Stepping Into the Ring
Stepping Into the Ring
It’s game time for six Volvo Ocean Race teams, and ready or not, here we come. "Gaining Bearing" from our November/December 2011 issue.
I never—ever—envisioned myself sailing around the world, never mind doing it twice. But here I go again. As most of you know, our PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg Propulsion Team has been together for nearly five years. Last time we finished second. Hardcore Volvo Ocean Race fans know that this will be a crazy nine months with a cast of high-end talent. But for any of you new to the Volvo, a quick VOR 101 should bring you up to speed on what we are about to do and how to follow your favorite team.
Our brand new Volvo Open 70 is one of five new boats designed specifically for the race. There’s one other boat that has been around once already. And trust me when I say that this six-boat race will be the most competitive ever. That’s no hype: we’re all dealing with similar budgets and a phenomenal pool of sailors. In the previous two editions, the winning two-boat powerhouses—Ericsson Racing in 2008-’09 and ABN AMRO in 2005-’06—pretty much smoked the fleet. But there’s no giant in the room this time around.
The race isn’t simply scored on long legs, because each stopover has its in-port race as well. About 20 percent of the overall score comes from the in-port racing. Volvo Ocean Race organizers have decided to show off the speed of these machines incorporating more reaching in the in-port races, so expect the courses to be like those used at the America’s Cup World Series events. For these made-for-television, one-hour sprints around a series of buoys, we must sail with the same 10 crewmembers as are on the ocean legs (no more flying in a couple of big boys to grind). For us, it’s like having a sprint in the middle of a marathon. It’s quite a change of pace, but it’s the only chance we get to show our stuff in front of the crowds.
The stopover schedule is a bit different as well this time around. The average leg length is about 21 days. After finishing the race, the sailing team will hand a beaten-up boat to the shore crew, along with a long work list, and take off for about five days of serious R&R. We then come back, help put the boat back together, deal with all the sponsor and media obligations, and then start the sailing schedule at the end of our second week ashore. Thursday is a practice in-port race day. Friday is a Pro-Am day of fun sailing (which doesn’t factor into the scoring). Saturday is the in-port race, and next leg starts on Sunday. Will we be exhausted after eight months of this? There is little doubt about that.
The legs are a mix of ocean and coastal sailing. Leaving the Mediterranean, we cross the Atlantic twice while sailing to our first stop in Cape Town.
Leg two will be the most bizarre. Because of the piracy issue in the Indian Ocean, we will actually be stopping at an undisclosed location so the boats can be shipped into the Persian Gulf. There we’ll unload and finish the leg. Unfortunately, the real world has gotten in the middle of our boat race, but there wasn’t much the organizers could do when it was all said and done. With a team from Abu Dhabi in the race, the United Arab Emirates is a mandatory stop. After leaving Abu Dhabi, we’ll sail to our ship again, load the boats, bring them back to the undisclosed location, and then continue on with the leg. This leg will be a logistical nightmare.