It could be a case of ‘Lie back and think of England’ for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker over the coming days after his team set off from Cascais to complete their 2,000 mile Volvo Ocean Race qualifier.
Walker, twice an Olympic silver medallist for Britain, is eager to reach England and show off the team’s new Volvo Open 70, Azzam but the immediate goal is to complete a series of tests with the boat due to leave on Saturday.
“We have some specific data gathering speed tests to run and we may run the boat so that we test by day and rest by night,” Walker told volvoocearace.com before setting off.
“These are important days in terms of time on the boat. It is very hard to do downwind testing normally as you go so fast it takes forever to get back upwind. If we can do some downwind testing we will take the chance.”
The run from Cascais to England — where they will compete in the Fastnet Race starting August 14 — gives the crew a dress rehearsal of sorts for one of the later legs in the 2011-12 race, from Lisbon to Lorient in France.
“We may go to the Azores but the important thing will be to pick up a little low pressure system to get us to the UK quickly,” said Walker, who is preparing for his second Volvo Ocean Race after skippering Green Dragon in the last edition.
“I suspect we will turn north before reaching the Azores but right now it would take us six days to go via the Azores. For sure the first 500 miles will be similar to the start of leg eight in terms of wind speed and angle.
“The forecast is quite changeable. A few days ago it looked dreadful with lots of light air upwind. Now it looks like we can head west quickly before getting an angle to get north and a system to bring us back east to the UK. It looks like we get a mixed bag but we should get some fast reaching which is what we all enjoy.”
Walker and his team are in something of a race against time, having got their boat in the water later than most of the other teams, and the pace will hardly slack with a competitive test in the Fastnet, against Volvo Ocean Race rivals Groupama and Team Sanya, coming up soon.
“I am looking forward to showing the boat off to friends and family and to sail around during Cowes Week,” Walker said.
“We have had a very tight schedule to be ready for this trip and the Fastnet soon afterwards. I hope things hold together well and the job list doesn’t get too long for our short stay in the UK.
“We have had an excellent stay in Cascais and we are looking forward to resuming our training here in September.”