Volvo Ocean Race Veterans On New Course
We probe our panel of highly eminent Volvo Ocean Race veterans for their insider views on the revamped racecourse for the 2017-18 edition of the world’s toughest yacht race.
Rob Greenhalgh (GBR)
4 x VOR
Winner in 2005-06 aboard ABN AMRO ONE
Mike Sanderson (NZL)
2 x Volvo Ocean Races
Winner in 2005-06 aboard ABN AMRO ONE
Tom Addis (AUS)
3 x Volvo Ocean Races
Grant Dalton (NZL)
6 x Volvo Ocean Races
Winner in 1993-94 aboard New Zealand Endeavour
Will Oxley (AUS)
4 x Volvo Ocean Races
SRM: With three times more time in the Southern Ocean than the last two editions the new course is being heralded as returning the race to its roots. The fans have welcomed that move but what are your overall feelings about the new course?
Rob Greenhalgh: I think it looks fine - I wasn’t a big fan of the Middle East and Singapore Straits so I’m glad to see that’s gone. The new course is much better, but being honest, I would prefer to pass east of Australia to speed it all up; I don’t like the double back from Hong Kong all that much either.
Mike Sanderson: Overall, the new course looks interesting and exciting. I think the leg from Cape Town all the way around Australia and back up to Asia will be pretty daunting. If it stays as one leg then my guess is it will take longer than the big multihulls do to go around the world non-stop. Put another way, it’s almost half the Vendee Globe course, so for sure it’s new territory for the Volvo and the guys will have to tackle that leg with a different mindset.
Tom Addis: I think the new course is a huge improvement. In previous races the legs up to and out of the Middle East were painful both to sail and watch!
It’s really great to be avoiding the Singapore Straits, as sailing a racing yacht in amongst the commercial shipping through there is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible things that I've done in my life.
The new course also cuts out the South China Sea with its charting and political hazards and I think getting back into the Southern Ocean will be great for the event.
There has been a trend in many sporting events (not only sailing) over the last few years where the commercial interests have dominated those of the underlying sport. This can only go on for so long before people start turning off the sport due to the loss in the fundamentals.
I'm really glad to see the VOR take control of itself here, as it was in real danger of dying up there in the tropics.
Grant Dalton: The race continues to evolve to meet the realities of the market. As a sport in general, sailing is losing its roots. Stadium sailing is what people think is necessary. It has its place, but sailing is actually not that sport; the theory is flawed so a return more to the toughness of the sport is to be applauded.
Will Oxley: I think that from a sailing perspective the new course is a significant improvement over the last two editions where we ventured into the Indian Ocean. Also, the amount of commercial traffic and fishing in the Malacca Straits meant this was not a great place to sail.
SRM: The first leg is a very short one from Alicante to Lisbon. Will the teams appreciate the opportunity to get bedded in with a sprint like that or will it be viewed as a bit of an un-necessary distraction before taking on the Atlantic?
Rob Greenhalgh: It will be good for well-prepared teams, but I wonder if Leg 1 and Leg 2 to Cape Town could be combined and the points allocated based on the total elapsed time.
Mike Sanderson: I like it. I think it will be fun to be able to get into the swing of it and great to get the Mediterranean and the Straits of Gibraltar out of the first long leg, in my opinion.
Tom Addis: It will be a strange one for sure. It seems to be a bit disjointed to have a big race start only to stop again a few days later. I don't think it will make a huge difference to the crews, but the race organisers will face some challenges communicating the reasons for the stuttering start.
Grant Dalton: I think all the teams will just take it as it comes. I don’t think they will have a view either way. It’s a race, each leg counts and that’s how they will view it.
Will Oxley: I don’t think the sailors will have any problem with the idea of a short first leg.
SRM: Leg 2 is Lisbon to Cape Town. The Atlantic leg into Cape Town is always a popular one with the sailors and one all the crews will be keen to win. Does starting from Lisbon change things very much? If so, how?
Rob Greenhalgh: I think there are only positives in the idea of starting in Lisbon. It will make the leg two days quicker and in theory put the boats straight into fast downwind sailing - so all good as far as I’m concerned.
Mike Sanderson: I haven’t done any work on how it would change it from a tactical standpoint, but I think the biggest benefit is no longer having to deal with exiting the Mediterranean. I think everyone will enjoy that aspect of the new second leg.
Tom Addis: Starting from Lisbon cuts out the randomness of the Mediterranean but that's about it (and randomness is part of yachting anyway, to be honest). Weather-wise, it’s generally pretty simple getting out of Lisbon into the Atlantic. Overall, should be a really good leg for the sailors as always.
Will Oxley: A big decision when you are racing south in the eastern Atlantic, is how to deal with the Canary and the Cabo Verdes archipelagos. History would generally say that the further west you can get the better. Getting west of the island chains was very achievable coming out of the English Channel when the race started in the UK but it got much harder in recent years sailing out of the Mediterranean. Starting in Lisbon will make it slightly easier to get outside the islands if that looks like being the best route.
SRM: We saw some teams draft in experienced Southern Ocean sailors for the Cape Horn leg in the last race. Do you think the dramatically increased Southern Ocean sailing time will change the way skippers select their crews this time? Might the teams require larger squads?
Rob Greenhalgh: I doubt it. There is always a requirement for good all-round sailors - but this race will be a lot more downwind than previous two editions, so probably will just require the crews to train differently.
Mike Sanderson: Fast sailors have always won the Volvo Ocean Race and have made the best crew members. Nothing has changed there with the announcement of the new course. If, however, the teams end up running quite late with their preparations then I agree there could probably be more emphasis on selecting experience over strength.
Tom Addis: Traditionally, Volvo crews have been capable of sailing their yacht anywhere, so if a team has to bring in additional sailors to do those legs, then perhaps they don't have the right crew in the first place.
This issue revolves around budgets and the fundamental direction the event is moving. In the last race, many experienced sailors were not interested in taking part due to the course, the slowness of the boats and the minimal opportunity for development; so we ended up with teams with a large proportion of less experienced people.
To answer your question, yes, perhaps this edition will see some more experience come back onto the boats thanks to the change in the course. I personally think this would be a very good thing and a sign that the race is getting back to its fundamentals.
Grant Dalton: No. Good sailors are good sailors and that doesn’t change just because you are racing through the Southern Ocean.
Will Oxley: Maybe. The importance of strong downwind helms is critical in the south and so I think there will be a strong focus on this. It is also a long time to be at sea so sailors that have not been there before are always a bit of an unknown. I think the extra time in the Southern Ocean could mean some teams opt for larger squads.
SRM: The monster leg from Cape Town to Hong Kong is a new one for the race. What are your thoughts on the challenges it will throw up for the crews?
Rob Greenhalgh: Possibly the toughest VOR leg ever. It’s got: Southern Ocean, trade wind sailing and then the possibility of typhoons off the Philippines. Plus, the stretch north from Bass Strait to the Solomon Islands will be especially tricky, going in that direction.
Mike Sanderson: I like it; I think it will be great. I remember Cape Town to Melbourne was a fantastic leg when we did that in the 05-06 race. This new leg will be that distance plus the new part up the east coast of Australia and on to Hong Kong. Fantastic.
I think the guys will look forward to it, as it is a bit like the leg around Cape Horn, in that it’s two very distinct and different sections. Mentally, I think it will help to break the leg up for the sailors into an ocean race to Tasmania and then another race up north up the coast and on to Hong Kong.
Tom Addis: When we did the 12,800-mile Leg 5 in 2008-09 on the VO70s, at 42 days it felt too long for sailors and spectators alike. I believe that the organisers have estimated 32 days (27 days minimum – 37 days maximum) for this leg – which I think looks very optimistic for these boats.
It will be a really interesting leg for sure but I hope that the VOR estimates are good. Otherwise, it will make for a very short stopover in China ahead of another long tough leg down to Auckland.
Grant Dalton: This is nothing new - the race has had some very long legs before. But there will definitely be a right way and a wrong way to go and we won’t know which is which until this leg has been trail blazed by the fleet.
Will Oxley: We don’t yet have the dates for the legs, but December through April is a key time for cyclones in the Coral Sea [an area of the South Pacific off the northeast coast of Australia].
The yachts will likely be going through this region twice over that time so we will have to watch this carefully. We especially need to be careful because there are early signs that the climate may be moving into a La Niña phase of the Southern Oscillation Index.
This could mean then there is a much higher chance of cyclones. The last La Niña phase in 2010-2012 did result in higher cyclone activity. Severe tropical cyclone Yasi was the most significant. It was the strongest cyclone to make landfall in Queensland since at least 1918 - also a La Niña year, incidentally – it crossed the coast as a category 5 storm.
I especially remember Yasi because I live in Townsville in North Queensland. We were evacuated from our home by the army as a precaution before Yasi went on to trash Mission Beach and Cardwell just to our north.
Yasi had sustained wind speeds of 205km/hr and a maximum wind gust recorded of 285 km/hr. Not something you want to be anywhere near in any vessel, let alone a Volvo 65!
SRM: The leg from Newport to Cardiff has the potential to be a rip roarer of a transatlantic crossing. Could this be a new favourite with the sailors?
Rob Greenhalgh: Transatlantic legs are always good as they are short enough to be able to push hard but are also genuine ocean crossings. I would expect this leg to be very tactical as the race will be in its latter stages and there will likely be lots at stake with the points.
Mike Sanderson: I am not sure about this leg becoming a favourite with the sailors. The truth is you never know what you are going to get in the North Atlantic – especially when you have a fixed start date. A bit like the Southern Ocean, you can have the best and worst sailing experiences of your career in the North Atlantic.
That said, I agree it’s got the potential to be a great leg. For me, the legs with a bit of history like this, a good old dash across the Atlantic, are always great.
Tom Addis: Yep, for sure. It’s a classic North Atlantic crossing with no fluffing around at the start or finish, so in terms of purity it’s right up there. I agree with you; this could end up to be a leg the crews really look forward to.
Grant Dalton: Blue Riband transatlantic racing always holds appeal. Most yachtsman like me talk about how many round-the-world, Hobart, Fastnet and transatlantic races they have done – all the rest gets forgotten.
Will Oxley: A question written by a true northern hemisphere person! The reality of a transatlantic leg is that there will be whale exclusion zones, ice gates, TSS [traffic separation system] zones and fog to deal with.
But yes, it looks like a good west to east Transat course and finishing further north avoids much of the Azores high clutches, but – speaking of course as a true southern hemisphere local! - it’s not as much fun as the south.
SRM: The VO65s came through the last race relatively unscathed. Might this new course result in more damage?
Rob Greenhalgh: Let’s hope not. I don’t really think that will be the case.
Mike Sanderson: I guess the new course would have a higher wind speed average, so you would have to say there is a higher chance of damage. Then again, the guys will know this and managing damage has always been a critical part of winning the Volvo Ocean Race.
It’s worth highlighting that the potential for damage occurring and the risk of boats withdrawing from legs could easily have been seen as a reason not opt for this new and exciting course, so good on Mark Turner and his team for putting the quality of the yachting above those concerns.
Tom Addis: I don't really think so. The boats are built pretty conservatively so are very strong. For sure they are much stronger than the VO70s. Some boats have been doing a lot of sailing since the last race and will have close to two laps under their keels by the time the next race starts. Either way, I'm sure that Bicey [Nick Bice – VOR Director of Boats and Maintenance] will do a great job within his budget constraints.
Grant Dalton: Absolutely not. They are great boats and well up to the job.
Will Oxley: Who really knows? Record breaking opportunities depend on the actual weather you encounter. Last time the worst part of the race in terms of the potential for damage was the beat up the South China Sea - so it’s a big plus that is gone next time around.
SRM: The teams never threatened the monohull 24-hour distance record last time - might they this time?
Rob Greenhalgh: Unfortunately not. The boats are just too slow, I’m afraid.
Tom Addis: Let me put it this way: If a VO65 beats a VO70 distance record, I'll fly over to Europe and shout you a very expensive dinner! I won’t be so unkind as to expect you to shout me if I win that bet - unless you really want to!
They are different boats; the 65s have some good attributes compared to a 70 - such as strength and durability - but speed simply isn't one of them.
Mike Sanderson: Never say never! For sure, the new course is going into all the great places where a record attempt could be on so they are perfectly lined up to have a crack if the right conditions present themselves.
Grant Dalton: The VO65 is a boat built for a purpose. It may break the record or it may not. The VO70 was faster but it cost a fortune – you can’t have everything.
Will Oxley: The 65s are pretty quick downwind. It’s the reaching where they were noticeably slower than the VO70s. The best place to break 24-hour distance records has often been near the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, so I suppose this new course increases the chances.
SRM: Has the new course got you excited about the prospect of doing the race again?
Rob Greenhalgh: I always wanted to do the next race. The Volvo Ocean Race is exciting because of the competitive nature of one design ocean racing – that’s what keeps us coming back.
Mike Sanderson: Having a New Zealand team back in the race is now my priority and we would love it to be in this next edition of this most iconic races.
Tom Addis: Possibly yes, although I think I'd be more interested in doing a leg or two if needed. I’d definitely be interested in helping out shore-side though.
Grant Dalton: I’m always interested in being involved in the Volvo Ocean Race. I wouldn’t race again but I would enjoy running a team. I was a huge fan of Knut [Frostad – previous CEO of the VOR] and I am equally so with Mark Turner – they 150 per cent picked the right guy there.