Competitors prepare for difficult start to Volvo round the world race


Bring out the foul weather gear, prepare to reduce sail, be ready for 24/7 crashing and banging. The Volvo round the world race will be barely an hour old on Saturday before the fleet of six charges south into what will become an increasingly upwind slog as it heads for the Straits of Gibraltar.

“We are expecting the crap to be kicked out of the boats in the first 24 hours,” said Kenny Read, skipper of the American-flagged Puma.

The first 24 to 48 hours may also be enough to show who has a speed edge but breakage always lurks, compromises and trade-offs have been made. It will also be a time for prudence. Two races ago a rugged first night in the Bay of Biscay saw hard men running for cover. You cannot allow the others to steal a march, but you have a crew and boat to protect. 

Six is not very many when compared with the big fleets which gathered every four years for the adventure of a lifetime in the latter decades of the last century.

But, as five of the six are probably spending €25m apiece on new boats – and north of that if there is a big hospitality programme bolted on - three years into the confusion of financial chaos afflicting the world that the race can survive at all is remarkable. That funding for the next one in 2014 has already been confirmed ensures that there at least a platform for continuity.

It was an American football coach who said that sportsmen compete but professionals deliver and he would surely understand the complexity and attention to detail that goes into driving, with a crew of just 10, these hugely powerful 70-foot racing machines through brutal conditions on one leg, frustratingly fickle on another.

The boats are different in design but largely similar. What they have to cope with this time is a reduction in the number of sails they are allowed. Finding the right combinations may drive not just sped advantage but navigation tactics as boats chase the optimum weather conditions for the power plants they have chosen.

An added wrinkle this time is that the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi has entered a team and will the second leg stopover. The additional hazard of kidnap and ransom by Somali pirates has been negated by changing the route from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi.

They will race up the Indian Ocean to a staging port which has been chosen as a safe haven. The boats will then be craned onto cradles welded to the deck of a transport ship, armed guards will be put aboard, and they will then be refloated – and restarted – out of the piracy zone to sprint into Abu Dhabi.

The prospect of a racing crew and yacht being held hostage was just too big a risk to take and the same deal will apply on the third leg, which takes the boats to Sanya on China’s big holiday resort island of Hainan.

Sanya, like Abu Dhabi, is expected to take part again in 2014 but this time has bought and slightly modified a boat from the last race in 2008-09.

Skipper will be the 2005-06 Kiwi winner Mike Sanderson, who blitzed everyone else in ABN-Amro. He knows that prospects for winning are slim to zero, but he has a canny crew – “characters and hard grafters” - good performance in some conditions, and is keen to cause as much discomfort as possible by “knocking the big guys off.”

The big guys are Puma, second last time, the wily and cerebral Franck Cammas, putting the French flag back on the start line, and one of the Spanish boats, Telefonica, skippered by Olympic gold medallist Iker Martinez. All of those three have been designed by the man who has drawn the lines of the last two winners, Juan Kouyoumdjian.

There is another Spanish entry, out of Mallorca but managed by Emirates Team New Zealand. Camper is the most radical boat, the conception of Spanish designer Marcelino Botin and a pre-race tip for the top.

The fifth new boat has been designed in America by the Farr office, built in Italy by Persico, based in Abu Dhabi as part of its tourism and sports initiative, and skippered by British double Olympic medallist Ian Walker. Its falcon logo is not quite a dark Arabian but it could spring a few surprises.

As can the weather. As Read points out, on the fifth leg from Auckland to Italjai in Brazil you cannot choose your weather when rounding Cape Horn. You cannot go north and you cannot go south.  

The magic and mystery of Cape Horn, land of fire, storm-tossed gateway to the Pacific has, for centuries, spawned a brotherhood and sisterhood that wears not just the outward symbol of a gold ear ring but the inner shared sense of achievement that mountaineers also understand.

There are more of them than you can shake a stick at in Alicante and they have seen the race acquire more emphasis on commercialism. But the old heritage of what started in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race has been seeping through. Life at the extreme is what it is called now. Adventure is what is used to be called.

People have married, procreated, tragically died as it has run its course. Sailing is always a dangerous game. As Read said, less than 24 hours before the start: “That is what we signed up for. We take what mother nature can throw at us.” The cannon are loaded.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent