The Volvo Ocean Race Sails Through Miami

It’s raining in Miami, and we’re sitting inside of the Camper pavilion waiting for the weather to clear, Josh with his forehead on the table while I make idle conversation with the woman across from us.

“It’s embarrassing,” she says, gesturing to the low turnout for the day of in-port racing, though considering the weather, I imagine there were several factors in play. Still, there’s no doubt that the race village here in Miami feels different from the one in Alicante. In Spain, where the race started in November, you could power a blender on the electricity buzzing through the atmosphere.

Here, the crowds and the teams seem more reserved, with visitors scampering to find cover among pavilions or in the tents set up by the various sponsors. When we head in to the media tent to pick up badges, a familiar face greets us from Spain, an old friend who puts down her mobile phone to catch up on gossip. She smiles. We’re the only ones checking in.

Midway through this marathon of a race, the atmosphere here is heavy with fatigue and determination. Over 30,000 nautical miles have been sailed around the world to this point so far, and teams still have to cross the Atlantic Ocean before they reach home. As soon as the boats pull back into port in Miami on Saturday, the shore crew is hard at work turning over the boat for the next day of sailing. Bunks are being hosed down, masts are being rigged, sails reconfigured. Frankly, there’s little space for celebration and the crowd seems to respect that.

Still, it’s easy to see the hope and determination still coursing strongly through many of the sailors. We meet up with our old friend Nick Dana, the Media Crew Member (MCM) on Team Abu Dhabi’s Azzam who’s bearded, tanned and about six years older than he was in Spain last November. There’s nothing but hunger for the race in his voice, however, and as he wanders through the ship with us, he tells us of his excitement for the next leg, excitement to be in his home country and excitement to kick this next leg in the teeth.

We leave the ocean racers in the late afternoon heat and drizzling rain of Miami, quietly rigging the boat and preparing for the next leg. Josh and I will be tucked safely away at the downtown Marriott tonight, while tomorrow the crew will be filed away into their carbon fiber bunks as the ships sail eastward. Divergent now, our paths will cross again soon.

Follow the Volvo Ocean Race as the teams sail into Lisbon Lorient and Galway.

The continuing rise of Gulf state carriers

The rise of Gulf state carriers continues to impress. These airlines, which have defined themselves in part as hub-and-spoke carriers linking Europe (and the eastern coast of North America) to Asia, have developed exciting route maps over the last several years with a particularly strong reach into the Arabian Peninsula and India.

While other airlines have recently attempted to develop their hub airports for intercontinental hub-and-spoke connections as well – Finnair‘s recasting of Helsinki as a northern Europe-Asia hub is one example – the Gulf carriers really stand out in global terms.

Yet, awareness of their services remains far lower than it should be among Americans, despite the presence of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways at a handful of major US airports.

The Gulf state carriers’ key consumer product is a luxury flight with premium class service and a truly over-the-top experience on all three airlines. On Emirates, first class passengers are treated to private suites. Etihad’s Diamond First Class features flatbeds, personal mini-bars, and anytime dining, while Qatar Airways’ First Class offers turndown service with an amenity kit including products by Prada. With perks like these, it is clear that these carriers are establishing new standards for premium class service.

Even in coach, however, these airlines are delivering a decent product. I experienced the Qatar Airways economy treatment on a recent mid-haul journey from London, via Doha, and back. There was more legroom than in standard coach and the ongoing parade of meals and snacks was, if not exactly delicious, then without question, a cut above average airplane food.

Route maps, however, provide the most interesting dimension of the rise of the Gulf state carriers. While there is quite a bit of overlap between airlines, each airline covers some original territory. Let’s look at where these airlines fly.Etihad flies from Chicago, New York, and (as of March 31) Washington, D.C., to Abu Dhabi. Etihad also flies direct routes between most major European hubs and Abu Dhabi, in addition to a few surprising ports of call (Minsk, anyone?). In addition to eight destinations in India, Etihad’s more popular Asian destinations from Abu Dhabi include Bangkok, Colombo, the Maldives, and Seychelles.

Qatar Airways links Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C., to Doha. The airline flies to 31 destinations in Europe (including 2012 launches), 12 destinations in India, four in Pakistan, and four in China. Other destinations of note include Zanzibar, Ho Chi Minh City, and Denpasar.

Emirates boasts the best links to the US of all with direct connections from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, and New York to Dubai. Of these, Seattle and Dallas are new routes. The former begins on March 1 and the latter route kicked off on February 2. Emirates’ reach is particularly remarkable. The airline flies to 28 destinations in Europe, 15 destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 destinations in India, and four in Australia; all but a handful of these routes are direct.

With beefed up links to major US airports, premium services to lure business and moneyed travelers, and route maps that show no sign of contracting, the Gulf state carriers look set to be important long-haul standbys for some time to come.

[Image: Flickr | jmmcdgll]

Etihad Airways launches direct service to Washington, DC

Etihad Airways will begin daily nonstop flights from Washington, DC to Abu Dhabi on March 31, the airline announced.

“No other UAE carrier is offering nonstop services between DC and the UAE, so this capital-to-capital link is a huge opportunity for Etihad Airways,” said James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ chief executive.

The Washington region is home to America’s second largest market flying to the Middle East, after New York.

We’re wondering if the highly-acclaimed airline’s new route will cut in to Qatar Airways‘ market share. The airline had previously captured the luxury route with directs to Doha and easy UAE connections.

Last week, the US Department of Commerce released data showing that total trade volume between the US and the UAE rose to $18.3 billion in 2011, a 43 percent increase from the year before. This increase represents the highest trade volume to date between the US and UAE.
It also means that, for the third consecutive year, the UAE is the single largest export market for US goods in the Middle East.

The US is the fifth largest trade partner worldwide for the UAE.

“The point-to-point traffic between DC and Abu Dhabi is expected to contribute significantly to overall loads on the route,” Hogan added.

The direct flights will be operated by a three class A340-500 aircraft. Each flight will offer 12 Diamond First class, 28 Pearl Business class, and 200 Coral Economy seats.

Etihad, the “fastest growing airline in history,” won World’s Leading Airline, World’s Leading Airline First Class, and World’s Leading Airline to the Middle East at the World Travel Awards earlier this year.

[Flickr via rogerbarker2]

Photo Gallery: On board Team Abu Dhabi’s VO70 at the Volvo Ocean Race

In the few days that I’ve been back from Alicante it’s been difficult for me to explain the sheer magnitude of a VO70 ocean racer to my peers. These sailboats are unlike your average Sunfish or J-105. They are massive, precision engineered creatures, optimized for weight, balance and speed. They are moving cities, with 11 men onboard, bunks, cooking and wash facilities. They’re also information superstations with a handful of remote controlled cameras, a satellite uplink and enough CAT-5 cable to impress any technophile.

At Team Abu Dhabi’s invitation we brought a team out to Alicante, Spain in late October to get a unique snapshot of the team and the race from the beginning. Days before the official launch we were out on the chilly Mediterranean waters on a practice run armed with only a handful of sailing experiences under our belt and a Canon SLR. The below gallery is what we captured.


Sailing on the deck of a VO70 is like riding on the back of a dragon, mythical, awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. As the ships tack and jibe back and forth near the starting line it’s eerily quiet save for the occasional shout from the skipper or the stress-groans from the carbon-fiber hull. To see this much mass and power moving in such grace is a humbling experience. To see the ships race is unforgettable.Ships leave Alicante and head towards Cape Town on the 5th of November. You can catch up with the fleet at nine other ports around the planet through the summer of next year. The full schedule is at

[Editor’s note: Team Gadling joined the Volvo Ocean race at the request and expense of Team Abu Dhabi. Media support made the ships sail no faster nor the writers get any wetter while on assignment.]

Volvo Ocean Race kicks off from Alicante, Spain

It’s dark when I wake up in Alicane, with heavy, blue-grey storm clouds twisting upwards through the Mediterranean sky. Somewhere, 10,000 feet above this small Spanish city the gods are fighting over weather patterns; there’s a dash of clear blue sky here and a seam of storm clouds there, a maelstrom of wind, cloud, rain and energy hashed up atmosphere. In my view, it’s the perfect condition for sailing.

Out on Team Abu Dhabi’s VO 70 though, the weather conditions take a turn. Stale, soft wind starts to blow in from the southwest and our head sail softens. So the officials delay race start for another twenty minutes. In the mean time, our skipper Ian Walker spends time prepping his crew and exploring the winds around the race waters. And we wait.

It’s the day before the official launch to the Volvo Ocean Race and I’m out on a practice run with Team Abu Dhabi, who have invited me to come out and explore their operation before the kickoff. Alicante, a modest city two hours southwest of Valencia is both the opening port for the race as well as home base for the media operations and the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race museum. Over the next nine months, six teams will sail from here around the horn of Africa up into Abu Dhabi, around India, into China, across the perilous southern ocean and then into the Americas before reaching European shores once more.

Many among the management compare the event to the Everest of sailing but it’s more than that. It’s years of boat building, design, planning and execution. It’s the logistics of hop scotching tons of freight and support staff among ten ports across the planet, alternating ports to keep up with the boats. It’s holding onto your guts amidships when the swells of the southern ocean are trying like hell to pull them out of you.

There’s a grave determination among the eleven men on this ship as we cross the starting line and dig into the first leg of our race. Each spinnaker will be cast and folded hundreds of times in the next nine months, each sailor pushed to his limits. In Alicante, the weather is warm and the men are still strong and cheerful. Our world – this ocean will soon have its way with them.

[Editor’s note: Team Gadling joined the Volvo Ocean race at the request and expense of Team Abu Dhabi. Media support made the ships sail no faster nor the writers get any wetter while on assignment.]