UAE’s Khalid living the dream in Volvo Ocean Race

Emirati Adil Khalid is key part of building the sailing race’s profile in the UAE
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racings yacht Azzam competes in the opener of The Volvo Ocean Race
By Reuters
Mon 31 Oct 2011 08:59 AM

By far
the most enthusiastic celebration of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's crushing victory
in Saturday's opening stage of the Volvo Ocean Race came from 23-year-old crew
member Adil Khalid.

As the
sleek black yacht Azzam made its way back to port in Spain's Alicante after
blowing away its five rivals, Khalid energetically waved a huge United Arab
Emirates (UAE) flag before spraying champagne off the side of the boat as he
beamed at the cameras.

The
first sailor from UAE to take part in the Olympic Games in 2008, Khalid beat
around 120 other applicants to win a place on Azzam, which means
"determined", and is the first Emirati to compete in the eight-month,
39,000 nautical mile Volvo Ocean Race.

"I
loved it," Dubai-born Khalid said in an interview on Sunday as Azzam and
the five other 70-foot yachts bobbed gently up and down in the harbour nearby
and crew members chatted in the warm sunshine.

"Winning
is always the best moment in every sailor's life but this is only the first
step and there is a long way to go," he added.

"The
guys were so happy and we have the confidence now and we think we are going to
do so well going around the world representing UAE."

As
organisers acknowledge, Khalid's presence on the boat has less to do with his
sailing skills, which were honed in much smaller dinghies a world away from the
Ocean Race vessels, and a lot to do with raising the event's profile in UAE.

As well
as entering the first Middle Eastern-backed team, Abu Dhabi is one of the host
ports, a key attraction for some of the race's corporate sponsors keen to push
their business in the region.

Azzam
skipper Ian Walker, a double Olympic silver medallist competing in his second
Ocean Race, said having Khalid on board was crucial to building the event's
profile in UAE and had the added benefit of taking some of the attention away
from him and the rest of the 11-man crew.

"The
whole thing is new for him as he has obviously come from a dinghy
background," Walker said on Sunday."So although he's a good sailor
and he's sailed in the Olympics he was really starting from scratch in terms of
sailing on big boats.

"He
has a lot more to learn but he's coming on very well and the good thing about
Adil is that he is pretty comfortable on the boat so we don't have to keep an
eye on him too much.

"The
important thing is to get him to a stage where he can contribute to the team
and hold down his watch. Without that he would just be slowing us down."

Khalid's
job is to help the bow man and complete physically challenging tasks such as
grinding and trimming.

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He said
he applied for the job after deciding he was not well-enough prepared to
compete at the Olympic Games in London next year.

There is
something of a maritime tradition in his family as his grandfather used to sail
dhows, the Arab vessels used in trading along the Arabian Peninsula.

Chatting
in the bright morning sunshine and still flush with victory, he said he was
looking forward to the race's first ocean leg, which starts from Alicante on
Nov. 5 and ends in Cape Town, South Africa 6,500 nautical miles later.

His
enthusiasm was undimmed despite the knowledge of what awaits him.

The race
is considered one of the toughest sporting events on the planet. Sleep deprivation
is common and teams can face temperatures between -12C in the Southern Ocean
and 50C near the Equator. The wind can reach 70 knots, hurricane force.

"It's
a great moment and you want to carry the flag in every port and back home in my
country they are proud," he said, adding that he is doing 90 minutes of
gym work every day to stay in shape.

"Everyone
was watching the race and people are understanding more and more about
sailing," he said.

"I
got many text messages and until now my phone has not stopped ringing. Everyone
is happy and excited."

A big concern
for Khalid is the food.

Race
crew eat mainly freeze-dried rations as they struggle to take on the 6,000 to
6,500 calories they need per day compared with around 2,500 for a normal diet.
Getting used to the change is not always easy.

"It's
very hard for me to eat this kind of food," Khalid said with a smile. "It's
my first time around the world and maybe I'll get sick of it after four or five
days."

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