The Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s longest professional sporting event and leading offshore sailing competition. It began in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race, but much has changed since the first boats left England at the start of the first edition. However, the essence of the race remains the same and it is well established as one of the big three global sailing events in the world along with the America’s Cup and the Olympic Games.
Since the first race, the boats have become faster, the crews are professional sailors at the top of their game, and the technology, particularly in terms of communications, has evolved hugely. However the sea never changes and the race around the world is still a human challenge and a battle against the elements.
For weeks at a time, the sailors endure conditions ranging from freezing cold to searing heat, while waves constantly slam the boat. All the while, they are under relentless pressure to perform at their peak and gain fractional advantages that can, in the end, mean the difference between winning and losing. The first 43 years have seen amazing victories and feats of seamanship as well as tragedy, with five sailors lost at sea over the years.
In 1998, Volvo became the new owner of the race, and renamed it the Volvo Ocean Race. The 2017-18 edition will be the 13th edition.
The Volvo Ocean Race moved from England in 2010 and has been based in Alicante, Spain since then. The waterfront Race Headquarters contains the state-of-the-art Race Control, from where the boats are tracked continuously around the world using sophisticated maritime technology and satellite communications.
For the 13th edition, starting in 2017, the teams will compete in the Volvo Ocean 65 one-design, a class of identical boats that cannot be modified in any way. The seven boats built for 2014-15 will race again and will be augmented by a number of new boats built dependent on team requirements. The boats will be completely level and there will be no advantage to be gained in racing a first or second-generation boat.
The introduction of the Volvo Ocean 65 in 2014-15 not only lowered the cost of a competitive campaign by around 50%, but also made the event more accessible to new competitors. By providing a boat that is equal in every respect, more emphasis is placed on the crews’ performance and tactics rather than on boat design.
Volvo Ocean 65s are built to a design by Farr Yacht Design, responsible for five winning entries in 11 previous editions of the event. The original seven boats were built by a consortium of four boatyards in Italy (Persico), France (Multiplast), Switzerland (Decision) and the UK (Green Marine), however any subsequent boats required for the 2017-18 Race will be built solely by Persico in Italy.
The boat are sold ‘ready to sail’ and will be serviced throughout the race by The Boatyard.
The Boatyard is a shared maintenance facility, which was first introduced in 2014-15 as part of the one-design concept to guarantee the optimum condition of the fleet throughout the race at a minimum costs to each team.
Ahead of the 2017-18 edition, the crew possibilities have been expanded. Potential crew combinations are shown below:
[7 all-male; 7 men + 1 woman; 7 men + 2 women; 5 men + 5 women; 7 women + 1 man; 7 women + 2 men; 11 all-female]
One of the great highlights of 2014-15 was the re-appearance of the first all-female team since Amer Sports Too competed in 2001-02 and these rule changes have been made in order to encourage more teams to take female sailors.
Freezing cold and searing heat, huge waves and frustrating calms, the constant screaming of winches and very little sleep plus a diet of freeze-dried food is the life of a Volvo Ocean Race sailor for up to 25 days at a time. It is a special breed of person who completes the ‘Everest’ of sailing, and they come back, time after time, to race again around the planet.
The Onboard Reporter (OBR) is a unique innovation from the Volvo Ocean Race. No other sport has a dedicated multimedia journalist embedded in the team of athletes, right in the middle of the action. One of the world’s toughest media jobs, the OBR provides stunning and unique content from the boat, around the clock. They are striving constantly to tell their story in a unique, creative and interesting way and are the link between life onboard and on shore. Their duties include shooting video and stills photographs, writing, editing and transmitting content to Race Control, and setting up live satellite calls.
Racing and Resting
The racetrack is divided in to sections or ‘legs’. In 2014-15 there were nine legs and a short pitstop, covering a distance of almost 39,000 nautical miles. The route the fleet will take for the 13th edition in 2017-18 is expected to be a similar length and number of legs. It will cross four oceans - the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian and Southern Oceans. Each leg will start and finish in leading cities around the world, known as Host Ports. Each Host Port stages a stopover festival of around two weeks.
In each stopover, there is an in-port race, which scores points for its own inshore series, as well as a series of pro-am races.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a low scoring event in that the winner of a leg is awarded one point; second place two points and so on. In the event of a tiebreak, the scores from the in-port race are used as a final determination.
The team with the least number of points will be the winner of the Volvo Ocean Race. As with the Olympic Games, there is no financial reward for winning, yet no set of sailing honours can be complete without victory in the Volvo Ocean Race. The prize - the magnificent Volvo Ocean Race trophy - symbolises the glory of winning what is still one of the most extreme challenges in the world of sport.