Just about every weekday morning around 7:00 a.m., the doors of a fitness center in suburban Charleston, SC, fly open and 15 guys clad in a varying array of chartreuse and black roll in for their daily training regimen. They joke around as they begin their 90-minute session with weights, but theyre actually on a serious missionprepping their bodies for the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race), a 32,750-mile, nine-leg sprint around the planet. Collectively, these sailors make up the core of Team illbruck. Theyre betting that when the race starts in late September this year, the entry with the fastest boat, the soundest decision making, and the most physically resilient crew stands the best chance of capturing the sculpted Waterford crystal trophy that signifies supremacy in this contest. At least thats the thinking that has got many of these guys up at 6:00 a.m. for the past two years.
"You not only need a fast boat and the best sails and equipment," says Sven Riedesel, Team illbrucks in-house physical trainer and nutritional nurse, "you need good, experienced sailors who are fit enough to sail the boat fast for 30 days without stopping." Riedesel, a former professional triathlete, says the training emphasis at this stagesix months from the startis on developing strength and putting on muscle mass. To that end, the trailer that he calls his office is stocked with stores of energy bars (Power Bar is an official supplier to the team) and protein powder.
When the "boys," as Riedesel calls his charges, arent in the gym or conducting weekly 40-plus-mile mountain bike rides, theyre either in meetings or out on the water aboard the teams two VO 60s (the former EF Language
and EF Education
) conducting extensive sail testing. Though the sponsoring company, illbruck, is headquartered in Germany, its VOR challenge has moved from Spain to Australia to the Carolina Lowcountry over the last two years. This latest venue, says skipper John Kostecki, allows the team to test sails in a variety of weather and the sailors to better acquaint themselves with the Gulf Stream, which lies just 50 miles offshore. Those waters will make up a critical portion of Leg Six of the VOR when the challengers sail from Miami to Baltimore.
Four to five days a week the illbruck boats head offshore and line up side by side for hours on end to quantify performance data. Kostecki says that the team has gone to great lengths to ensure that the boats are essentially identical for these testing purposes. They take along additional bag of sails to assimilate the weight of the food theyll have on board for certain legs of the VOR, and they ensure that the crew weights are even boat to boat. Once under sail, navigators Juan Vila and Ian Moore use a sophisticated telemetry system to feed performance information from one boat to the other and vice versa as they conduct what seems like an endless series of 10-minute tests. Other than maintaining optimum trim and speed, the sailors on the control boat dont make any changes, while those aboard the other actively experiment with a series of variations on sail trim and sail settings. Vila calls out the impact of the changes, usually in terms of meters gained, and sail designer Robert Hook consults on sail shape and trimming options.
After six or so hours or sailing, the sails come down and the principal sail trimmers and the two watch captains congregate with "Hooky" for a debriefing as the boats motor back home. The numbers will get crunched and the appropriate sails will be attended to by the teams three dedicated sailmakers, right here at illbrucks 40-by-110-foot traveling sail loft. If it seems surprising that Team illbruck would be investing so much time and energy into refining its sail program at this stage, remember that sail development was a crucial factor for Paul Cayard and his crew aboard EF Language
in winning the 97-98 edition of this race.
Another reason for such intensive sail testing is that the team has given itself a finite window of opportunity to accomplish this work. In early May, illbruck will take delivery of its new VO 60, and, as Kostecki says, "the focus will shift." Because he expects this new Bruce Farr design to be decidedly faster than the last generation of these boats, he anticipates that the team will need virtually the rest of the time allotted before September to break in the boat and get themselves accustomed to it.
So how does the illbruck Team measure progress and gauge whether they are where they need to be six months from the start? Kostecki seems confident. He knows his syndicate got a jump on its rivals by signing up early on some of the most experienced sailing talent available (collectively there are 14 round the world races on the resumes of the 12 crew). They not only have a strong, experienced crew, he says, but one whose chemistry appears to be gelling well. One testament to this would be the teams dominant performance in the Hobart to Auckland trial run earlier this winter against two other VOR syndicatesillbruck leapt out to a commanding lead from the first hours of the race.
"Were on track," says Kostecki. "Were working hard every day, doing the things we know need to be done, and we have a lot of confidence in the boat." Though he knows each of the other syndicates will be tough come September, he says you cant really worry too much about your competition at this stage of the game. "I think EF Language won the last race before the race even started." As for who'll be strong in this race, its only a matter of time.
Sizing up the Fleet
The seven teams that are preparing for September's start of the VOR represent the most professional and best-funded efforts ever to have a go at this event. Each is well organized and laden with talent on board and behind the scenes. Team illbruck has enjoyed the most run-up time, but its rival syndicates are shaping up quickly, and each has the potential to pose a formidable challenge. Though no true gauge will be available until all the boats line up in this year's Fastnet Race in August, here's a quick look at the scratch sheet six months out from the start.
|Illbruck||John Kostecki||the most preparation time; started recruiting crew before other syndicates and has 14 races among its crew |
|Assa Abloy||Roy Heiner||strong international crew; building two identical boats; an April launch date means they'll have only four and a half months to train |
|Djuice dragons||Knut Frostad||well-funded program with two Laurie Davidson designed boats; currently training in Florida |
|Nautor Challenge||Grant Dalton||two boats by different designers gives this team options, and the combination of Dalts (five times around) and Paul Cayard (management role) is seemingly unstoppable |
|News Corporation||Jez Fanstone||with tutelage from five-time Whitbread veteran Ross Field and a new Cooksons-built boat, a solid base is in place for this team |
|Team SEB||Gunnar Krantz||three-time Whitbread veteran Krantz leads a talented team that has been two-boat testing in Portugal for the last six months |
|Team Tyco||Kevin Shoebridge||skipper has four-race resume, with 10 others among the crew, and a strong, experienced shore team |