The toughest route, the most expensive equipment, the best crews: the Volvo Ocean Race has as much in common with regular sailing as survival has with death. Those who know it best welcome you to the world’s most challenging regatta.
The principle of the Volvo Ocean Race is simple: take one racing yacht valued at €9m, put the world’s best sailors on it, and send the whole lot off on a 72,000km marathon, once around the globe. In 2011/12 the route went from Spain via South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, the USA, Portugal and France, in legs of up to 22 days and nights on its way to the finish line in Ireland. It thus passed through every ocean, hitting the coast of every continent, experiencing every climate.
The boats with their crews (each with 10 sailors and a media man reporting live on board) are met in each harbour by service teams who nurse the ocean-battered boats back to health. The Volvo Ocean Race isn’t just extreme from a sporting perspective: giving one single team any chance of overall victory chews up about €50m. So the team members of the 2011/12 race are employees of major companies: Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg; Groupama Sailing Team; Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing; Team Sanya; Team Telefónica and Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand.
Who is the right type of sailor for a Volvo Ocean Race yacht?
“There are very few sailors who can get that kind of yacht moving in racing conditions. It’s as limited as the number of people who can drive a Formula One car,” says two-time Olympian and skipper in the 2008/09 Volvo Ocean Race Andreas Hanakamp. “You have to train your whole life. You need the instincts to work around the dangers out there, as a sailor but also in confronting nature. It helps to have an additional qualification – sailmaker, for example, boat builder, plastics engineer, electrical engineer, doctor. If you do all of that together, long enough at a high enough level, maybe you have a chance at sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race.”
Given all those criteria, the list of skippers in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011/12 is a Who’s Who of the sailing elite: they include Olympic champions such as Iker Martínez (Spain); world champions and America’s Cup competitors such as Ken Read (USA), world record holders such as Franck Cammas (France) and the type of old seadog who takes a quick break from the Volvo Ocean Race to meet up with the love of his life at the altar. Memorably, New Zealander Mike ‘The Moose’ Sanderson did just that in the 2005/06 race. Plus he was zippy enough to still go on and win the regatta afterwards.
Read the full story in August's issue of The Red Bulletin.