Friday 4 November 2011

six-year-old female falcons have proved an unmitigated hit through the Alicante portion of the Volvo Ocean Race


Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Team certainly has a strong Abu Dhabi flavour.


ALICANTE, Spain // Fern and Ying sat unvisited in the front right corner on Thursday midday. They appeared to relish the solitude even as they declined to comment.

These six-year-old female falcons have proved an unmitigated hit through the Alicante portion of the Volvo Ocean Race, the lines to pose with them often snaking out the door and down the wharf.

"Since I've been here, in three weeks we've done just under 10,000 photographs," said Bryan Paterson, their English owner and handler. "Three weeks. A bit mad, really."

As the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and its chairman, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, have envisioned the Volvo Ocean Race as a fresh way to introduce Abu Dhabi to the world, the pavilion here on the Mediterranean shore has done likewise in microcosm. Nicknamed the "Oasis", it has joined with all the other temporary structures in a temporary neighbourhood.

From left to right, they line the shore in front of the six boats that will make off for the ocean on Saturday: Puma (the American sporting-gear company), then Telefonica (Spanish telecommunications giant), followed by the Volvo pavilion itself, then Abu Dhabi, Groupama (French insurance company), Sanya (a second tourism concern, this time for the Chinese resort island) and Camper (Spanish footwear company).

All along, the longest lines have formed outside Abu Dhabi's vivid red structure, owing to Fern and Ying, and to a booth at which people have their names written in Arabic, and to another booth drawing hand tattoos. Cost to visitors: zero.



"From our perspective, it has been great, a useful platform to host our guests," said Carla Nebreda, of the ADTA communications team. "It's a great venue to showcase Abu Dhabi."

Last Thursday, for example, ADTA held a gathering as the skipper Ian Walker introduced the crew, providing a bit of insight into each sailor.

Adil Khalid and Butti Al Muhairi, the Emirati sailor and Emirati reserve sailor and Shore Team member, welcomed guests and answered interviewers' questions.

"This has been interesting for people," said Khalid, all set for his first ocean race. "They like to see what Abu Dhabi looks like, and the falcon, that's our heritage. And the handwriting, they love that and they say they're going to post it in their room." The 23-year-old Khalid stopped through to greet visitors and pose for photos at times when not out in the bay or at the row of team base camps that lines the jutting edge of the shore. Visitors have asked one predominant question, according to Paterson, who brought his falcons from England as quarantine regulations mandate that they hail from Europe.



"They ask you what the connection is," Paterson said. "And so I explain a little about a thousand years of hunting in the desert." Often he explains that on the yacht just steps out the door, a sail showcases a falcon emblem.

The pavilion is two-storey, with its front lobby anchored by a glass-encased replica of the Abu Dhabi village constructed for the third stopover of the 10-stop race. It has a kitchen and an air-conditioned meeting area. Paul Fox, a contractor working for M-Sport, the motorsport company that delivers the pavilion materials, said assembly of the structure required eight men. Almost immediately after the Abu Dhabi yacht Azzam shoves off to sea on Saturday, they will begin the fine art of deconstruction, which will require two to three days.

The entire edifice will fit into three containers, Fox said. From there, this very pavilion will turn up at stopovers in Sanya, China (the fourth), and Lorient, France (the ninth). That means it is likely that Fox will drive it all the way to China and all the way back to France, itself a global adventure, and that Fern and Ying might well turn up again in France. "The birds are really good," Fox said. "They don't bite you or anything."