I’m doing this for my country

As the first Emarati to compete in a global yacht race Adil Khalid has become a national hero in the UAE.  He talks to CMME about his Olympic dream, life on-board the Volvo Ocean Race and risking life, limb and bad food.

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As the first Emarati to compete in a global yacht race Adil Khalid has become a national hero in the UAE.  He talks to CMME about his Olympic dream, life on-board the Volvo Ocean Race and risking life, limb and bad food.

CMME: Adil, thank you for sparing your time as you prepare for the final leg of the race to Galway. So you’re sitting at home one day and you think, “I know, I’ll sail around the world” – and now here we are in Lorient a few days from the finish. How does that happen?

Adil Khalid: Well I wanted to compete in the Olympics but Volvo came in and said you are the best sailor in the UAE, would you like to do it? And I said, “Okay, let me think about it and give me time!” After that there were trials with 120 people applying to do it. I went in and there were testers and everything.


CMME: Take us through that trial process – what did they make you do?

AK: We had to do the grinding test (the grinder is a two-man winch that lifts up the sails), raise the spinneker, defurring, show how to trim the sheets, wind the winch – fast.


CMME: Sounds exhausting!

AK: They wanted someone who could learn very fast, teach him, so he could go straight away.


CMME: Before entering the Volvo Ocean Race, what experience did you have?

AK:  I used to race 45m boats between Dubai and Muscat. We used to do it in small keel boats.


CMME: That sounds a long way away from circumnavigating the globe?

AK: (Laughs) Yes, the distance seems like nothing now! We used to it in less than 24 hours.


CMME: What did your family say when you told them you were going to go around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race?

AK: They were happy. They were like, do anything you want. It’s your life. My family have always supported me. My friends and my club supporters have supported me all year round. I have support from everyone. It’s good.


CMME: Presumably after being selected you had to go into team training?

AK: We met in Abu Dhabi and trained on our old boat. The training was nice but it was hard and tough.


CMME: What did you find particularly hard during that training?

AK: The food! I didn’t like the food in the beginning. It was like eat the cat food? No way – what am I doing?! But I had to do it. I had a thousand people behind me.


CMME: What’s life like on-board, I mean, does everybody get on?

AK:   Everybody gets on. Somtimes its hard work. You have to learn and they push you hard. You have to do this thing or not do this thing because maybe you’re going to fall down. I had to (learn) how to take care of myself. It can be tough, sometimes you cannot move [below] or shower. It’s terrible.


CMME: I understand that very early into the race the boat ran into trouble.

AK: We had started and were a hundred miles out. We had this sail change and suddenly ten minutes later, the mast went down. I thought, “We’re a 100 miles out and we’re going to break this boat”. The longest trip I had done was five days and we were in this situation. I was wondering, what am I doing? But I looked at the flag [the UAE flag proudly mounted on the aft of the boat] and thought I must do this because I love my country.


CMME: How important is that flag to you after four hours sleep and the sea is rough? Does it keep you going?

AK: When you wake up and see that flag, and you know the country is behind you, it keeps you going. You have to do it.


CMME: I got a sense of that when I saw the race in Abu Dhabi. Everyone was behind you and the boat.

AK: There were so many people! So many kids now want to do it. Hopefully I will one day be able to go around the world with a local team. It’s a dream. I’ve met bin Zayed, Sheikh Makthoum and they told me, well done – you did it.


CMME: Can a team all from the UAE do this?

AK: Maybe next year! We can have our boat, as all the boats we will have the same design [as part of new rules being introduced to the race]. Sailing – anyone can do it with a year of training but the navigating is difficult. When you a put a team together you need a navigator. It is not easy, you have to learn, you have to travel. It can be hard.


CMME: Do you think you are a better sailor now then when you left?

AK: Everyday you are learning. Every mistake you are learning. You can’t control every situation. You become more patient, learn how to chill out and relax. If you are skipper you have to control everything (although sometimes you need to cool him down!). This changes your life. It’s an amazing thing.


CMME: Are you going to have any friends or family waiting for you in Galway?

AK: Yes everybody is so excited. My friends are coming. Abu Dhabi – oh god!


CMME: What happens next for you after you finish the race?

AK: I want to develop sailing in Abu Dhabi. I want two, three people and do the Olympic Games in 2016. It’s my dream. I’ll bring people to the Olympic Games. I’ll do everything, train people, try to give them anything I didn’t get in my life I will give them to reach the Olympic level.


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