A homecoming packed with family, fireworks and fans helped take the sting out of placing fifth for local boys Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the second stage of Leg 2.
Skipper Ian Walker said it was disappointing to have been at the back of the fleet while Groupama sailing team led the charge from the Sharjah coast to the Abu Dhabi Destination Village.
However, taking stock of the fact that his team had been forced out of Leg 1 with a broken mast Walker admitted he had come to realise the enormity of his team’s achievement in simply being able to race to their home at all.
“We’ve had some tough times already you know, we broke the mast and I wasn’t sure how on earth we were going to get to Abu Dhabi,’’ he said.
“Sure, it’s not the result we wanted today, but it’s a very small part of a long race, so it’s great to be here and we’ll build from here.”
Hundreds of locals lined the shores to get a front row view of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam docking at dusk on Wednesday. Speaking while a fireworks reception cracked overhead Walker said his team would make the most of their time at home.
“It is fantastic to be here, it’s great to see so many people, so we’ll enjoy the time we’ve got here,’’ he said.
It was the moment of a lifetime for local sailor Adil Khalid, the first Emirati sailor to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.
The 23-year-old said he was bursting with pride for both his country and his own achievements, especially having fought off hundreds of sailing hopefuls in an Apprentice-style TV audition process to gain his position.
“It’s a great day for Abu Dhabi and a great day for me,’’ he said. “It's amazing to be back home and I can't believe all the people who have come out here.”
Khalid, a Laser class Olympian, remained positive about Abu Dhabi’s chances to stage a comeback when racing begins on January 13 with the Etihad Airways In-Port Race.
“There's a long way to go in the race,’’ he said. “Today was just not our day. It was very fast out there.”
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