While we were down in Cowes, there were some big sailing business stories announced. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has announced ‘officially’ that two-time British Olympic medallist and past Volvo Ocean Race skipper, Ian Walker, will take the helm for the emirate’s debut in the next edition of the race. Walker’s business partner Jamie Boag will also be involved in the project which has a reported budget of $25 Million.
The Abu Dhabi project is part of a growing interest in the top level of yacht racing from the region, with Oman, Dubai and Bahrain all investing in the sport.
Walker will also be design consultant on the specially-designed Volvo Open 70 which may be designed by top US-based designer Bruce Farr. Australian yacht builders McConaghy, who established a facility in China when building Green Dragon would do the same in Abu Dhabi.
ADTA, which was behind the emirate’s successful bid to become a 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race home port, considers Walker’s appointment to be a major coup for Abu Dhabi’s first foray into the race.
Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, ADTA said
“Ian is the lynchpin in the dream team we are determined to secure. His high profile sends a signal of the seriousness of our ambitions in a sport which will help us build international awareness of our long maritime pedigree and exceptional coastline and surrounding waters.”
Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race is very pleased to have Ian Walker back in the race.
“We believe he will be an excellent skipper and leader for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing,” he said. “The host city is an excellent venue for sailing and hopefully this project will encourage and ignite passion for sailing within the region.”
Walker believes that Abu Dhabi’s participation in the Volvo Ocean Race is a huge step forward for sailing, with the entire emirate eager to embrace the race and support its team.
“This will certainly encourage other sailing events and championships to come to this part of the world,” he said, “and is already inspiring the local population to get fully behind sailing. This is going to be a fantastic journey.”
Like many of the other tourism backed programs in the region, the project is about legacy and local development of talent. ADTA and UK-based Walker are also in the final stages of appointing the team’s other crew members, with plans to include a UAE national in the Sporting Team and another two on the Shore Team. Walker thinks it is crucial to have the right mix of youth and experience and, following his experience with the Green Dragon campaign and the inclusion of Chinese crewman Guo Chuan, he supports the idea of an internationally-represented crew.
“Obviously you need the right mix of skills such as helming, trimming, bowmen, sailmaking, rigging and engineering, yet it is just as important to select people who will work well as a team. We have a unique opportunity to do something special with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. The Volvo Ocean Race is mentally and physically exhausting. The whole project is quite daunting but it is easier to comprehend having done the race before. I have huge respect for the yachts and the race and we will be as prepared as we possibly can be.”