Tough, intense, and featuring almost three times as much Southern Ocean sailing as the previous edition, the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 will be contested over the longest distance in race history at around 45,000 nautical miles (nm), crossing four oceans and taking in 11 major cities on five continents.
The 43-year-old race around the world – the ultimate ocean marathon, pitting the sport’s best sailors, against each other across the world’s toughest oceans – will start from Alicante in late 2017 with a 700nm sprint to Lisbon, Portugal that will provide the first test of the form guide.
From the Portuguese capital, the fleet will plunge south towards Cape Town, South Africa, before an epic few weeks racing through the Southern Ocean and then back north across the equator to Hong Kong SAR, China in what will be one of the longest legs in Race history.
After a non-scoring transition to Guangzhou, China where an in-port race and full set of stopover activities will be held, the ocean racing will resume from Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand. The fleet will then head back through the Southern Ocean, around the most famous landmark of them all, Cape Horn, and up through the Atlantic Ocean to the southern Brazilian city of Itajaí.
From there, as in the last edition, the boats will head back in to the northern hemisphere to the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, Newport, Rhode Island, before a blast across the North Atlantic on the blue riband transatlantic leg, which will see them make a first return to British shores in 12 years.
The fleet will arrive in Cardiff, capital city of Wales, in May 2018, before beating its way around the top of the British Isles on a short but potentially brutal leg to the penultimate stopover in Gothenburg, Sweden. The 2017-18 race will end with a grand finale into The Hague, Netherlands.
The total distance of the racetrack is longer than in any of the 12 previous editions of an event which was born as The Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973.
But while the teams will sail more nautical miles than ever before, the race itself is scheduled to be one month shorter than in most of the last 12 editions.
“More action, more speed, more tough miles and more host venues, but a shorter race – it’s an evolution in the right direction and a move that takes the Race closer to its original roots and heritage, while improving its strong commercial value and excellent business case for sponsors,” said Mark Turner, who took over as CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race earlier this month.
Around 12,500 nm of the race will take place in the Southern Ocean, the fast-moving, ice cold waters around the Antarctic where, unhindered by land, some of the deepest weather depressions circle the bottom of the global, generating giant waves and punishing, heavy winds that can peak at over 70 knots (130 km/h). In the previous edition, the teams spent around 4,500 nm racing in the Southern Ocean.
“In 2017-18 we’ll be visiting some of the world’s most famous sailing cities – places like Cape Town, Auckland and Newport, Rhode Island – while also taking the Race to fresh audiences in new cities,” Turner said, as the route was unveiled on Wednesday.
“Firstly to Hong Kong, an incredible city, which will act as a hub for south-east Asian fans and VIP guests. Then on to Guangzhou, China – the first time the Race will visit one of just four, premium Tier 1 cities in the country.
“And finally to Cardiff, taking the Race back to the UK for the first time since 2005-06. The United Kingdom is the birthplace of The Whitbread Round the World Race, which had its first start from Portsmouth in 1973 and later became the Volvo Ocean Race in 1998.”
Looking forward, Turner added: “It’s also great to be preparing for a fourth consecutive start from our home port of Alicante, and heading back to familiar cities where we’re building a legacy for the Race – to Lisbon, Itajaí, Gothenburg and The Hague.”
Richard Mason, Operations Director for the race, commented: “In the last edition we welcomed over 2.4 million visitors and over 70,000 corporate guests to our host city venues. We’re determined to offer even more exciting sailing in 2017-18, while making the race village experience even better for our fans, guests and partners.”
Mason, himself a five-time Volvo Ocean Race sailor, admitted: “I’m pretty tempted to return to the sailing now I’ve seen this amazing new route, but my new CEO has banned me!”
The Southern Ocean has played an huge role in the history of the Race. In the early years of The Whitbread, the fleet would head as deep into the Southern Ocean as possible, braving the icebergs and ferocious winds of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties in order to shave as much distance off the route as they could.
In more recent editions, the boats have raced north through the Indian Ocean, towards the Middle East – and have only returned to the south and its more extreme weather for the shorter leg across to Cape Horn.
“Of course, safety remains paramount,” said Phil Lawrence, incoming Race Director. “With state-of-the-art tracking systems and satellite communication, alongside access to in-depth route information, we can stay one step ahead of the conditions and limit the exposure of the sailors.
“But ultimately, there will always be danger. Sailors know they put their lives on the line when they take on ‘the Everest’ of professional sailing. That’s what the Volvo Ocean Race is all about – taking the toughest conditions that Mother Nature can throw at you, and overcoming them.”