When we last heard from the crew of Azzam, team Abu Dhabi’s boat in the Volvo Ocean Race, they had tucked into the southern China city of Sanya after completing the third leg of the race. They had finished a tough 4600 mile segment, and had withstood the challenges brought by the often wind-less Doldrums, for a 5th place standing.
We now re-join Captain Walker and crew in Auckland, New Zealand where they are gladly resting after a hard fought Leg 4. The start to this portion of the race was postponed due to a typhoon warning in the South China Sea, which brought waves of up to 8 meters, and which caused race organizers to split the leg into two parts. After the teams were cleared to sail they went into heavy competition to gain as much ground as possible on the 5,220 nautical mile course, passing by the northern tip of the Philippines en route to New Zealand.
This was the first time since 2001 that the race has stopped in Auckland, and as they were just shy of its shores Captain Walker noted that: “After nearly three weeks of intense racing we finally came within sight of the ‘land of the long white cloud’ – and guess what – it was covered with a long white cloud.” This did not dampen the spirits of Azzam though, and they sailed into port in a time of 20 days, 5 hours, 20 minutes, 35 seconds, maintaining their hold on 5th place.
Their arrival in Auckland could almost be described as “sailing coming home”, because virtually all the teams have at least one New Zealander on board. From Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the team sponsored by IWC Schaffhausen, 38-year-old watch leader and native Kiwi Craig Satterthwaite is particularly happy to be there: “New Zealand’s my home. I’m lucky enough to see lots of the rest of the world but each time I come back only confirms to me that it’s a very special place. It’s unique and I hope it stays that way.”
This positivity will be well used as the team finishes up their on-shore activities here in Auckland and prepares for Leg 5, the longest portion of the entire race. At 6,705 nautical miles this course through the Southern Ocean will have the boats facing “ocean swells the size of buildings, storm force winds, freezing temperatures as well as taking on Chile’s infamous Cape Horn.” The weather systems can produce winds of up to 60 knots — conditions that may set speed records in the race, but will also elevate safety concerns for everyone.
The Azzam, and the other entrants, will depart Auckland on Sunday March 18 (local time) to begin what is the second half of the race, and the next high seas adventure of the Volvo Ocean Race, and we look forward to hearing about their journey when they dock in Itajaí, on Brazil’s eastern coast.. As always our best wishes and thoughts go with them.