Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bowman Justin Slattery, 40, will embark on his fifth consecutive Volvo Ocean Race. Slattery is a tough Irish bloke, the product of a self-made father in County Wexford, Ireland. “There’s one thing I learned from him,” he says. “When you start a job, you always finish it.”
You were a fan of the Volvo Ocean Race since you were 14. How did you become aware of it?
I was lucky to have the opportunity to step aboard NCB Ireland one day in Dunmore East Harbor (Country Waterford, Ireland). I went down with my father. We took a rib out and jumped aboard. I remember being totally captivated by the sense of adventure and how cool what these guys were about to do. I’d never sailed at that point but it always stuck with me. It wasn’t until I started sailing at 17 that I started on the road to getting there.
What keeps bringing you back to the race?
Certainly, the racing. I don’t do it for the paycheck, or I won’t survive long in this game. It’s too punishing; no amount of money can justify what we do out there sometimes. It’s all about the sailing. We’re crossing the major oceans and that opens up the doors to some of the most phenomenal sailing we can do. We do 5-, 6-, 10-day stretches in the open ocean, and we let the boats do what they can’t do anywhere else in the world in any kind of racing. I love competitive racing of any nature. Put it together with this race and it’s one of the best in the world in terms of offshore events.
And it tests your skills?
We end up in some absolutely ridiculous situations for all sorts of reasons. We see every type of weather pattern and every challenging sea state for the boats. Sometimes the boats break, and usually we’re often the furthest away from land as can be. Satellites are closer than the nearest point of land, and you have to deal with it. Everyone’s driving, trimming, doing everything. I guess that’s what sets this race apart, is the ability for everyone to fill a lot of positions.
What’s your most memorable experience?
The first race is always special. Rocking up in Southampton is something I’ll never forget. Suddenly I’m with the big names I’d read about for years and taking part in one of the biggest challenges in my life.
I love the old route. I started out in the VO60s in my first edition. And the old route’s special, with two proper, full-on Southern Ocean legs. As the race progressed the course has deviated as commercial interests have taken over. Volvo has been a fantastic race partner; they’ve held the event since I’ve been doing it. We have to remember without companies like that the race may not be here. So we have to buy into the race going to these destinations to keep it commercially viable and happening. Even though it’s off that traditional track, the racing’s still phenomenal. As long as seven boats are doing what we do, we can send them anywhere. It’s going to be an awesome race.