Emotional Walker promises swift return to racing
|Paul Todd – Volvo Ocean Race|
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker vowed this morning that his crew would be back racing as quickly as possible after their yacht Azzam was dismasted in violent seas – and said the Volvo Ocean Race is by no means lost.
“We have put so much work into this project – everybody, and you just don’t… don’t want to let anyone down. When you have worked so hard every day for 18 months you are desperate to do well. We still are desperate to do well – the race isn’t lost.” Azzam skipper Ian Walker
An emotional Walker fought back tears as he told a press conference that his team were “still desperate to do well” after their mast broke in two places six hours and 84 nautical miles into Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were challenging for the lead when the disaster struck at 1915 UTC yesterday around 30 miles southwest of Cartagena. The crew recovered the rig and motored back to Alicante before launching into a round-the-clock repair effort this morning.
Despite the setback, British skipper Walker, a double Olympic silver medallist, insisted his team – one of the pre-race favourites – could still win the Volvo Ocean Race.
“I think it is too early to start making judgments but certainly we believe we can [win the race],” he said. “We have put so much work into this project – everybody, and you just don’t… don’t want to let anyone down. When you have worked so hard every day for 18 months you are desperate to do well. We still are desperate to do well – the race isn’t lost.”
Describing the moments leading up to the loss of the mast, Walker said his “heart was in his mouth” as Azzam leapt off the back of a steep wave at around 12 knots before crashing back down.
“I was steering and we just came off a big wave,” he said. “I know it’s a big wave when my feet leave the ground. You always have your heart in your mouth when that happens. When we landed the mast just kept going. We immediately numbered off which is our safety drill to make sure we haven’t lost anyone over the side. Then we set about trying to retrieve whatever we could.”
During the recovery, carried out in total darkness, boat captain Wade Morgan had to jump into the sea to release the locks that keep the mainsail attached to the mast.
“Wade Morgan did a great job,” Walker said. “We had with the rig and sails in the water and ordinarily you might chop the rig away before it damages the boat. But we couldn’t do that because we only have one mainsail. We are only allowed 17 sails for the race so you can’t go throwing two sails over the side. So we had to retrieve our sails and all of them were on locks at the top of the mast.
“We tried to winch the mast alongside the hull but we punched the spreader through the side of the hull in the sea state. The closer we tried to get the mast too us so we could get to it, the more damage we were doing to the boat. We were in a little bit of fix as to what to do so. Wade put his survival suit on and lifejacket and as retrieval line and he managed to get in and cut the head of the mainsail and then we got him back on board. He did a good job.”
Abu Dhabi’s replacement mast is now en route to Alicante where a team of specialist riggers will prepare it for racing. The team will also carry out a complete check of the boat’s hull, which was damaged during the recovery of the rig.
Walker said his team would now work 24 hours a day to prepare Azzam for re-joining the race.
“I’d be surprised if we could do [the repairs] in three days as a guess,” he said. “But, it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got a strong will. We’ve had a lot of offers of help and we’ll get people on it 24 hours a day, and you’ll be amazed at what a team of people can achieve in a very short time. I say three days and hopefully it’s two, maybe it’s four, but we’ll do it as soon as we can.”