Put down five degrees and wait for the gust, in fifteen seconds.” Ian Walker, skipper and main helmsman of Azzam watchful beside me, is peremptory in giving me instructions. Azzam is already sailing at the comfortable speed of eighteen knots and a little more, with full main (full mainsail) and Fractional Code 0, which is a Code Zero that does not reach the masthead, but just above the forestay attachment. These are ideal sails for sailing at 115 degrees with apparent wind. The sea is that of Cascais, a generous Atlantic for training: one only has to leave the harbor around eleven o’clock to find a solid breeze. Fifteen seconds have passed and the burst, right on time, comes. Azzam takes off as the tailers barely adjust the sails. The log in seconds is over twenty-five knots, with the wheel you have to be light, a few degrees make the stern move up and down the waves. The glide is steady and feels like carrying a drift. Better, in fact, because Azzam always turns gusts into speed and not skidding, and it is well understood that this is a tourist gait… I ask how much they reached in practice “past thirty knots…. But we expect forty with the waves of the Indian Ocean.” Those wall-effect waves that in the roaring forties chase you and from which you plunge downhill, loading the bow ballast, 1200 liters. “These Volvo 65s are slower than the 70s of last year’s edition in light winds, but they are strong, we will be able to pull them hard.” Yeah-we’ve been at sea for about half an hour and I’ve seen all the crew on deck, all busy. How will they do when the shifts are four people? “There will be only eight of us,” Walker says, “and this time the navigator and helmsman have to be on shift, it will all be more difficult and demanding, very athletic. It may be the tailers who follow me around like crazy, after all, there are some of the best professionals in ocean sailing aboard, but Azzam seems even too easy to use. Of course, if there were such a boat to cross the Atlantic with girlfriend and friends… Who knows, maybe progress will bring it to us in a few years.
THE GRAND BOUCLE OF SAILING
The crewed round-the-world race was born in 1973, first sponsor the Whitbread brewery, first winner a Swan 65 ketch, almost standard issue. At that time gliding in the ocean was almost forbidden, records were those set by clippers (who between us were also going at a constant 20 knots), ranking was by fee, even small boats by today’s standards participated, the holds were not loaded with freeze-dried but with hams, loners were visionary nuts, and a sextant was needed for the course. Technology has shrunk the oceans to the point where they have become if not an Olympic baton at least a large race course where the unknowns are many fewer than they once were. Continuous communications, pictures, boats are carefully followed. Next time it will be a Big Brother of sailing, with cameras and a control room on board. An “embedded” operator will be tasked with intriguing the audience on the ground with things, clingly, never seen. The bet is the world of young people, skaters, and bloggers to be captured with the spectacle of the Great Circle Route, the Antarctic highway that has been taking sailors around the world in the harshest conditions for a few centuries. The explorers, merchants, and convicts who founded Australia and New Zealand sailed there. The next Volvo Race starts in early October from Alicante and arrives in Gothenburg after touching 11 ports and covering 38,739 nautical miles. Find the full story of our day at Abu Dhabi borod in the June issue of the Sailing Newspaper