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To Where the Next Ocean Race

Ocean Race director Phil Lawrence maps out the destinations for the 2021 start.

April 7, 2020
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Volvo Ocean Race fleet
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet starts its leg across the Atlantic with a spectator-friendly lap on Narragansett Bay in May 2018. Jesus Renedo/Volvo AB

The next edition of The Ocean Race, scheduled to start from Alicante, Spain in October 2021, will visit 10 international cities, including the start port and the Grand Finale finish in Genoa, Italy in the summer of 2022.

For the first time The Ocean Race is now open to the high-tech, foiling IMOCA 60 class, in addition to the one-design VO65 boats that provided record-breaking performance and such close, compelling racing in the 2017-18 edition of the race – the closest Race of all-time. “As we open up the design and innovation elements of the race again with the IMOCA class, confirming the race route for our teams has taken on an added importance as the designers look to optimize performance for the conditions,” said Johan Salén, the Managing Director of The Ocean Race. “This route is more compact at 38,000 nautical miles and with two less stopovers compared with the last race but it includes two significant Southern Ocean legs, where crews on both the IMOCA 60s and the VO65s will have an opportunity to add their stories to the legend of this race.”

During the early stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic, veteran sailing journalist Bob Fisher checked in with Ocean Race director, Phil Lawrence, for his thoughts on the route and its implications for the two-fleet concept.

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Let’s run through the route as it stands today.

The start is in Alicante, where we have got a long-term contract with Alicante, and then the first stop is Cabo Verde which a new location for us in the Cape Verde Islands. We are going to stopping in the Porto Mindelo. It is a very short stop – it is just a suppressed stop-over, three to five days. It is what we used to call a pit stop in the last race. So, the shore crews won’t be doing any work on the boat. In fact, when the boats leave Alicante they will be stocked for legs one and two and all the food will be sealed on. That is a short stop. Cabo Verde is very excited for us to be going there.

Their interest is that they have an Ocean Health Week there and we are closely associated with that. We are going to do an Ocean Summit there. There won’t be any in-port race, but there will be obviously a mass start for the start of Leg 2, and they are really interested in promoting the tourism as well. Good logic for them, and also it works well because the fleet is pretty much going to pass the front door on the way down toward Cape Town anyway, so they will stop there. It will take them about a week to get to Cape Town by the traditional route, so we have put a way-point in off the Brazilian coast to make sure they round the South Atlantic high. When we did the routing for the Volvo 65s there was quite a lot of scenarios taking them upwind direct to Cape Town so we have put in a waypoint to make them go the other way. Also, we want the fleet to stay together, both classes to stay together, so if there is any event there they are there to look after each other.

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Cape Town to Shenzhen is a new one for us, so we come out of Cape Town, into the Southern Ocean for a week and then we are going to out a virtual waypoint in the Southern Ocean and then they will come up the west coast of Australia, up through Indonesia, past Vietnam and into Shenzhen. Shenzhen is just on the border between Hong Kong and China. It is so that you come over the border and you are in Shenzhen. It is an enormous city, which has been completely regenerated. It is huge, it takes your breath away what they are doing there, so we will be in Shenzhen, From Shenzhen we will go Auckland, which is a stop everyone likes. That is a longer stopover, we do a lot of maintenance on the boats there. So that will be nice.

We are going to be based where the America’s Cup bases are, so the three bases for the Challengers will be used by us for the race, is the plan. Team New Zealand have got the old event center there, which is a permanent base now, so we won’t be able to use that. And the viaduct has been extended now so there are almost two viaducts either side of the Team New Zealand base. So that is good making good use of those new facilities.

From Auckland we go round Cape Horn into Itajai, Brazil, which is where we went last time. It is a fantastic stopover and has a huge turnout there. We are getting there slightly earlier this time. In the last two races we have gone round Cape Horn at the end of March, and the simulations we will go round Cape Horn on the March 10 this time, which is just a little less risky – you have to be lucky with the weather, but in the event before, it was very light when they went through the Southern Ocean. The last one was extremely windy so we are going to be three weeks earlier there into Itajai.

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Then the route continues from Itajai to Newport R.I. It will be the third time in a row we have been to Newport, which is really good. That is the home port for 11th Hour Racing. So that will be nice and at the beginning of May.

From there, we go across the Atlantic so you have to go around an ice point off the Newfoundland. An ice waypoint is required because at that time of the year all the ice is drifting down as it is melting. So, we go across the North Atlantic, over the top of Scotland and into Aarhus in Denmark.

In the last race, we did a little pass through Aarhus, marking the harbor, and when the boats were going from Gothenburg to the finish in The Hague, they actually went into the harbor and came out. There were huge crowds there, and Aarhus is a very motivated city, that’s why we take the race there. They had the World Sailing Championships there a couple of years ago. Massive event, great facilities, very motivated team, so I think that is going to be a really good event.

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From Aarhus we come back out to the North Sea and we go to The Hague, and that is going to be flexi-course to make the leg about four and a half days, otherwise it would only be two days and it would be a bit hard logistically to get everything set. So, we set a flexi-course around the North Sea. The North Sea is a nightmare of a place to run racing with boats with deep keels because you have got wind farms, traffic separation zones everywhere, oil rigs, gas rigs, shallows. The Volvo 65 boats draw nearly five meters, so that is quite a challenge. Whereas the 60s only got four and a half meters. We go into The Hague, which is where the finish was last time with good local engagement.

The last leg is all the way round to Genoa in the Med, right up in the corner of the Med, and Genoa – again Genoa had a lot of world sailing events there. It’s a very interesting place. We did a promotion at the Genoa Boatshow and there was a lot of interest. It is quite a haul through the Med for the boats and we expect them to be the grand finale and that is going to be pretty good. So, ten cities, one that is only a pit stop, or a very short stop as opposed to 12 last time, which takes a bit of pressure off the teams. There is a little bit more time ashore. The last race was extremely grueling, especially as it was such close racing as well, very intense, and also quite tough on a team toward the end of the race – they were doing six weeks without a day off, so this is a little bit more balanced there. There’s less distance, at 38,000 miles, and scheduled start in Autumn 2021, and finishing June 22.

How do you cope with stopovers and getting set up; do you have plenty of time for that?

We have two race villages and those villages will leapfrog each around the world; the village in Alicante will actually go straight to Shenzhen and the one in Cape Town will go to Auckland. It has become more and more of a challenge because as the boats get faster and faster, their arrival times get earlier and earlier. I was looking back at some of the archives and some of the legs to get down to the first stop when they used to go to Brazil, it was like five or six weeks. Now it is half that time. I remember when we were deciding the future of the race we looked at the speed of the old teams you would have to have about five race villages because they would be so fast you could never do it. Nobody knows what is going to happen in such difficult times with Coronavirus. The race is a year and a half away. All the cities are contracted. All the funding to run the race is 100-percent secured, so the race is ready to go. Obviously, our prime concern is the safety and welfare of the competitors, race families. We are not going to do anything to compromise that. At this stage, we hope the race will be starting on time.

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