Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi will return to the Volvo Ocean Race schedule in 2014-15 with both a team again skippered by Britain’s two-time Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker and a stopover in the United Arab Emirates capital.
Monday’s double announcement in Alicante, Spain, gives the event a third confirmed team for the next staging of the epic race over 18 months before it starts. It also means the sailors on leg two will face a massive challenge, with the route from Recife in Brazil to Abu Dhabi set to take the teams and their brand new Volvo Ocean 65 racing yachts deep into the Southern Ocean.
Abu Dhabi staged a ground-breaking stopover during the last race in 2011/12 — its first in the Middle East. The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team, skippered by Walker, was also the first Arabian team to contest the gruelling race, which is known as the Everest of sailing.
“Abu Dhabi presented a truly original and massively appealing stopover during the last edition, with its own unique feel, and this announcement will only strengthen the legacy of the race in the city and the country,” said Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad.
“The leg from Recife to Abu Dhabi will be one of the longest and most challenging in the 40-year history of this race. Heading into the Southern Ocean is never easy and this route will test the sailors to the limit. The finish line in Abu Dhabi will be one of the most eagerly-awaited in the race.”
Abu Dhabi will be the third ‘Host Port’ along the route after the start in Alicante and the first leg finish line in Recife. The other two teams confirmed so far are the all-women’s Team SCA and a Brazilian boat.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing scored some notable successes under Walker, including an emotional victory coming into Lisbon on the transatlantic leg from Miami and three in-port race wins, including one on home waters.
“Ian has been a terrific ambassador both for Abu Dhabi and the Volvo Ocean Race and this announcement marks the beginning of a new chapter for sailing in the United Arab Emirates,” Frostad added.
More than 120,000 people visited the Abu Dhabi stopover, which provided an experience in keeping with its deep-rooted maritime history.
“Our involvement with the Volvo Ocean Race captured the imagination of our people, who have strong maritime heritage links,” said His Excellency Shaikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).
“The legacy of the last race is an increase in the breadth of sailing and watersport facilities available, which is something we will build on over this second outing.”
During the last edition, the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean meant the boats had to be shipped part of the way from Cape Town in South Africa. For 2014-15, organisers are looking at a number of options to ensure the sailors are not exposed to undue risk, based on the experience in the last race and the continuous monitoring of the changing piracy situation in the Indian Ocean.
“There is a long way to go before the race so we cannot rule anything out, but at the moment we are confident that the boats could sail the entire route,” said Frostad.
“What we do know for sure is that the Southern Ocean will be a real hazard, and we’re already looking at ice exclusion zones to protect the fleet.”
Abu Dhabi is the seventh port to be announced on the route for the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, which began life as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973 and is established as offshore sailing’s greatest challenge.
After Abu Dhabi, the teams will race from Auckland in New Zealand to Itajai — a second Brazilian stop — before heading to Newport, Rhode Island, in the United States.
The race will finish in Gothenburg, Sweden, with the remaining ports to be unveiled over the coming weeks, before a final announcement including leg distances and timings.