Volvo Ocean Race: The Wise Wolf

Published on March 12th, 2014

by Agathe Armand
(March 11, 2014) – This is Ian Walker’s third race and his third time behind the helm. But I’ve never seen the British sailor in such a positive state of mind. Is it because of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s first sail or because of his team? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I know one thing – this time, Walker is ready for a good, happy race. A winning race?

“I feel a change,” says Ian Walker is 44, skipper of two previous Volvo Ocean Race campaigns. One could say he’s seen it all – except for a win.

He answers my phone call from the bottom of Abu Dhabi’s brand new Volvo Ocean 65, the one-design machine that will take him and his eight crewmates around the world in 2014-15.

“I’m down below cleaning the bilge to learn about the boat from head to toe, from bow to stern, to make sure we are ready for our trip to our Portuguese training base in Cascais.”

After Green Dragon in 2008-09, after Abu Dhabi in 2011-12, Walker is back at the helm of the Emirati project. A top-level dinghy sailor, he supported the move to one-design all along and seems happy with the boat he finally launched last week in Southampton, UK.

“We’ve sailed for two days now and I’m pleased with the quality of the boat, the mast and the sails. It was very symbolic for the team who worked behind this for almost a year, but it’s a one-design boat so it felt less worrying than it used to. I was less anxious than normal. That’s probably a good thing.”

Walker is British, he can be very gentlemanly but I’ve always heard about his strong temperament. Now I wonder if his perspective on a race he still has to win has evolved?

“My first Volvo Ocean Race was particularly difficult,” he recalls. “Some of my crew had done it several times and it was a totally different relationship. This time, the only person I haven’t been round the world with already is Luke Parkinson, but then I’ve sailed with him and I don’t have any doubt about him.We have a very flat structure and everybody’s input is respected. We’ll do a lot of things by consensus and that’s a healthy thing.”

There is no doubt that nearly nine months of racing around the globe with a full crew of sailors onboard one boat would change a man. What was he like when he first came to the race six years ago?

“I didn’t know what was ahead of me, if I’m honest!” He laughs, stopping to gather his thoughts. “I was mainly hoping I’d stay alive. I wanted to put up with the conditions and make a contribution to the team. I was one of the least experienced persons on the boat. Now I know what’s ahead of us and I have a pretty firm idea of what it takes to win this race. I think we’ve got a good plan, we’ve got very good people, a strong shore and management team, a very nice bunch of experienced sailors and that makes me look forward to the year ahead.”

To date, Walker is one of the most experienced skippers of the fleet – except for Bouwe Bekking, who is preparing for his seventh participation with Team Brunel. How does he look at his competitors, who include a cast of first-time rookies and even an all-female crew?

“There is a shift. Looking across the fleet this time, there are fewer race wolves involved – you know, the guys who’ve won the race several times. I think it’s quite nice to see that group expand and race against younger sailors and female sailors, too. This race has always evolved.”

“I know what I was like when I was 30 years old,” he says about Team Alvimedica’s Charlie Enright (29) and Mark Towill (26). “I was pretty hungry and I was pushing myself and pushing everybody who came in front of me. I’m sure they do too. I’m sure they are good sailors, I’m sure they will make mistakes along the way but I know there will be plenty of time for them to be competitive. I sure don’t take them for granted.”

And how has the race shaped Walker himself? As a father of two, skipper of eight, the Walker of today must be different to the rookie skipper of Green Dragon.

“I’m a lot balder than I was,” he jokes. “A little wiser than I was, and hopefully a little more patient than I used to be.

“I’m still excited and that’s mainly because of the people around me. Abu Dhabi means a lot to me – we put so much effort into this team in the last race. I just want to get out there, get some results and pay back this support and enthusiasm.”

Source: Race media

Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race starts October 4 and will take the fleet to 11 cities in 11 countries – Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France and Sweden – and will require the teams to cover 38,739 nautical miles. It will be the first edition using the new one design Volvo Ocean 65 racing boats. Race website: http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

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