With Cowes Week not long over, yachting fans will be considering what events offer the best mix of sailing and socialising in the latter part of the year. Opportunities for sunbathing on the foredeck might be limited in northern climes, but the tall black sails of one of the Volvo 70 racing yachts berthed off Gosport hinted at a racing destination which intends to make a big splash in about 16 months’ time during the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race – if you can bear to wait that long.
The yacht with the black sails was Azzam, sailing out of Abu Dhabi. She has already made history as the first Arabian contender in that grueling nine-month, ocean-going marathon and, with her British skipper (double Olympic medallist Ian Walker), she was back on the south coast to defend her title in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
By happy coincidence for her owners – Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) – Azzam could also take time out to promote that all-important stop-over, when the dozen or so crews of the Volvo Ocean Race sail into the Arabian sea port after what will be one of the longest and potentially most demanding legs of the event; 9,707 nautical miles from Recife, Brazil.
Crewing for Walker and Azzam may not be an option – part of the yacht’s programme down on the Solent was crew finalization – and anyway, living conditions on the big races are ‘utilitarian,’ to put it mildly. But many will find the somewhat softer living of the UEA capital far more attractive.
From mid-December 2014 until 3rd January 2015, the Destination Village on the Corniche breakwater will play host to crews and fans alike. “We already have one Abu Dhabi stop-over under our belts – the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Bureau Director at TCA Abu Dhabi. “We are in a perfect position to let the sailing world know what destination Abu Dhabi can offer, both as a Volvo Ocean Race host city and as a near year-round watersports destination of distinction.”
The programme for what will no doubt be an intensive and colourful fortnight-long festival is not yet finalised, but Faisal Al Sheikh has promised a comprehensive entertainment and cultural programme. The host city will no doubt be keen to show off its cultural clout, so expect to see some fairly big name Western bands at the Year’s Eve concert, as well as DJs, buskers and Arabian artists; all infused with marine education and plenty of sailing during the two week celebrations. There are also two more in-port races before the yachts set sail once more for Sanya in China. Might be time to tune into a different shipping forecast in December 2014!