Britain’s Walker “Relishes the Thrill of the Chase”

Britain’s Ian Walker has a simple strategy when it comes to skippering a crew in the toughest test in sailing – surround yourself with talented people and give them the space and backing to do what they do best.

The twice Olympic silver medallist knows his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team are playing catch-up with the rest of the new Volvo Open 70s, having unveiled the boat as recently as last week in Portofino, but the experienced Briton is unconcerned.

The man who skippered Green Dragon last time is back for a second tilt at the Volvo Ocean Race and even though he knows time is against him he is convinced he has the boat and the crew to be competitive in a race that should be closer than ever.

“We are a couple of months behind everyone else, who have been sailing and training, so we’re playing catch-up for sure” Walker told at the unveiling of Azzam, the team’s sleek new boat. “We’re very conscious of that.

“But if you wind the clock back a year ago, which is effectively when we started this team, if you had told me we could have such a beautifully designed and built boat and have such a strong team – the sailors, the guys on the shore, logistics, the boat builders, the riggers and the electricians – I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

“So where are we expected to be? I’d say really we’re ahead of where I could have hoped to be but I’m quite realistic on the fact that we’re a couple of months behind everyone else.”

With time ticking down towards the October 29 in-port race in Alicante, when the first points in the Volvo Ocean Race will be awarded, Abu Dhabi Racing’s next big test will be the Fastnet Race starting on August 14.

Walker is looking forward to seeing Azzam, developed by Farr Yacht Design of the United States and built by Persico in Bergamo, Italy, put through its paces.

“There’s no holds barred,” he said. “I don’t think anyone will have a boat better built than ours. I don’t know if we’ll be faster or slower but my suspicion is that there won’t be much between the five new boats.

“There’ll be differences – somebody will be faster in certain angles and certain winds, and I suspect a lot of it will come down to what sails people carry and sail design will have more of a bearing than the boats. One thing’s for sure, you’ve got to have a good enough boat and obviously I just pray that we have.

“We’ve got a great crew. We’ve got some winning experience, and we’ve got some enthusiasm. Don’t forget we’ve sailed six months in Abu Dhabi where we’ve been able to look at sail shapes and I was amazed how productive the training time was in Abu Dhabi. We trialled a lot of under 30 sailors and we’re just in a far better place than any of us thought we’d ever be.”

As for his plans for managing the crew, Walker is clear about what he has to do after learning from the experience last time.

“Essentially, I’ve done the same thing: I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of good guys, most of whom are actually better at their jobs than I could ever be.” he says. “So my job really is to give them the tools to do what they’re best at.”

Sent via OfficialWinds (source: Volvo Ocean Race)