Skipper Ian Walker and the rest of the victorious Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew have presented His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, with the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 trophy.
Briton Walker described the meeting last week as the highlight of the visit that followed their victory in Gothenburg at the end of last month.
The all-conquering crew of eight also clinched the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Series Trophy on June 27 in the Swedish port among several other victories including the IWC 24-Hour Speed Record Challenge and the Inmarsat Onboard Reporter Award, won by Matt Knighton (USA).
They also met the chairman of backers Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, during the visit to the team's home country.
Walker believes that only part of the mission has been completed following victory in the nine-month offshore race – he still has an ambition to grow the sport of sailing in the region.
“Getting sailing on the front pages of the newspapers and encouraging school kids to read about and see it, it’s a great thing,” he said.
“But sailing’s not going to grow here without a lot of work at the grassroots level and I think that’s the challenge now; to take the message out into the schools and the clubs and to try to get kids in boats.
“It’s a great sport, it’s healthy, it’s outdoors and the climate’s fantastic, certainly nine months of the year - with ideal sailing conditions. Hopefully, we can use this win as a springboard to build on.
“And I think it’s already happening. You see more and more boats off the Corniche here in Abu Dhabi. But we’d really like to see that grow 10-fold over the next few years.”
The crew's Emirati sailor, Adil Khalid, added: “This is the greatest moment of my life. I am immensely proud for my crewmates and my country.
"The United Arab Emirates flag has been flown proudly at every stopover throughout the race and now we have sealed a wonderful victory, our fans in the UAE and around the world can celebrate.”
Many have asked whether Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will return for a third Volvo Ocean Race campaign, but TCA Abu Dhabi has made it clear that no decision will be made for several months.
Walker added: “Hopefully, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the Tourism & Culture Authority will come up with new ways to move sailing forward and we’ve created this fantastic brand. For sure I’d love to be involved again and I hope it moves forward in a way that I can be involved.
“Right now we’re just enjoying the moment, sharing it with as many people as we can. We’ll have a holiday and then we’ll take stock.”
The achievement of Walker and his men has been lauded by the campaign's chief supporters.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is rightly regarded as the ‘Everest of Sailing’, the pinnacle of offshore sailing challenges, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has made it to the top.” said Sheikh Sultan.
“From the start of the race in Alicante, it's been an incredible competition in the face of some of the most challenging and dangerous conditions our planet has to offer.
“I am tremendously proud of our skipper Ian Walker, our Emirati sailor, Adil Khalid, and all Azzam's crew for securing first place in the 2014-15 edition of the race.
“It is another landmark achievement for the United Arab Emirates and the team has represented our emirate with bravery, distinction, and skill.”
Sultan Al Dhaheri, Acting Executive Director of TCA Abu Dhabi, added: "The team has represented our country with pride as we competed against the best sailors in the world, and we've strengthened our position as a sailing nation in front of a global audience.
“I hope all the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing fans in Abu Dhabi, and around the world, join me in congratulating all the members of our victorious team."
*Image credits: Volvo Ocean Race/Ian Roman