Interview: Ian Walker – skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Ian Walker pic by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

Ian Walker
pic by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

Abu Dhabi pic by Rick Tomlinson/VOR

Abu Dhabi
pic by Rick Tomlinson/VOR

Richard Crockett interviewed Ian Walker – skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Congratulations on your first leg – that was a good start to a long race?
Ya it is a big relief really – I just feel happy for all – obviously you are pleased for the sponsors, but also for the shore crew, all the guys who put so much work in. You can see they have all got a spring in their step. The sailors’ job is to deliver the performance – and we have got one out of the way and we have got eight more to do.

This start was a lot better than your start in the last race?
A lot better – last time was a bit of a disaster for us?

For the whole race really?
It is hard when you start this race on the back foot as it is hard to recover. The stop overs aren’t long so you get more and more tired, you run down your resources and it is hard to turn it around actually. Last race I was pleased we did turn it around as we won a leg, we won three or four in port races, and we scrambled something out of the race.

But this time round is different. We have got no reason why we shouldn’t be as competitive or better than anyone else. We have got the team to do it, everyone’s got the same boats, and we are ready to go and we just don’t want to make mistakes.

Is the one-design route the right route to go this time?
I was always the biggest supporter of it. Amongst the skippers I was the only supporter of it when it was first suggested. I think they have done a good job of managing the process in terms of everyone believing the boats are the same and I think there was no other choice.

I think that if they hadn’t changed the rule, there wouldn’t be a race – its as simple as that. It would have been too expensive and there was not enough time to raise money so we wouldn’t have had seven teams on the start line. So clearly it was the right decision and I think for the sailors it is a breath of fresh air, if we lose miles or lose places we can only look at ourselves – so we only have  ourselves to blame.

We are actually learning more from it, as we are learning how to trim and steer better because we are being pushed so much harder.

Are the boats identical?
Ya I believe they are. As close as you can get. It’s not just the boats – it is the sails, the mast, the weight – everything is weight equalised with the only difference being in the branding.

The closeness of the finish this time – are we going to see closer finishes?
I think you will – yeah. In the last race there were some very close finishes – I think 2 minutes or something – so it is not the closest yet – and I do believe that we will see closer races than that with all the fleet finishing on top of each other, and I think that by the end of the race we will all be looking back saying ‘wow those were the closest finishes ever’.

Having seen the performance of everyone on the first leg, is there anybody you think is probably your closest threat?
I said Brunel at the start of the race and I haven’t really changed my mind. DongFong surprised a lot of people and then again I tipped them before the start to be a lot better than everybody was saying. I think the perception was that they had half a boat full of Chinese and that is not the case. They are actually a well drilled unit with two Chinese guys and six other great sailors. In the first leg with the exception of SCA, the top three boats were the three boats that had done the most training and had the most sea miles. As the race goes on that advantage will diminish, but right now I would say Brunel.

The second leg is a little bit of an unknown for some of the guys. Are there are lot of obstacles in the way?
It is unknown for everyone. I am not sure that anybody has left in a boat from Cape Town and arrived in Abu Dhabi! So there is a lot of unknown. But we have done bits of it – we have sailed from here, we have sailed to Cochin (China) and have been up through the doldrums and last time we sailed as far as the Maldives so there is a reasonable familiarity if you like for the first half or two-thirds of the leg.

I haven’t really got much of a clue after that! We are just going to plough up towards Oman and from then on I have sailed in that area a few times. There are some obstacles, but no more than anywhere else really although we will have to watch for fishing traps. The threat of piracy is diminished so that we are just assuming that it doesn’t exist any more and we have to keep out of Iranian waters. There are maybe a few more geo-political considerations than we are used to.

Which is the leg you are most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to going to Abu Dhabi for sure – we are going to have a tremendous welcome into our home port – how could you not! But it is such a long leg with so many varied parts. I always think that in this race the first leg is the best leg as it is the easiest leg, it has the most downwind and it is the very tactical. For all those reasons I enjoy the first leg, not least because I just won it – but you never know what to expect.

The Southern Ocean leg round The Horn?
It is obviously the iconic leg. There is no better feeling as a sailor than sailing round Cape Horn, but as a skipper it is a worrying leg as it is the leg you know you have keep things in one piece and look after people, it is the leg you most want to get out of the way, but it is the leg you look back on with most fondness.