The Volvo Ocean Race homecoming in Abu Dhabi was packed with family, fireworks, and fans which helped to take the sting out of coming in fifth place for the local Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the second stage of Leg 2. Skipper Ian Walker said it was disappointing to have been at the back of the fleet while Groupama sailing team led the charge from the Sharjah coast to the Abu Dhabi Destination Village.
However, taking stock of the fact that his team had been forced out of Leg 1 with a broken mast Walker admitted he had come to realise the enormity of his team’s achievement in simply being able to race to their home at all. '
We’ve had some tough times already you know, we broke the mast and I wasn’t sure how on earth we were going to get to Abu Dhabi,’’ he said.
'Sure, it’s not the result we wanted today, but it’s a very small part of a long race, so it’s great to be here and we’ll build from here.'
Hundreds of locals lined the shores to get a front row view of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam docking at dusk on Wednesday. Speaking while a fireworks reception cracked overhead Walker said his team would make the most of their time at home.
'It is fantastic to be here, it’s great to see so many people, so we’ll enjoy the time we’ve got here,’’ he said. It was the moment of a lifetime for local sailor Adil Khalid, the first Emirati sailor to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race. The 23-year-old said he was bursting with pride for both his country and his own achievements, especially having fought off hundreds of sailing hopefuls in an Apprentice-style TV audition process to gain his position.
'It’s a great day for Abu Dhabi and a great day for me,’’ he said. 'It's amazing to be back home and I can't believe all the people who have come out here.'
Khalid, a Laser class Olympian, remained positive about Abu Dhabi’s chances to stage a comeback when racing begins on January 13 with the Etihad Airways In-Port Race.
'There's a long way to go in the race,’’ he said. 'Today was just not our day. It was very fast out there.'
As the fleet dock in Abu Dhabi's Destination Village, we bring you all the soundbites from the sailors.
Franck Cammas, skipper, Groupama sailing team: 'We were very fast today. This morning we were a little worried about the repair. Now, I think we were so fast we will leave it. It was a very good day for us, good for our confidence. It doesn’t give a lot of points but it is an important win.'
Thomas Coville, watch captain, Groupama sailing team: 'It was a fabulous fight until the end. For me, that's what the Volvo Ocean Race is: never give up! We had a great confrontation in amazing conditions.'
Yann Riou, Media Crew Member, Groupama sailing team: 'We didn't know until the last minute if we won or not, because we were busy finding the finish line and looking for the comity boat. Then after the line, we were busy avoiding the pier! So no explosion and no tears, just manoeuvring.'
Iker Martínez, skipper, Team Telefónica: 'We can’t be disappointed, we still have an advantage overall. We sailed well, Groupama sailed very well and at the end they sailed better than us. We can’t be disappointed when we’re doing well.'
'All we can say is congratulations to the Groupama guys this is their first victory so we are happy for them. In this fleet you have to sail well for the whole race. I'm very pleased for Groupama that they have won. I'm very pleased for us because we are in better shape than in Cape Town.'
'It’s a 'comme ci comme ça' feeling because we lost the victory, but we are very happy for Groupama. They had a problem with their hull so it's good for them to come back like that. Juan K boats are good in these conditions for sure, but we saw that Groupama was even better than us.'
Neal McDonald, watch captain, Team Telefónica: 'It was great sailing – good breeze, sunny day. Some of the nicest sailing I’ve done for a long time. Groupama did a great job in the reach and caught up with us. We managed to put a few blocking manoeuvres on them but then once we got round the last mark they slipped by, they made it look very easy. They did a great job.'
Chris Nicholson, skipper, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand: 'That was the longest short race I've ever done. It was a disappointing result. In this race we don't really feel like we've hit our straps yet. Courses like today's don't really seem to suit us but we know we have strengths in other areas and we know we'll come good when we get those conditions.'
Ken Read, skipper, Puma Ocean Racing: 'I really didn't enjoy that race today. It was all about flat out boat speed and we weren't quick enough. All respect to the winners, but we just couldn't keep up. We have a lot of work to do. It was a great day to go sailing, I just wish we were a little quicker that’s all. You’ve got to give Groupama a lot of credit, once we started reaching they were fast.'
'We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and find out what’s going on. We are here to race and every time we go out on the water we’re looking to win. Today was a bit of a disappointment, I have to admit. Even though the boats are nearly identical, they must be doing things different to us. In the lighter stuff, like in the last leg, we put miles on them. Groupama are definitely good in the windy reaching, we are good in the lighter stuff. Today was their day.'
Ian Walker, skipper, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: 'This obviously wasn't the result we wanted but we had a very tough time to get here. We broke the mast and at that point it didn't look we would get to Abu Dhabi. To arrive to this amazing reception is just fantastic.'
Volvo Ocean Race website