Ian Walker on new Volvo Ocean Race route
At 45,000 nautical miles the new course for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race is longer than ever before and will see the fleet spend significantly more time in the Southern Ocean than in previous editions.
The redesigned route appears to have gone down well with the media and with sailing fans, but what do the sailors think?
We tracked down the winning skipper from the last race, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Ian Walker, to get his take on it all.
Sail Racing Magazine: What were your immediate thoughts when you saw the new route?
Ian Walker: It’s really very similar to the last race, except that without Abu Dhabi as a stopover host there is no longer the need to head up to the Arabian Gulf. That opens up the chance to cross the Southern Indian Ocean so there will be much less light air and upwind sailing there. Also, things should be less constrained as issues such as Iranian National water limits and piracy waypoints will simply disappear.
I am pleased there is no leg from Hong Kong to Itajaí as was originally planned - that would have been 50 days!
It wasn’t all great sailing before but I quite enjoyed sailing into the Arabian Gulf and through the Malacca Straits. However, I am glad to not have to cross the Bay of Bengal or sail past Singapore in the dark again. The leg from Lisbon to Lorient has been one of the best legs in the last two races. It had the fastest sailing in 2011-12 and featured the great story of the women on SCA winning in 2014-15.
SRM: The race opens with a short sprint leg from Alicante to Lisbon. What will the sailors think of that?
Ian Walker: The problem with such a short leg is that exiting the Mediterranean and squeezing out past Gibraltar has a large element of luck in it and a two or three-day leg isn’t enough time to mitigate that aspect. I haven’t heard what the plan is with the points for each leg but I hope they can mitigate this very short first leg by making it reduced points or no points at all. Just to be clear, I love Lisbon, but it will feel wrong to set off and be on land again three days later. It’s also going to be tough on the shore teams to relocate in such a short time.
From a sailing point of view, it has the potential to be a horribly difficult leg with a lot of luck early on and then a punishing beat into Lisbon on little or no sleep. The short legs are always harder on board as you don’t have enough time for the crew to get into a proper rhythm. The leg to Cape Town was always an absolute classic and after a month of commitments on shore in Alicante it was a relief for the sailors to finally escape to sea for three weeks.
SRM: The leg to Cape Town is always a popular one with the sailors and one all the crews are keen to win. Does starting from Lisbon change the leg very much?
Ian Walker: I don’t think it will change too much. I have not seen the start date yet but the biggest change could be if the start is later in the year when the trade winds have started to break down. Two races ago we saw that that situation lead to some extreme westerly routes.
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?
Ian Walker: The biggest challenge will be sailing past Australia and not being able to stop! It is a leg with lots of downwind sailing so keeping your spinnakers in one piece will be crucial.
I suspect a stopover in Freemantle, Melbourne, Hobart or Sydney will be added in due course. The sailors will need to take a lot of clothing to deal with the cold of the Southern Ocean and the extreme heat of crossing the equator.
SRM: In the last race we saw some teams draft in experienced Southern Ocean sailors for the Cape Horn leg. Do you think the increased Southern Ocean sailing time will change the way skippers select their crews this time? Might the teams require larger squads?
Ian Walker: I think the demands of the race, the race length and the short stopovers will encourage more of a squad approach. Personally I think that’s a bit of a shame as I like the idea that everyone on the team wants to sail the whole way round the world.
SRM: The leg from Newport to Cardiff has the potential to be a rip-roarer of a transatlantic doesn’t it? Could this be a new favourite with the sailors?
Ian Walker: Yes, this could be a real classic. The only danger is that the position of the ice gates, if they are well south like they are right now, could mean you spend a lot of time sailing along an imaginary line. Let’s hope the ice is well north by the time this leg happens and makes it should be really exciting one. Could be a tricky finish into Cardiff too!
SRM: You and your crew clocked up the longest 24-hour run in the last race - 550.82 nautical miles - but that run didn’t threaten the overall race record - 596.6 nautical miles – set by Ericsson 4 in the 2008 – 09 edition. Is there a chance of Ericsson’s record being beaten in the next race?
Ian Walker: I don’t think there’s much chance of breaking the 24 hour monohull record in a VO65 and I think our 550 miles in the last race will be quite hard to beat. If it is going to happen I imagine it will probably be in the South Atlantic by someone who manages to stay ahead of a front.
SRM: Any other thoughts on the new course?
Ian Walker: For me the challenge of the VOR is how to put a team together to beat the other boats - I am not too worried what the course is. However, I think it’s worth noting that the course is now very long - nearly twice the mileage of the Vendee Globe.