The old saying, “there’s a first for everything,” now rings especially true for Chris Nicholson, of Australia, who was announced as the skipper of the Volvo Ocean Race’s seventh and final entry in mid-August, only two months before the race start. While most other teams were entering the final phases of their training, Nicholson was waiting for the paint to dry on his boat.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done this late,” says the four-time race veteran and father of two. “But a one-design lets us at least have a chance, which in the past wouldn’t have been possible.”
As the boat was finished in England under the direction of Nicholson’s longtime colleague Neil Cox (one of the best project managers in the business), crew selection was still a “major” and ongoing concern. “For sure, we’d only be able to pull a team together at such a late stage because of our experience in the race,” he says. “It really helps that the boat is not a concern, so that it purely comes down to getting the crew and our shore support in line. I can’t stress how extremely high the mountain is of what we’re taking on.”
For the team’s sponsor, Vestas, the world leader in wind energy with headquarters in Denmark, the race is tailor made, says Nicholson. The company plans to use the race for global brand awareness, client entertainment, and applying their technology to the team’s resources.
“It goes to their key markets, so it’s a perfect fit for them and for the sport of sailing. With wind-power generation there’s a lot of synergy between them and this race . . . it’s a great story.”
Such a late-blooming campaign isn’t Nicholson’s preference, but he says he’s thought it through and goes into it without reservation.
“All of these programs, they take a lot of work and at one stage I thought I wouldn’t do the race. I was pretty comfortable looking around at other types of sailing, but there was certainly a hollow feeling that if I wasn’t doing a Volvo project that I would be missing out. I thought I’d be doing legs and fill-in for sure, because there will be a fairly high turnover of people with the added pressure of one-design, but I’m happy and fortunate to be now in this position.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every Volvo experience I’ve ever had, and I want this one to be the same. Starting this late almost places a risk on that being the case. There are a lot of things at stake rather than the end result—that’s only a small part of the equation.”
He admits it will be tight in terms of getting to the starting line, and some genuine concern of the level they’ll be at relative to a few of the other teams. In interest of a level playing field would the others help him get up to speed?
“I’m absolutely sure we will be getting zero assistance. As with anyone in the race we show everyone the utmost respect, and I’m sure they’ll do the same for us, but they certainly won’t be helping us—we’re on our own.”