Abu Dhabi: The pressure of being the home team, the pressure of the presence of two Royals and the sad loss of the wife of one of the team officials didn't deter Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing as they powered home in their Azzam boat to win the Etihad Airways In-Port race and grab six valuable points in the Volvo Ocean Race.
The Abu Dhabi team, whose previous best from the two legs of the 39,000-nautical mile round-the-world race was a win in the first in-port event, thrilled the packed Corniche breakwater as well as hundreds of their fans in spectator boats as they won in dominant fashion to bolster their points tally, though they still remain in fifth place.
Only for a brief moment did Abu Dhabi yield the lead to Groupama, as the two boats battled for much of the race, but Ian Walker's team were too good on a hot afternoon to finish in style. Their Emirati sailor Adil Khalid waved the UAE flag as a few caps went up and the crew embraced each other for what will truly be a morale-boosting win.
"It is a great feeling. It is a great honour to be here carrying the UAE flag and winning in our home country," said Khalid, whose presence on the boat has triggered tremendous interest in the race here in the UAE.
"It was so important for us to do something here and a win is a great feeling. It was so encouraging to see so many supporters and we are glad that we managed to win and did not let them down.
"It was great to have Shaikh Shakhboot Bin Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and Prince Andrew on board. I hope this win will help us do better for it is a great experience working with the team who are all so helpful and supportive," the former Laser Sailing Emirati added.
Abu Dhabi set the early pace and were ahead at the first mark, with Groupama close behind.
"I don't know what to say. What an amazing day. This is what sport is all about. One day you are down and you can't get out of your own way and the next you arrive here as a winner," said Walker, a double Olympic silver medallist.
"We so wanted to win the race, so we were prepared to take risks. We knew if we could win, it would be very special for everyone. We're involved in a nine-month odyssey round the world, but today is the most important day for Abu Dhabi.
"We have never seen this many boats out on the water to watch racing and there are lots of people out who are new to sailing. Right now all they are seeing is their country's flag being waved. It's a real thrill for that to happen."
- 1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing — 57min 51sec, 6pts
- 2. Groupama sailing team — 58.48, 5pts
- 3. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand - 60.47, 4pts
- 4. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG - 62.22, 3pts
- 5. Team Telefonica - 62.47, 2pts
- 1. Team Telefonica — 68pts
- 2. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand — 62
- 3. Groupama sailing team — 47
- 4. Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg — 31
- 5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing — 25
- 6. Team Sanya — 4
The first stage of Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race starts today (2pm), with the fleet sprinting from Abu Dhabi back up to Sharjah, from where the boats will be transported to an Indian Ocean safe haven ahead of their journey to Sanya in China.