Out With the Old, In With the New

With the calendar officially turning one year closer to the start of the next Volvo Ocean Race, it seems a fitting time to check in and see what teams are making New Year’s resolutions and which teams are moving on.

Sailing World

SCA: Volvo 70 Trainer

SCA, the VOR's first official entry, snatched up PUMA Ocean Racing's mar mostro, and turned the Kraken and shoe into a pink field of grass and dandelions. The boat will be used for selection of the all-women's team.Rick Tomlinson/volvo Ocean Race

For both the Groupama Sailing Team and Puma Ocean Racing, official announcements have been made confirming the end of their Volvo ambitions. While a setback for the Volvo Ocean Race, both sponsors are still keenly committed to sailing. Puma is a technical sponsor to Oracle Racing's bid to defend the America's Cup, while Groupama will continue to support Franck Cammas in the Little Americas Cup and France's Tour de France à la Voile. For the other teams from the past race, no official announcements have been made regarding their futures. Both Ian Walker (Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing) and Pedro Campos (Telefonica) are on the record as strong supporters of the new VO65 One Design class, and the old VO70 Telefonica has been rebranded as MAPFRE for an upcoming attempt at the "Discovery Route" record from Spain to the Bahamas. Hopefully, both teams will soon be announcing their intentions to continue on in the next race.

The loss of Puma from the race has come as a gain to the all-female Team SCA. SCA has purchased Mar Mostro, and it has been undergoing a refit to act as a crew selection and training vessel for the challenge managed by Atlant Ocean Racing. I caught up with Richard Brisius, head of Atlant, before the holidays to catch up on the status of the only declared team for the next Volvo.

"The concept of a female crew came from SCA, and we said that is an enormous challenge" says Brisius. "There just isn't the experience. You have to go back to Adrienne Cahalan in 2005 [one leg as navigator for Brasil 1], and before that to 2001 [Amer Sports 2] to find any woman with experience in this race. A lot has changed in 10 years with the technology."

While finding experienced women to mount a team may be a challenge, to sponsor SCA, it’s worth the effort. “SCA is undergoing a change,” continues Brisius, “The company has over 100 different brands, and 80 percent of their customers are women. The race will be an excellent way to reach out to this global audience.” So committed are SCA, that Atlant’s budget for the race is fully financed.

To reach out to the target market, SCA first needs a team. A global call for resumes went out in the fall of 2012, and Atlant’s office was swamped with applicants. Some have Olympic medals, some extensive experience in the Class 40 and Figaro fleets. Others were just looking for adventure. “In most cases, in 95 percent of the cases, the best women in sailing, at least from the people we speak to, have already applied to us, and we find that really inspiring. I think that’s not the case for the men’s teams,” says Brisius.

With ample talent at hand, it’s up to seven-time race veteran Magnus Olsson and his selection committee to sift through the resumes and build a team. Brisius believes the eventual team will be a mix of Olympic-level sailors and those with offshore experience. He explains, “The growth in women’s sailing has been in the Olympic classes. Now about 40 percent of the sailors are women. In any other type of sailing, that ratio isn’t nearly as high. But the beauty of that now is that there are more good women sailing now than there was, says 15 years ago. And then you have the group of women offshore sailors. For most of them, they have had to go solo, so they aren’t waiting for someone to come calling them. Not many women are sailing offshore in crewed programs.

"But we [Atlant] have had to deal with this before. If you look back to our EF Education program, those were women with America’s Cup and Olympic experience. There wasn’t much offshore experience. I think it’s more the case where it’s a different type of sailing to go offshore. You have to really like the life offshore, and you have to like not getting back to a dry bed every night. But the competition level is so intense that I think anyone who likes winning enjoys the racing, even if it is racing 24/7.”

Experience, however, is still key when it comes to selecting a skipper and watch leaders, so Atlant has been busy recruiting from the top down first. “We’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking to people with offshore experience in order to understand the best way forward so we don’t waste time learning for ourselves. So we’ve focused first on finding those with a significant amount of experience and adding them to our team. That group will then have a significant role in who makes it through the first rounds of selection,” says Brisius.

Who those individuals are remains a closely guarded secret. All Brisius will say now is, “We have some very skilled offshore sailors with a desire to win. They may not have done a Volvo, but we are quite satisfied that they can lead our team.”

All of the initial applications have now been filtered, and the first group of potential crew has been invited to try out in the next month on the VO70 SCA. “If we had the resources of NASA, maybe we could tell who has the right personality, but for us, we need to get them out sailing and see who has the will to be offshore,” says Brisius. “We will also have time ashore because people need to be the mechanics, the medic, tend to the rigging, electronics, sails, and so on. In two years we need to give them 10 years of experience.”

For the women that make it past these next rounds of selection, they will have the privilege of sailing the first VO65 this summer. [You can see the boat’s construction progress in the Youtube video below.] While short on experience, SCA will have the advantage of time on their side. Historically, the team that is funded first, with the most training time has gone on to win the race. For Brisius, and team SCA, they hope that trend continues into the race’s one-design era.