design class, Walker has again surrounded himself with a solid team of race veterans. His crew was the first male team to receive its boat and is richest in that most valuable of commodities – time in the boat. Look to the front of the fleet for Walker’s crew in the early legs, though they will have to work hard to stay there once the other top crews learn the idiosyncrasies of the VO65.
For the other six profiles and skipper comments click here
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