Azzam, the new 65-foot carbon racing yacht in which Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) will contest the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15, has sailed for the first time with the crew, led by British double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, conducting sea trials along the English south coast.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)-backed Volvo Ocean 65, named for the Arabic meaning determination, was launched at the Williams Shipping facility in Southampton Docks after being transferred by barge from builders Green Marine in Hythe, UK.
Before sailing, Azzam underwent a mandatory safety test on the complex hydraulic system which controls her 4.7 metre long canting keel. The test required Azzam to be hauled over by her mast to an angle of around 45 degrees before the hydraulic pumps lifted the keel and its 3,500 kg lead bulb completely clear of the water.
The ADOR crew strained to wind the winches and to pull Azzam on to her side while listening carefully for any untoward noises.
'She’s as strong as she is beautiful; those are gargantuan loads and she shrugged them off with ease,' said Skipper Walker.
Having passed the pull down test, Azzam was put through a day of careful sail testing in the confines of the Solent Straits before the experienced international crew were satisfied enough to embark on two days of more rigorous sailing in open water.
Azzam is one of seven identical Volvo Ocean 65 yachts being built for the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 and the fourth to take to the water ahead of the race start on October 4 in Alicante, Spain.
The ADOR sailors were unanimous in their praise of the yacht they’re relying on to get them quickly and safely around the 39,000 mile course which includes a stopover in Abu Dhabi over the 2014/15 Christmas and New Year festive season.
Abu Dhabi navigator Simon ‘SiFi’ Fisher, who spent much of the first day’s sailing studying Azzam’s performance data, said he was impressed by the initial numbers.
'We were doing over 20 knots in around 15 knots of breeze today; and that’s without really trying too hard. It’s great to get the first sailing time under our belts and it gives me a chance to start gathering valuable data from the boat. Every time we go sailing from now until the start of the race we will be monitoring, measuring and analysing every little detail about how the boat performs. For now though, we’re off to a great start.'
Having raced a wide variety of high performance boats around the world, including four Volvo Ocean Races, bowman Justin ‘Irish’ Slattery knows more than most what an ocean thoroughbred should feel like.
'On first impressions I would say this new design is quite a bit tippier than the Volvo Open 70s which contested the last race and we will have to learn new ways of sailing to get the best out of Azzam by race time,' said Slattery.
'It was a lot of fun to get out on the water for the first time with the new Abu Dhabi crew on the new Azzam. It’s been a very productive few days. We have tried out all the sails and tested all the systems. Now, over the next few months, we have to learn how to sail her fast.'
Azzam’s first sail saw Emirati Olympian under-30 sailor Adil Khalid return to action after a recuperation period with an injured hand. Khalid, who raced around the world with ADOR in the last race, didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things and was soon at the heart of the on board action.
'It’s great to be back with the team,' Khalid declared with one of his broad trademark smiles. 'The new Azzam looks as good as she feels to sail. I think we are well organised and ready to take on the challenge of the Volvo Ocean Race again, this time for victory.'
With Azzam now fully under his command, Skipper Ian Walker is keen to move the ADOR campaign into the next phase and has put his crew on standby to sail the just over 1000 miles to the team’s training base in Cascais near Lisbon, Portugal.
'The sailing we’ve done this week has given us a great deal of faith in our new Azzam,' Walker said. 'It’s fantastic to finally have her to ourselves and we can’t wait for a bit of open water sailing.'
Far from a relaxed delivery trip, Walker says the passage to Portugal will be the first opportunity for the crew to familiarise themselves with the idiosyncrasies of the Volvo Ocean 65.
'It’s a three or four day run and it will be a good shakedown sail to give us all an early chance to get to know the boat better and start to work out how to sail this new design at optimum performance.
'Every minute we spend on the boat from now on is an opportunity to learn how to sail her faster when the race comes around,' Walker said. Volvo Ocean Race Abu Dhabi website