Taken for a Ride
Taken for a Ride
The Volvo Ocean Race is equal parts adventure race and traveling circus, and the pro-am races at each of the race’s stopovers can be thoroughly entertaining for crews and guests alike. "Gaining Bearing" from our March 2012 issue.
Volvo Ocean Race stopovers used to be all about rest, relaxation, and boatwork. But nowadays, in addition to the points-worthy in-port race, organizers have another sideshow to keep us busy: the pro-am races. Yes, it’s one more circus to add to an already hectic few weeks, but as we’ve come to learn, it’s a unique and sometimes crazy way to give something back to those who make the race possible.
The pro-am race was created in the previous edition for no other reason than to give sponsors a firsthand experience of what it’s like to tear around the buoys on a Volvo 70, but it has since turned into something so much more. During the 2008-’09 edition, we had two windward-leeward races on a day specifically set aside for pro-am racing, but during the Boston stopover it was incredibly windy. So we stayed inside Boston Harbor and did reaching races across the harbor and back. The spectators loved it, and the people on the boats were gasping at the speeds we were hitting. And even though the remaining stopovers went back to sausage-style pro-am races, the appeal of Boston’s speed runs prevailed. For this current edition, the pro-am races are glorified reaches.
Who exactly are the golden-ticket holders that ride on the boats for the pro-am races? By way of example, let’s flash back to our most recent experience in Abu Dhabi at the end of Leg 2.
First off, let me start by saying pro-am day drives us crazy. There are three races on the schedule, with the first start at about noon. We switch guests between each race, and when you combine the racing and the switching, each race takes about an hour. We typically entertain more than 40 people over these three races.
On this particular day in Abu Dhabi, we start with PUMA’s guests. These are 11 individuals selected by our marketing team, determined to be the United States’ most “followed” bloggers. Yup, bloggers are taking over the world. These are people who have somehow each created their own cult following.
The idea sounded crazy to me. Not a single one of them is a sailor in any form or fashion. But all 11 of them hop on board with cameras clicking and tape recorders absorbing everything that’s going on with the boat and the crew. We also have the lead singers from a group called the Scissor Sisters. Yeah, yeah, I know. We take who we’re told to take. Apparently, they’re playing a concert in Abu Dhabi. We only sail with six of our regular guys on pro-am day, so we get all the guests into the mix right away.
Six unsuspecting guests who have never spun a coffee grinder hit the handles, eventually turning purple as they try to hoist the mainsail in first gear. We don’t tell them how to switch gears until one of them makes a small throwing-up sound.
It’s amazing how many fail to learn from the first hoist.