Tennis ace Rafael Nadal paid a New Year’s Day visit to the Abu Dhabi Destination Village to give Spanish boat MAPFRE a unique send-off as they made final preparations for the Leg 3 voyage to Sanya, China.
The ‘King of Clay’, who is training in the Emirate ahead of the Australian Open later this month, swapped one surface for another as he stepped onboard the red Volvo Ocean 65, which will sail nearly 40,000 nautical miles over the nine-month race.
And stand-in skipper Xabi Fernández gave the world number three, who has 14 Grand Slams under his belt, a crash course in just what it takes to be an elite offshore sailor, showing him around the deck and the galley of the boat.
The tour even included a nav-station weather and route briefing with Jean-Luc Nélias, MAPFRE’s navigator, who won this race last edition onboard Groupama.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity and a fantastic experience to be here with all the crowd, and fantastic people around the boat,” explained Rafa.
And it turns out that a pair of Olympic gold medals aren’t the only thing that Xabi and Rafa share – the tennis ace also has a passion for sailing.
“I know a bit about boats – I love the sea,” he smiled. “I’m from an island, Majorca, and my life is always very involved with the sea. So it’s just a pleasure to be here.
“I wish everybody the best of luck. I know the second race was much better than the first one, so I hope things continue in that way, improving every time.”
The Spanish team, whose regular skipper, Iker Martínez, will miss the next leg due to Olympic commitments, will be hoping to give Rafa something to cheer on Friday, as they take part in the Abu Dhabi in-port race at 1000 UTC.
And then the following day, Saturday at 1000 UTC, they will embark upon the 4,670 nautical mile sail to China.
Both events can be seen on the official website of the competition, www.volvooceanrace.com and the Youtube channel.
For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit: www.volvooceanrace.com