Think Volvo Ocean Race and Pirates, and this automatically comes to mind. Paul Cayard and his crew of hardened sailors on a swashbuckling adventure, chasing a Moose (Mike Sanderson, ABN Amro) around the world. However, that was five years ago. Today, the threat of Piracy from East African countries is current and terrifying.
I am loath to cast aspersions on Abu Dhabi following the announcement that they are to host a leg of the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race. Indeed, such a decision by the race organisers is to be applauded for their brave decisions in promoting the race. The race must push boundaries and test all who take part. Racing from Alicante to Cape Town is a familiar run for many crews. Will the 600nm mark be broken this time? What about the next leg? A tough sprint up the east coast of Africa, one that will surely test the mettle of all who sail it.
In the last edition of the race, it was as it says on the tin: Life at the Extreme. Boats and crews were pushed to their limits and frequently beyond. The footage of the Telefonica crew pushing offshore in the drive for Qingdao is still fresh in the minds of most who followed the race. Rounding Cape Horn, the crews are to battle the inverse of what they faced in leg 1, but with a twist.
The threat of Piracy, which was highlighted in the last race when the fleet raced on leg 2 from Cape Town to Cochin, India, exists for the leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. One can recall Puma’s Ken Read stress his concern and refusal to entertain the notion of bringing guns. Somali Pirates dominate these waters ruthlessly. With heavily armed long range skiff’s operating from a “mothership” based hundreds of miles offshore, they can cover vast amounts of the sea.
However this time, the threat may be even greater given the geographic location of Abu Dhabi. Iranian waters hug the coastline along the Gulf of Oman and also the Strait of Hormuz. With the capture of the British crew delivering an old Volvo 60 to Oman not long behind us, who can say that there will not be a repeat of this in 2011? An impromptu In-port race in Iran is a prospect many do not wish to entertain.
No doubt, every aspect of this leg will be viewed thoroughly, with the safety of the crews dominating proceedings. It gives the impression of a massive leap for the race and indeed for Abu Dhabi, who have embraced the race. It highlights the vision of Ernesto Bertarelli who sought to have his defense of the Old Mug be fought in the Middle East, though not even a stable of Arabian steeds would have stopped DogZilla!!
We look on with relish at the prospect of seeing the Abu Dhabi Open 70 campaign sweep into Alicante and compete to win, lining up alongside the other teams; it truly is an international race. Few could argue that this race is not the greatest roller coaster ride of all time-for sailors, shore-teams and fans alike.
Ireland for the Triple Crown and Scotland for the Wooden Spoon.
Happy St.Patricks Day to all.