Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Emirati sailing stars, Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi, clinched their first competitive offshore racing victory in the San Fernando Race – a biennial 488 nautical mile TP52 sailing regatta from Hong Kong to Philippines – as they step-up their international Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12 training regime.
Sailing on-board the TP52 ‘Freefire’, owned by Hong Kong businessman Sam Chan, the guest crew – led by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s skipper, Ian Walker – put in an impressive performance to take line honours after a compelling wire-to-wire race, finishing in 61 hours 53 minutes – nearly an hour ahead of the chasing pack.
And with just six months to go until the start of the 39,000 nautical mile, nine-month round the world Volvo Ocean Race, the San Fernando test was a timely boost for Adil and Butti, as they ready to make history as the first Emiratis to compete in this ‘Everest of Sailing’.
Adil and Butti, who took on helm and trimming duties for the race with fellow Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing teammate, Paul Willcox of South Africa, got to experience a wide range of conditions throughout the four-day event.
On day one, the 10 to 12 knot due easterly that had been recorded earlier in the day quickly built into a 20 knot breeze, which turned into a testing force six gale throughout the night. As a new day dawned, conditions in the South China Sea softened to 12 knots before dropping away completely on day three, making it increasingly difficult for the Freefire to maintain its lead, before a late gust helped Walker lead his team across the San Fernando finish line.
And with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing having to navigate a similar sprint during the Volvo Ocean Race third leg to Sanya from the UAE capital in 2012, Walker believes the entire experience could be significant to the team’s success next year.
Following on from their San Fernando Race experience, Adil and Butti will complete the final stages of their training in the UK in May, when they return to industry-leading UK Sailing Academy in Southampton for offshore, navigational and race training skill workshops. They will join a residential course that is predominantly water-based coupled with the theory of navigation, preparation and safety and compete in a number of off-shore races in the English Channel.
The programme, which combines instructor training and race experience, will be critical in the progression of the history-making duo.