Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Emirati sailing stars, Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi, are in the final throes of preparation for today's biennial San Fernando Race out of Hong Kong – the first competitive event the duo will undertake since joining the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12 contesting team.
A key facet of their intensive, multi-continent training regime - which is designed to get them physically and mentally prepared for the gruelling, 39,000 nautical mile Volvo Ocean Race, beginning in Spain this October – the San Fernando Race is a stern test for Adil and Butti under strict race conditions.
Running at 488 miles, the two UAE under-30s will be under the supervision of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper, Ian Walker, as they look to stamp their mark on the Cat 1 Offshore Race, which starts in front of Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club's Kellett Island clubhouse today, Wednesday 20 April.
And with only six months to go before the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed team is under Volvo Ocean Race starting-orders in Alicante, both 22-year-old Adil and 26-year-old Butti are eager to get as much experience under their belts as possible.
'This is a big test for us. I have done competitive racing before when I was in the Olympics and Asian games, however this is completely new to me. Racing for days on end, as part of a team, with little or no sleep and food, is what we need to get used to. I am confident that we will do well, and learn a lot in the process,' said Adil, who beat off more than 120 UAE nationals to earn his coveted spot on the team.
Racing as part of a 12-strong crew onboard the newly commissioned TP52 ‘Freefire’ - owned by Hong Kong sailor Sam Chan, the event’s record holder since 2001 - Butti is keen to learn as much as he can from the other sailors taking part, as he looks to pick up a few tricks of the trade on a route which Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will have to navigate during the Volvo Ocean Race third leg in 2012.
'We are sailing with other crew members from outside the Volvo Ocean Race, so I want to talk to them and understand their experiences; it could be a big help if I’m on board next year. I know the weather could be an issue so that will be unusual given that we have come from the calmer waters of Abu Dhabi. For me, I think learning to manage my sleep and eating will be the biggest test,' added Butti, who comes from a long-line of traditional UAE dhow sailors.
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, as they set to become the first UAE nationals to compete in the VOR, often called the ‘Everest of Sailing’.
In addition to entering a world-class team into the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12, Abu Dhabi is fully committed to its New Year 2012 hosting of the Volvo Ocean Race prior to the yachting fleet embarking on its third leg to Sanya, China. The emirate will be the first Middle East stopover in the event’s 37-year history.
ADTA, which was behind the emirate's successful bid to become a 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race home port and the event’s first Official Destination Partner, believes the Abu Dhabi stop-over will be a race highlight giving visitors a unique opportunity to connect with its centuries-old maritime heritage. It is also looking to its race involvement to position the emirate, which boasts a 400 kilometre coastline and over 200 natural islands, as a preferred winter sailing destination.