By Chuck Culpepper www.thenational.ae
While most of the crowd gathered in Portofino, Italy appeared intense, hopeful or curious, one young man in particular all but burst with possibility.
The Emirati sailor, Adil Khalid, looked uncommonly ecstatic as Azzam, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yacht, was unveiled earlier this month. The boat will carry Khalid and the rest of the 11-man crew through nine months, six continents, three oceans and 39,000 nautical miles in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Chosen from 120 applicants as the first Emirati sailor in the race, Khalid spoke of a desire to skipper his own boat one day, and his dream to enter a future edition of the race overseeing a crew made up entirely of Emiratis.
“And,” he said, “I hope Abu Dhabi is going to be the best sailing power in the world.”
In just about every sense, Khalid embodies the mission Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) hatched when it decided to become the first Middle East team in this global sailing marathon. He brings into focus its goals, which include the further development of maritime sports and the greater recognition of Abu Dhabi as a sailing haven.
“Abu Dhabi’s involvement in the Volvo Ocean Race goes back more than two years,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, the director general of ADTA. “The emirate was already actively involved in the maritime industry at that time and we were looking at taking our marine proposition to the next level.”
He said that Abu Dhabi’s 200 natural islands and 400km of coastline have long been favoured for recreational and commercial sailing activities. “Just not in the mainstream,” he said. “We believed the Volvo Ocean Race could comprehensively change that.”
With the tourism targets of 2.3 million hotel guests by 2012 and 7.9 million by 2030 as set out in the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan, he said, the idea was born to have an entry in the race and a port on the docket.
ADTA planners thought that the race provides a “compelling marketing platform to demonstrate Abu Dhabi’s credentials as a leading winter water sports destination”, Al Muhairi said.
The first stopover in the Middle East lent “a fantastic opportunity to tell the world about the emirate’s deep-rooted maritime heritage, its stunning coastline and natural habitat as well as our highly diverse offering in terms of state-of-the-art marinas, attractions and activities”. With the New Year stopover, he said, “We go beyond just telling them. We can show them firsthand.”
The idea that coursed through the American yacht designers Farr and the Italian builders Persico all the way to Portofino and Cascais, Portugal – station of the moment – can “leverage our expansive coastline and warm waters so that sailing and motor yachting become synonymous with Abu Dhabi, which would be particularly appealing to European sailors wishing to escape the rigours of their own winters”.
In remarks to the gathering at a Portofino restaurant before the audience descended the stairs to the ceremony at the wharf, Dayne Lim of ADTA cited that connection between a sporting event and the stature of the emirate. “We always say this is for the people … to share with the rest of the world,” he said.
Khalid sounded eager to personify the vision. He spoke of the difference between the idea and the reality of an Emirati sailor in such a competition, and hoped his participation would help younger citizens “to see it and to say, ‘This is one Emirati guy doing this thing; why can’t I do this thing, because he did this already?'”
From that outlook while living one dream, he did not have to imagine much farther to see 10 Emiratis joining him aboard.
“It’s my dream,” he said, then clarified: “One of my dreams.”
The Volvo Ocean Race schedule
October 29: In-port race, Alicante, Spain
October 30: Pro-am race, Alicante
November 5: Leg 1, Alicante to Cape Town, South Africa
December 11: Cape Town to Abu Dhabi
January 14, 2012: Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China
February 19, 2012: Sanya to Auckland, New Zealand
March 18, 2012: Auckland to Itajai, Brazil
April 22, 2012: Itajai to Miami, US
May 20, 2012: Miami to Lisbon, Portugal
June 10, 2012: Lisbon to Lorient, France
July 1: Lorient to Galway, Ireland