Abu Dhabi has pulled together the most intercontinental sailing team ever entered for the gruelling nine-month, 39,000 nautical mile Volvo Ocean Race, signalling its intent to push for top honours in this 37-year-old ‘Everest of Sailing’.
The newest additions to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who now make up a crew which spans five continents, include 2005/06 Volvo Ocean Race winner and 2008/09 runner-up, Robert Greenhalgh of the UK as watchleader; and double Volvo Ocean Race runner-up, Justin Ferris of New Zealand, as helm/trimmer and onboard sail-maker.
In addition, under-30s crew member, Paul Willcox of South Africa; and the USA’s Nick Dana, who will fill the non-sailing role of on-board Media Crew Member (MCM), have also been confirmed.
The latest additions join double Olympic medallist, Ian Walker as skipper; 2008/2009 Volvo Ocean Race winning navigator, Jules Salter and Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup veteran, Simon Fisher – all three from the UK; Volvo Ocean Race 2005/06 winner, Justin Slattery of Ireland; New Zealand’s Craig Satterthwaite, a 2007 America’s Cup winner; Australia’s Wade ‘Bubs’ Morgan, the three-time Maxi Yacht World Champion; and Emirati stars, Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi.
Greenhalgh, from Hamble on the UK’s south-coast, is another major coup for the Abu Dhabi outfit, which will make its race debut on the Alicante, Spain start-line this October. As one of the UK’s most talented next generation sailors, having won major championships in everything from small dinghies to round-the-world yachts, his previous Volvo Ocean Race winning experience will be critical to the team’s success.
In addition, Ferris - who hails from New Zealand’s Bay of Islands - has spent the past 10 years living and breathing the Volvo Ocean Race. Starting as a sail-maker for the winning ‘Illbruck Challenge’ in 2001, the dynamic Kiwi made the step up to join the Pirates of the Caribbean team for the first edition of the Volvo 70 class in 2005, then for Puma Ocean Racing in 2008.
And with the appointment of Dana - who was back-up MCM for Puma last edition, Willcox - the former South African sailor of the year, and the recently-announced Morgan - the double America’s Cup star, skipper Walker is up-beat about the team’s progress.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is currently undergoing a multi-continent training and testing programme, which covers sail testing in New Zealand, navigation and weather training in North America, and sailing in Abu Dhabi.
In addition, the team’s Emirati sailing stars, Adil and Butti, are currently mid-way though their own four-phase multi-country training programme which is designed to get them into top shape for the world’s toughest ocean race.
The duo, who beat off more than 120 UAE nationals to earn their places in the Abu Dhabi outfit, will spend the next two months split between the UK, Abu Dhabi and the Far East, learning a wealth of skill-sets, ranging from sea survival and boat knowledge though to advanced seamanship and strength training.
The programme, which combines instructor training and race experience, will be critical in the progression of the history-making youngsters, as they become the first UAE nationals to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race carrying on the spirit of the famed 15th century Emirati sea-navigator, Ibn Majid.
The 2011/2012 Volvo Ocean Race will start in Alicante, Spain next October and end in Galway, Ireland, in summer 2012. Abu Dhabi will welcome teams from January 1-14th 2012 after they complete a gruelling leg from Cape Town. The Volvo Open 70 racing yacht is sailed by professional athletes, who race around the world with the prevailing winds.