A Sea Of Legends
Just when you think it can’t get much tougher, they go and raise the stakes. Already the most physically gruelling and mentally testing sporting challenge in the world, the route for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 edition (the leading round-the-world yacht race for teams) is undoubtedly one that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Featuring almost three times as much Southern Ocean sailing as the previous edition, the 2017-18 Race will be contested over the longest distance in Race history at around 45,000 nautical miles, crossing four oceans and taking in 11 major cities on five continents over the course of an incredible nine months.
Starting out from Alicante in late 2017 with a 700-nautical mile (nm) sprint to Lisbon, Portugal, the fleet will then plunge south towards Cape Town, South Africa, to embark on an epic few weeks’ racing through 12,500nm of Southern Ocean where the fast-moving, ice-cold waters around the Antarctic harbour some of the deepest weather depressions. It’s no mean feat. The challenges include insurmountable sea-sickness, unfathomable discomfort, total exhaustion and time restrictions. Even for the world’s best sailors, the Southern Ocean doesn’t play fair. “It’s a very different kind of sailing from the rest of the racetrack. It’s where the legends have been made and people are at their absolute limit,” says newly appointed Race CEO Mark Turner.
As well as providing some inevitable hairy moments, the new course means the fleet will now head back north across the equator to Hong Kong for the first time in Race history, in what will be one of the longest legs ever set. They then stop off in Guangzhou, China, where an in-port race and full set of stopover activities will be held, before resuming from Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand.
The new course means the fleet will now head back north across the equator to Hong Kong for the first time in Race history
“In losing Abu Dhabi from the equation, we’ve lost the Middle East as one of the commercially valuable areas of the race,” says Turner, “but Hong Kong is a great hub of south-east Asia and an iconic city, and Guangzhou is one of just four premium Tier 1 cities in mainland China, so we’re excited to be stopping off there.”
The new leg also means that while it’ll be the longest-ever route in terms of nautical miles, it will actually be significantly faster by an average boat speed of 4 knots and almost a third faster than the previous race in terms of average speed around the world, says Turner, noting: “It’s a very wild, very untamed place with weather conditions that just push the people in the boat to their limit.”
The change in course will have a big impact on the race and the kind of sailors that will take part, he adds: “There’s a thin line between how hard you push to be safe, and how hard you push to win; that line is a key aspect all around the racecourse but particularly in the Southern Ocean.”
The course then heads around the infamous Cape Horn, and up through the Atlantic Ocean to the southern Brazilian city of Itajaí. From Brazil, they sail back in to the northern hemisphere to the Eastern seaboard of the USA, Newport, Rhode Island before a blast across the North Atlantic where they are due to arrive in Cardiff in May 2018. Then it’s a short but testing leg to the penultimate stopover in Gothenburg, Sweden, before ending with a grand finale into The Hague, Netherlands.
For Turner himself, the role as Race CEO comes hot on the heels of his success as executive chairman of OC Sport with the Dongfeng Race Team, which came third in the 2014-15 edition. They were the first Chinese sailing team to ever take part in the Volvo Ocean Race, crewed by the first Chinese sailors to ever take part in any form of competitive offshore sailing.
It’s hard to put down in words what exactly the Volvo Ocean Race is, so that the sheer magnitude of this sporting event is conveyed in full. It’s the Everest of the sailing world, the mother of all challenges, and a coveted accolade on an international scale that drives crews to continually push themselves well beyond their human limits, and all for the glory of simply having done it.
Allan Lan, the Dongfeng Race Team’s Chinese onboard reporter in the 2014-15 edition, filed missives that cast a painfully honest picture of life aboard the newly designed Volvo Ocean 65 boat. “Is this boat designed for racing or for torment?” he wrote. “Imagine you are sitting or standing on a rollercoaster doing your office job; or for the boys who are working on deck, as cold water pours over them all the time with cold, cold wind – you can’t imagine how hard it is… Are we here to prove we are the toughest men? But we are only human.”