Walker wins first Volvo in-port race

Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 00:00

SAILING:THE OPENING scores in the Volvo Ocean Race were decided over the weekend as the first in-port race of the nine-month round-the-world contest was won convincingly by Ian Walker and the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team.

The British skipper has entered his second race after cherry-picking his last campaign for a fully-funded project this time around. He has a top-drawer crew that includes Ireland’s Justin Slattery in his usual role as lead bowman.

Walker, a double Olympic silver medallist, won the start on Azzam, a sleek black 70-foot yacht, and pulled away from the five other contenders to win comfortably by 14 minutes on the unique course set a few hundred metres from the Alicante shoreline by principal race officer Bill O’Hara .

Light and windless patches during the 72-minute race ensured a tactical contest for the other five, including Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya who delivered his pre-race goal to deny places to the brand new fleet with his second generation 70-footer that sailed as Telefonica Blue three years ago.

Sanderson managed to out-sail his fellow Kiwis on Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand who later muscled back to take third place just ahead of the former race winner.

Sanderson was happy with fourth place ahead of France’s Groupama, reputedly the biggest and best-funded team in the race.

And the local entry led by Iker Martinez placed an embarrassing last place after being forced into penalty turns just metres from the finishing line when they failed to give way to Sanderson’s charging Chinese entry.

However, while a win is a win, an in-port race only counts for one fifth of the points of a full oceanic stage so Walker’s team celebrations remained muted; they may have won the 605-mile Fastnet Race during the summer but nobody wants to risk jinxing a 39,000-mile race on the strength of an eight-mile inshore course.

Nevertheless, Saturday’s in-port race course was special for other reasons as it not only offered a relatively close-up spectacle of the competition from the shoreline, the race was also carried on live television so was obliged to fit inside a strict broadcast time-limit.

Meanwhile, as Walker enjoyed the outcome of his first fleet test in this race, a reminder of his first foray into trans-oceanic racing wasn’t too far away.

Ireland’s Green Dragon is also in Alicante and sailing again, carrying corporate guests on short outings for a brief taste of ocean racing.

Leg one of the main race gets under way next Saturday at 1pm (Irish time) to take the fleet out of the Mediterranean and more than 6,500 miles to Cape Town where the first boat to arrive has historically emerged as the overall winner at the end of the race.