Volvo Ocean Race: the great adventure begins

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ape-volvoHere we go. With the in-port race in Alicante, Spain, the Volvo Ocean Race, the crewed round-the-world race in stages (Oct. 4 to June 27, 2015), officially begins. We’ve talked a lot about it, now it’s really starting! Let’s look at the new VOR course, the participating teams, these Volvo Ocean 65s born from Farr’s pencil that introduce for the first time the concept of pure monotype in an around-the-world race. Who knows who will win: the girls of Team SCA, the youngsters of Team Alvimedica, on which our Alberto Bolzan is embarked, or perhaps some surprises, such as the Chinese of Dongfeng Race Team or the Arabs of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (who have very little Arab in them, since there is only one member on board from the UAE)? Most importantly: will our heroes be able to race without continuous breakdowns and dismastings, as had happened in the last edition of the regatta?

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 5:00:34 p.m.THE PATH.
Take a look at the map overleaf, which shows the route of the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race: it starts on October 4 in Alicante, Spain, and ends on June 27, 2015 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Eleven ports (if you count the “pit stop” in The Hague), nine stages, totaling 38,739 miles. So much has changed since the first Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race, which in 1973 saw 17 boats (and 167 people) lined up on the starting line in Portsmouth: back then there were only four legs, 27,500 miles in all. Portsmouth, Cape Town, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and return to Portsmouth. With no safety limits, no binding waypoints (as has been the case in recent editions, however): free everyone, at their own risk, to pass the “Roaring Forty” and the “Screaming Fifty.” The round-the-world voyage we are about to follow will be different, with a route that is very different from the one that was originally designed to ideally follow the traffic of 19th-century commercial sailing ships. Mainly for reasons of marketing and showmanship of the event, which turn old sea dogs’ noses up. With Volvo’s entry as the event’s main sponsor (which took place in 2001), it became necessary to multiply the European stops (France and Sweden, for example, are the two most lucrative markets along with Germany for the Scandinavian automaker) and to add ports of call in line with the new “geography”: emerging countries such as the United Arab Emirates and China have applied to be future temples of world sailing, with good grace for the “historic” Sydney and Portsmouth (the stop in Cape Town, on the other hand, is the only port of call in common with the first editions). Despite this, the world tour retains all its charm. It remains a great challenge between men: in the past it was a challenge of who would make it to the destination, now it is no longer enough. Now it is necessary to win, at all costs: starting with the in-port races scheduled at each port of call, whose scores will only be used to determine the side rankings of the inport series but which will tip the scales in case of a tie in the long stages. Only the winner will remain in history.

menTHE CALL OF THE OCEAN GOD
“Regatta with danger of death. Forbidden to make mistakes. Sign up for Whitbread and you will sail around the world. For no pay and risking your life. For a trophy. Sailors, you must be crazy.” So headlined an English newspaper on the eve of the 1989-90 edition of Whitbread. Today, participating in Volvo has become a job as well as every sailor’s dream. Very hard work: freeze-dried food, confined spaces, few hours of sleep, seasickness, 40 days without being able to change clothes. And the certainty that one mistake could cost you your life. Money aside, the doubt that these aliens in ultratechnological oilskins are a little out of their minds remained. But the call of the ocean god is too strong. He summed it up well when asked by Alain Gabbay, a skipper who took part in three editions of the round-the-world race, if he ever thought about death while sailing in 70 knots of air among icebergs: “First, take away a curiosity,” Gabbay replied, “do you ever think about death while making love to a god?

boatsTHE BOATS.
The big news of the 2014-15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race is the boats. For the first time it will be run in perfect monotype. VO65 were designed by Farr Studio and built by a consortium of four shipyards that took charge of different parts of the construction process based on their specializations: Italy’s Persico built the hulls, France’s Multiplast built the decks, Switzerland’s Decision built the structures, and England’s Green Marine handled final assembly and delivery. The sails are signed by North Sails. The choice of the monotype was dictated first and foremost by the need to keep costs down-a solution that allowed for last-minute entries, such as that of the Danish team Vestas Wind, which was announced with just over a month to go. Compared to the predecessors VOR70, these 65-footers are born under the banner of greater solidity, so as to avert the accidents and damages recorded last edition. 20.37 meters long and 5.60 meters wide, VO65 has a draft of 4.78 m and weighs 12.5 tons, for a crew of 8.

THE PARTICIPATING TEAMS
Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.07.49ABU DHABI – The Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team will also be captained by Ian Walker in this edition: the 44-year-old British skipper had already been at the helm of Azzam (Arabic for “determination”: the hull’s name, in keeping with good seafaring tradition, has not changed) at the 2011/12 Volvo, finishing fifth. Completing the crew are Adil Khalid, Daryl Wislang, Justin Slattery, Luke Parkinson, Phil Harmer, Roberto Bermudez De Castro, Simon Fisher, and onboard reporter Matt Knighton.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.02TEAM BRUNEL – Hard to talk about favored teams when racing perfectly one-design boats: however, we can say that the Dutch of Team Brunel have the great experience of the skipper, Bouwe Bekking, on their side. Born in 1963, Bekking is in his seventh round-the-world race (he took part in his first Whitbread in 1985/86). Joining him on board are Andrew Cape, Gerd-Jan Poortman, Jens Dolmer, Laurent Pagès, Louis Balcaen, Pablo Arrarte, Rokas Milevicius, and Stefan Coppers.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.08TEAM ALVIMEDICA-The team supported by the Turkish giant Alvimedica, within which our Alberto Bolzan also plays, is the youngest in this VOR: the skipper, American Charlie Enright, is 30 years old. Other team members are Dave Swete, Mark Towill, Matt Noble, Nick Dana, Ryan Houston, and Will Oxley. The media crew member is Amory Ross, who previously embarked on Puma at the last Volvo. However, the crew, probably the least experienced, was able to rely on good and studied preparation.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.14DONGFENG – Who knows if the Chinese will make a “mattress” appearance again this year, as had happened to Team Sanya during the 2011/12 VOR. The premises suggest otherwise: starting with the absolute quality skipper, Charles Caudrelier (40). The Breton sailor was one of the key men in Groupama 4’s victory at the last Volvo. In addition to him, the Dongfeng Race Team relies on the services of Eric Peron, Kevin Escoffier, and the Chinese Cheng Ying Kit, Jin Hao Chen, Jiru Yang, Kong Chencheng, Liu Ming, and Liu Xue.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.22TEAM MAPFRE – The Spaniards were the second-to-last to sign up, but they are aiming high. The crew list, in addition to skipper Iker Martínez and inseparable partner Xabi Fernández (together they won 49er gold in Athens 2004), includes Michel Desjoyeaux, a two-time Vendée Globe winner. André Fonseca, Anthony Marchand, Antonio Cuervas-Mons, Carlos Hernández, Nicolas Lunven, Rafael Trujillo Villar, and Sam Goodchild. Onboard reporter the Argentine Francisco Vignale.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.29TEAM SCA – Not since 2001 has there been a women’s team on the World Tour (Amer Sports Too). The girls of Team SCA, flying the Swedish colors, are at it again: there is no real skipper, but many experienced female sailors who will take turns on board. Sam Davies (pictured), Abby Ehler, Annie Lush, Carolijn Brouwer, Dee Caffari, Justine and Elodie Mettraux, Libby Greenhaigh, Liz Wardley, Sally Barkow, Sara Hastreiter, Sophie Ciszek, and Stacey Jackson, with Corinna Halloran as onboard reporter.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 17.08.36TEAM VESTAS WIND – Last, but not least. Denmark announced its participation very late, with experienced Chris Nicholson (45, in his fifth Volvo) as skipper of Team Vestas Wind. As the hulls are one design, the boat should present no problems, but the team will have to struggle in no small measure to close the gap in preparation. Also on board along with the Australian will be Maciel Cicchetti, Nicolai Sehested, Peter Wibroe, Rob Salthouse, Tom Johnson, Tony Rae and Wouter Verbraak. Brian Carlin will be the onboard reporter.

 

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