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.

Sailing World

PUMA Ocean Racing's mar mostro

PUMA Ocean Racing's mar mostro undergoes its stability test before the start.Chris Hill/PUMA Ocean Racing

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.

Once we’re clear of the pirate zone, it’s on to China, through the Milaca Straits. Then it’s down through the Pacific to Auckland, New Zealand, and across the Southern Ocean up to Brazil. Our North American stop is in Miami this time around, and then it’s across the Atlantic again to Portugal. Finally, we have a sprint around the Azores and in to Lorient, France, before we set our sights on the finish in Galway, Ireland, where lots of beer and golf await our arrival. It’s sounds long, and it is, at about 39,000 miles as the crow flies, but as it was last time, it will be over in a flash.

At the time of this writing, as we wrap up our Canary Islands training session, we are as prepared as I ever thought we could be, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of stones yet to turn. As the boats show up in Alicante, Spain, for the November 5 start, I’m 100-percent positive we’ll see something in the final weeks before the start that make us scratch our heads and say, “why didn’t we think of that?”

There is so much going on with these boats. The underwater hydro package is incredibly complex with five foils to deal with. The hull shapes are crucial and all are different. By rule, we can’t change the hull shape, so once we start we have what we have—strengths and weaknesses included.

And lets not forget the rig and sail packages. Here is where we spent big time and money, and at this point I can say we have built seven of our eight allotted sails on board using North Sails’ 3Di. After sailing with 3Di sails over the past year and a half, I suspect that by the time this race is over we will be saying that 3Di is a larger breakthrough than was 3DL. But, I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch.

Sails are one of the few things we can change after the race begins, but we’re limited to only 17 sails total for the 39,000 miles. Longevity and design play a key role especially as we begin to really find out the boat’s strengths and weaknesses against the competition.

All in all, I feel good about where we are at, but as always, I’m full of butterflies when it comes to all the aspects of the race that are out of our hands. Hitting things, unforeseen breakages, personnel, and the health of the crew are all top of the list. Actually, the list of things to be nervous about is much longer than that, but at some point we have to just go racing and let the chips fall as they may.

**The Route **
Start Date Route Approx. Distance (nm)
›› Leg 1 Nov. 5, 2011 Alicante to Cape Town 6,500
›› Leg 2 Dec. 11, 2011 Cape Town to Abu Dhabi 5,430
›› Leg 3 Jan. 14, 2012 Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China 4,600
›› Leg 4 Feb. 19, 2012 Sanya to Auckland 5,220
›› Leg 5 March 18, 2012 Auckland to Itajai, Brazil 6,705
›› Leg 6 April 22, 2012 Itajai to Miami 4,800
›› Leg 7 May 20, 2012 Miami to Lisbon 3,590
›› Leg 8 June 10, 2012 Lisbon to Lorient, France 1,940
›› Leg 9 July 1, 2012 Lorient to Galway, Ireland 485