Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: Sailing as a Team

Published on June 24th, 2015

Justin Slattery, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s bowman, just finished his fifth Volvo Ocean Race, and he won it for the second time. Slattery is a discrete, experienced and sturdy sailor. He knows exactly what it takes to succeed in this offshore marathon, here are the questions he was asked regarding his experience.

Has it sunk in yet?

Yeah… yeah [he pauses]. It’s been so long coming; it’s been a very hard and very long race. But it’s a really rewarding feeling.

This was your fifth race, and your third one with Ian. Did it feel like this project was a winning one from the start?

Yes. I wouldn’t have done this race if I didn’t feel we could win it. We put all of the right things in place. It pretty much came off exactly as we planned.

The right things – what are they?

Firstly you need the right people. Second, you need to create the right environment. You need the right plan in terms of preparation. And then it’s how it’s all executed. You know, nothing runs totally smoothly, you run into problems all the time. It’s how you move forward.

There are a million different ways to go wrong in this race and very few ways to win this race. It’s about limiting the damages and keeping everybody on track. It’s very easy to fall off track – we saw it with Telefónica last time. It’s so easy to happen. Keeping our momentum up until the later stages of the race has been key. “Our original plan of consistency has been key, too. A little bit boring at times, but it paid. You don’t have to have only first places to win.

You won the race in 2005-06 with ABN AMRO ONE. Is this victory very different?

People are the biggest difference. We haven’t had the fastest boat on the water like previous editions of the race. I’ve been there and I won it like that in the past. That’s also cool, but going out on the start line with the same machine as everyone else and making the difference adds pressure. Every meter counts. It’s quite stressful, it’s a different kind of sailing in that regard, you have to get used to sailing day in, day out with other boats just meters away.

Dreadful situations, close finishes in the harbor at the end… we got away quite cleanly in most legs, we didn’t make any foolish mistakes and all that counts. And here we are, in Gothenburg – we won the race.

You say people are key to winning this race. Talk about the guys you’ve just sailed round the world with.

Ian, SiFi, Adil and myself all sailed on Azzam in the last edition of the race. And then our coach Neal, Phil, Ian and myself sailed on Green Dragon in 2008-09. We sailed with Daryl and Chuny in the past, too.

We didn’t really need to get to know each other – we by-passed all of that. We sailed as a team from day one. It was straight in, trying to get the boat go fast. There is a huge depth of experience there, in particular in the Volvo Ocean Race but also in other races. All of that accumulates to a very, very strong team.

Ian’s campaign with Abu Dhabi didn’t go that well in 2011-12, with a lot of twists and turns, and a final fifth place. What had changed this time around?

You know, last time, we had a fantastic group of sailors. But you can have the best group of sailors in the world, they still have to get on. You got to put them through some of the toughest times, the most punishing times, and sail in the most furious conditions around the world.

Last time, we found very early on that the boat was off the pace. It’s a very difficult place to be, knowing that you’re not competitive and that there is nothing you can do about it. You have to go through the pain of sailing around the world, getting beaten pretty much all the time. We took a few moments, we had a few successes, but on the all, a very hard, difficult trip. And when you have a race like that, you find the cracks in your crew. If there is a weakness or a problem, it tends to accentuate it. It’s not a very pretty place to be.

But this time, you know, a very solid bunch of guys put under a lot of pressure all the time. We performed well under pressure – we stayed cool and calm in adversity. Just knowing that we’d eventually get back in it and that the result would come. And when things were going well, there was no really big head either. Pretty balanced individuals, extremely motivated to win the race and with a very nice attitude onboard.

On deck, who were you on watch with?

Daryl Wislang, for the entire trip. We got along pretty well. I knew Daryl from before and I know him a lot better now. I’m sure we’ll remain friends for life after this. It’s quite a special experience, to race around the world with a crew.

Your teammates in one word:

Navigator Simon Fisher – Solid
Watch partner Daryl Wislang – Kiwi
Phil Harmer, from Australia – Joker
Chuny, from Spain – Passionate
Under 30 Luke Parkinson – Enthusiastic
Under 30 and Emirati sailor Adil Khalid – Patriotic
Onboard Reporter Matt Knighton – Supercoach
Reserve crew Louis Sinclair, who stepped in twice – Weapon
Shore crew Alex Highby, who joined for a leg – Good guy
Neal McDonal, your coach who came onboard for a leg – Legend
Skipper Ian Walker – Ruthless

Report by Event Media

Editor’s Note – The very last In-Port Race of the 2014-15 edition will be sailed on Saturday, June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden – the Inmarsat In-Port Race. With the local enthusiasm for sailing, and MAPFRE and Team Alvimedica tied for points for fourth place, there is more at stake than it seems… make sure you tune in to follow live coverage.
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