Knut Frostad, CEO of the grueling Volvo Ocean Race, considered by many as the most challenging sporting event in the world, has not only praised the quality of the stopover in Abu Dhabi the last time, but said it has only increased in significance this year.
The seven boats, including Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR), are expected to sail into the capital in time for Christmas. The fleet leaves for Sanya in China on January 3.
And Frostad, himself a four-time participant of the race, said: “To become involved with Abu Dhabi was a very strategic decision on our part. It helped us include the Middle East to the race, and we all know how hard the region is trying to grow the sport. Not only Abu Dhabi, but if you look at Dubai and Oman, and they are all trying to support sailing.
“This is the second year that Abu Dhabi is part of the Volvo Ocean Race, not only as a team, but also as a stopover. And this year, Abu Dhabi is going to be the longest stopover of the entire race.
“The team (ADOR) is learning and there is no secret that they are extremely ambitious. Ian Walker has been very clear that they are in the race to win it. They are very competitive. They are one of the top contenders in the race this year.
“I am excited about the stopover. Abu Dhabi really was one of our most exciting stopovers during the last race. It was extremely high- quality, and there was a lot of local interest in sailing. That is something many people are unaware of – Abu Dhabi and the UAE have a strong heritage of sailing with all the dhow racing that they have.
“I’m sure Christmas in Abu Dhabi will be a very enjoyable time for Volvo Ocean Race and the sailors.”
The one week stopover in Abu Dhabi also serves another very important purpose – it gives organisers the flexibility to work out different options to tackle any threats of the Somalian pirates on the journey from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.
During the last race, the five participating yachts were loaded on an armed ship to negotiate the dangerous water and carried all the way to Sharjah, which not only posed a danger to the fragile multi-million dollar boats, but also incurred additional logistical expense.
“The one-week stopover not only helps everyone involved enjoy Abu Dhabi better, but it also allows us to meet some of the different challenges we face on our way to Abu Dhabi,” added Frostad.
“We work with risk, very honestly, every single day, every single leg, at the Volvo Ocean Race. We analyse and plan for every scenario, and piracy is just one of them.
“We monitor the pirates all the time – both with military and private intelligence – and we have weekly assessment of the threat.
“It all depends on the advice that we get, and currently, we have been told that we can sail all the way from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. But we will continue to monitor it regularly, because if we have to take measures like the last race, it is not ideal for us.
“That said, if we have to make a change of plan, we will do things differently, because we had the challenge of limited time that year. So, the one extra week of stopover in Abu Dhabi becomes even more significant. That gives us a lot of space to work out alternate solutions.”
The 38,739nm race starts in Alicante on October 4 and finishes in Gothenburg on June 27 next year.
Volvo Ocean Race director Knut Frostad is satisfied with the seven boats that have confirmed their participation in the next edition of the race which starts in Alicante, Spain on October 4.
"I am extremely satisfied with what we have," he told a telephone conference.
"We have some solid teams with some strong characters and a mix of experience and youth."
The seven-strong entry list is one more than the six boats that competed in 2011/12, the last time the race was held when Frenchman Franck Cammas.
Frostad said that he had been working hard to have eight boats lined up to take the start in Alicante, but that time had been short and organisers had to settle for seven.
"In the future we would like to have a few more boats – one two or three of them," he said.
The new race will oppose identical single-hulled 20-metre long boats in a multi-stage, team race around the globe lasting up to nine months.
This year's entries will see a Chinese team compete for the third time after Team Sanya (2011-12) and Green Dragon (2008-09)
Backed by carmaker Dongfeng, the difference this time is that the Chinese team will have a significant number of Chinese in the race crew.
Also competing for the first time since 2002 will be an all-female team under the banner of SCA, a Sweden-based manufacturer of hygiene products and Team Abu Dhabi.
After start in Alicante, the race will visit Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya in China, Auckland, Itajai in Brazil, Newport in Rhode Island state, Lisbon, Lorient in France and finish in the Swedish port of Gothenburg.
At 39,379 nautical miles (72,930 kilometres) it will be the longest race to date in an event which started in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race.
The seven competing boats are: Team SCA (Sweden), Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (United Arab Emirates), Dongfeng Race Team (China-France), Team Brunel (Netherlands), Team Alvimedica (USA-Turkey), Team Campos (Spain) and Team Vestas Wind (Denmark).
With 100 days until the daring, round-the-world 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race fleet arrives in Abu Dhabi, plans are being finalised for the expansive Destination Village which will come alive over the December/New Year festive season.
As well as concerts, entertainment, activities, education and sailing for the entire family, dhow races and an Emirati Festival are the latest activities to join the three-week-long maritime celebration.
The 40,000 square metres Destination Village will be hosted by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and the Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club (ADSYC).
“We are fully behind the Volvo Ocean Race hosting programme and are joining forces with TCA to make it as successful as possible,” said Majed Ateeq Al Mehairi, CEO of ADSYC. “By hosting the Destination Village again we are demonstrating our commitment and we are working on a programme of sailing activity for the hosting period which will engage all with the sport – experienced sailors and newcomers”.
The boats are then expected to arrive in Abu Dhabi sometime over the 14th and 15th December having raced hard from Cape Town, South Africa across the Indian Ocean and up into the Arabian Gulf. By the time they make shore in Abu Dhabi, they will have been at sea for almost a month enduring some of the world’s toughest racing conditions.
A series of Volvo Ocean Race-related activitieswill include the opportunity to meet Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Arab sailing role model Adil Khalid – the only Arab sailor in the race.
In a ‘Life At The Extreme’ dome theatre, visitors will find out just how punishing and harsh daily survival is for the race crews, with sailors losing as much as 10 kgs each leg. Visitors can also sample the adrenalin rush of the Volvo Ocean 65 yacht in a simulator or take to the water in 40-knot speedboat tours.
The activity continues for three weeks culminating in a pro-am race on 1st January, followed by the hotly contested in-port race on 2nd January before the racing yachts leave for the next leg of the race to Sanya in China.
Local heritage and culture will be brought to the fore with a 60ft dhow race on 27th December and an Emirati Festival two days later on 29th December. Local sailors will also get the chance to show off their skills with a series of events both on and off the water. Huge screens will be dotted around the village to ensure all spectators and visitors can follow the sailing activity via live content feeds.
“We have a great opportunity to open up our maritime heritage to the world,” added Al Mehairi. “This heritage is very rich indeed – we have been a sailing nation for generations with the traditional dhow at the heart of this.
"We will have dhows out on the water during the hosting for people to experience their prowess and marvel at a vessel, which was crafted with the precision of the eye and the hand minus plans. It’s a tradition worth celebrating.”