Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fired a huge warning shot across the bows of the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 fleet with a record-breaking monohull victory in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race.
Walker’s crew didn’t just beat the existing four-year monohull best for the trip set by France’s Groupama, they obliterated it - and showed that the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65 is more than a match for speed, in the right conditions, for its predecessor, the Volvo Open 70.
The achievement, completed shortly before midnight on Friday was all the more remarkable for the fact that two Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew members suffered injuries during the race – Phil Harmer has a suspected broken hand and Justin Slattery has a rib injury.
Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam talks to media after crossing the finish line off the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes at 22.20.28 BST on Friday 15th August with an elapsed time of 4 days, 13 hours, 10 minutes, 28 seconds. - © Ian Roman / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Click Here to view large photo
The team also reported that a hydraulic leak and a malfunctioning water-maker also tested the crew’s engineering and maintenance skills.
Abu Dhabi’s Azzam finished the 1,800-mile course in four days 13 hours and 10 minutes, lopping one day, eight hours and 16 minutes off the previous record set by the French boat.
They were chased all the way by Iker Martinez’s Spanish boat, followed by a very promising performance by the Chinese rookies on board Dongfeng Race Team with Team Alvimedica just pipping the all-women’s crew of Team SCA into fourth spot by around 10 minutes.
Team Brunel decided to sit out the race, the first serious rehearsal for the Volvo Ocean Race’s 12th edition which starts on October 4 in Alicante, but they would have been following every mile of a fascinating week’s racing in testing sailing conditions off the British and Irish coasts.
Team SCA finishes at dawn off Cowes to beat the all female round Britain record. SCA skippered by Sam Davies, crossed the finish line of the 2014 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race off the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes at 06.10.39 BST on Satuday 16th August 2014 with an elapsed time of 4 days, 21 hours, 00 minutes and 39 seconds. - Rick Tomlinson / Team SCA Click Here to view large photo
The other member of the seven-strong fleet for the next Volvo Ocean Race, Denmark’s Team Vestas Wind, did not have time to prepare a challenge.
For Abu Dhabi skipper Walker, the performance could hardly bode better as he chases a third-time-lucky victory in offshore racing’s biggest test having finished disappointingly down the field in the previous two editions onboard under-performing boats.
'I’m very pleased. I’m very, very pleased, because it was the perfect performance. And I’m delighted for every crewmember because it was a lot of work,'
he told www.volvooceanrace.com
So how much should we read into such a pulverising of the monohull record for the Round Britain and Ireland Race?
'It’s pretty exciting that we smashed it by more than a day with these new Volvo Ocean 65 boats. And all five boats made it around safe and in one piece despite the rough weather. It’s a good sign of things to come.'
Martínez spoke for the rest of the fleet after chasing Azzam’s heels for more than four and a half days: 'Azzam has set the bench mark, so at least now we know where it is and we have seen where we need to get to.
'Their boat handling is better than ours, but that is understandable as we have only had the boat for a short period of time. We did have some electrical problems which did not help us, especially with navigation, but congratulations to Azzam.'