ALICANTE, Spain, July 10 – Two rival Volvo Ocean Race crews have set out for transatlantic crossings from Newport, Rhode Island to the United Kingdom this week as preparations for the event start in October continued to heat up.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Alvimedica are strictly forbidden under Volvo Ocean Race rules to compete against each other over such a trip, but were given permission to start their transatlantic passages on Wednesday at the same time in a ‘promotional start’ watched by hundreds of Newport sailing fans.
The Emirati-backed crew led by Britain’s Ian Walker was in buoyant mood ahead of Wednesday’s departure for Gosport in England after a short break following its 3,116 nautical mile trip from Portugal to Rhode Island.
That crossing threw up some unique moments including an unexpected three-blast salute from the famous ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2 – the flagship of the Cunard Line – which overhauled the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Azzam boat as both navigated around a zone of icebergs.
“We had just sailed five days without seeing another boat and suddenly the RMS Queen Mary 2 comes within 250 yards,” Walker said.
“I spoke to the captain on the radio: he came in close and gave us three very loud blasts. All the guests were on deck waving and taking photos of us. Unbelievable moment.”
After arriving in England, Azzam will be prepared for the Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week where it will take on its first competitive outings – the Artemis Challenge Race around the Isle of Wight on August 7 and the Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race on August 10.
Team Alvimedica also set out from Narragansett Bay in Newport for Southampton and completed a short circuit before finally waving farewell to its American homeport. The next time it will be back will be when the Volvo Ocean Race visits Newport in May next year.
“It’s not easy to leave friends and family behind but it is time to get out and go sailing,” said skipper Charlie Enright. “While we have achieved a lot in our month here in Newport, we now need to maximise our time at sea together as a team.”
Like Azzam, Team Alvimedica will compete in the Round Britain & Ireland Race.
The campaign, sailing under the American and Turkish flags, this week confirmed five new sailors to join Enright and Mark Towill.
American Nick Dana, New Zealanders Ryan Houston and Dave Swete, Australian Will Oxley, and Italian Alberto Bolzan have all joined, and only the latter is a Volvo Ocean Race rookie plus the first from his country to join a crew in the 2014-15 edition. Amory Ross of Rhode Island has been named as the team's Onboard Reporter.
The Spanish team, whose main sponsor is yet to be confirmed, also completed part of their recruitment drive this week with Frenchman Nico Lunven and Spaniards Rafa Trujillo and Antonio ‘Ñeti Cuervas-Mons joining the line-up led by Iker Martínez and Xabi Fernández.
It will be the third Volvo Ocean Race for ‘Ñeti’ who will be taking charge of training the under 30s in the Spanish crew and also extra coaching responsibilities.
Team Brunel, meanwhile, completed their line-up with the confirmation of another Frenchman, Laurent Pagès, in their ranks.
Having helped Groupama to victory in the last race, the sailor from southwest France already has plenty of experience. He also knows his new skipper Bouwe Bekking well as they sailed together on third-placed Telefónica Blue back in 2008-09.
Dongfeng Race Team sailed to Spain for a 48-hour break from the rain in Lorient while Team SCA’s all-female crew both took time out from offshore training this week.
The women of Team SCA are focusing their sights firmly on their last big competitive test before the Race start on October 4. They will be joining several other boats from the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, including Azzam and Team Alvimedica, in the Round Britain & Ireland Race in August.