Walker gets tactical after surviving Alberta

Ian Walker and his Azzam crew lead the race out of Miami. Picture: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race
Ian Walker and his Azzam crew lead the race out of Miami. Picture: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race

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Ian Walker is having his best Volvo Ocean Race leg to date – holding on to third place as the fleet approaches the Atlantic midway point between Miami and Lisbon.

Off the back of another in-port race win before the restart from the south Florida stopover last weekend, the Warsash skipper’s crew aboard the Abu Dhabi-sponsored Azzam are on something of a high.

While they know they are no match in straight-line drag race for most of the competition – and that an overall podium finish is now beyond them – the experienced largely British crew will be looking to finish the round-the-world event with a flourish.

For the moment, though, they have to negotiate their way through the unforgiving north Atlantic.

Walker said: ‘For a few days we have clung to the hope we could just about ride the southwesterly wind east and connect with the westerly flow round the Azores High that would deliver us to Lisbon.

‘It was a dream scenario – a very direct and downwind route that avoided the ice gates to the north.

‘Sadly, reality is now being faced by the fleet as we gybe north one by one.

‘Ahead of us we face a very light wind, high pressure zone to cross, a day of upwind sailing, much colder temperatures and a few more days at sea.

‘At least it will feel like a real Atlantic crossing.

‘I might have to dig out the kit bag to find some thermals after all.’

At least the tactical and strategic skills Walker has in abundance aboard Azzam can now come in to play, giving the down-on-speed Volvo 70 the chance to challenge for a top spot.

The fleet was yesterday spread west to east across a 150-mile front – with overall race leader Telefonica holding a narrow lead from Groupama in the eastern corner.

Walker added: ‘I suspect we could see a real shake up in the standings, with some big gains and losses.

‘After getting ourselves into a good position thus far, our priority is to put ourselves in as safe a position as we can relative to the others.

‘Stating the obvious, our aim is to try and gain leverage to attack those in front while defending those behind.’

Whatever the outcome, with two leg-ending disasters behind them, Azzam’s crew will have been relieved to have come through the battering delivered by tropical depression Alberta earlier in the week.

‘A violent windshift headed us straight into the eye of the storm,’ recalled Walker.

‘Then followed a chaotic 12-hour period as we ended up on the wrong side of it, beating upwind in 35 knots.

‘All of a sudden, instead of a fast ride east to the south of the storm, we were right in it and in survival mode with three reefs and a heavy weather jib.’