The obsession

Text by Jonno Turner
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The obsession Text by Jonno Turner
 
The Volvo Ocean Race. It's tough, it's testing - and it's tantalizingly tempting.

Just ask the sailors. They step back on to land at the end of a nine-month stint trying to, first, survive, and second, race, across the most extreme conditions Mother Nature has to throw at them.

And usually, if you ask them if they'll be back next edition, they'll laugh.

They'll protest, they'll shake their head, and then they'll scuttle off for a hot shower, a deep breath and stare into space for a good 20 minutes.

But as Volvo Ocean Race legend Sir Peter Blake once said: 'It gets in your blood - and you can't get rid of it.'

He knew more than most. After all, he returned to this Race four times in total, securing an historic victory as skipper of Steinlager 2 in 1989-90, his final attempt.

And there's another man who can vouch for Sir Peter's words. Meet tough Kiwi, Richard Mason, who has competed in four Volvo Ocean Races as a sailor, and completed one on shore as part of the Team SCA shore crew.

You might recognise him - he provided commentary during the 2014-15 edition - and now he's joined the Volvo Ocean Race full-time, as Head of Port Operations.

"The harsh brutality of the Volvo Ocean Race is that it's a life sentence," he smiles.

He's joking, of course, but a glint in his eyes suggests that there's more than a nugget of truth in that.

"There are no two ways to approach it - when you're in it, you're fully in. It's a crime of passion and that's what makes it unique."

So, the million dollar question: what is it about this maritime marathon that keeps on drawing people back, like a sultry sea siren?

Richard smiles. "It's bizarre, it's mad - but it's brilliant," he replies.

He first competed onboard Assa Abloy in 2001-02, returned with Ericsson 1 in 2005-06, joined Ericsson 3 in 2008-09 and then sailed with Team Sanya in 2011-12.

But his love affair with the Race has lasted much longer - 1981-82, to be precise - and has spanned over three decades.

“My family was closely associated with some of the crew of Ceramco New Zealand and Lion New Zealand," he reveals.

"As a young boy at the ripe old age of about seven I have photos of me hanging off the wheel on Ceramco in Auckland. I was hooked."

He shrugs. "I’ve had a fascination and a connection to the race for as long as I can remember, it was just something I wanted to do from a very young age."

As a youngster eager to learn, he was given the opportunity to sail with some of the New Zealand’s all-time greats like Russell Coutts, Ray Davies, Chris Dixon and Ross Field.

The latter introduced him into professional sailing via the round Europe race in 1997, onboard a Grand Mistral. Then he was introduced to the late Magnus Olsson through various Swedish connections.

“Magnus invited me to come and trial with Assa Abloy for the 2001-02 race and they were nice enough to give me a spot and off we went. I’ve never looked back since,” he says.

“It’s the age old story of it getting into your blood and you’re in a world of trouble.”

So how will he find the final stage of his switch - from sailor, to shore crew, to staff?

Well, it's a challenge - and a "huge" one at that, he says. “We’ll get the right people for the right roles and run a very tight team, where everyone is very much empowered to run their areas.

“It’s no different from a team taking part in the race – you’ve got to get the right people.”