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Old 08-22-2001
Dan Dickison Dan Dickison is offline
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Volvo Ocean Race Preview

"To young men contemplating a voyage I would say go. The tales of rough usage are for the most part exaggerations, as also are the stories of sea danger."

–Joshua Slocum

Sailing Alone Around the World

Skipper John Kostecki and his illbruck brethren are the pre-race favorites because they've spent over two years training and testing equipment.
One month from today the highly anticipated Volvo Ocean Race will get underway just off Southampton, England. Despite the fact that a race of this ilk—multi-staged, crewed, round-the-world—has taken place every four years since 1973, this will be an inaugural event in more than just name alone. Formerly the Whitbread ‘Round the World Race, this 32,000-mile epic has evolved from what was once an open arena for ocean-going adventurers to become a strictly professional undertaking. For the first time in the race’s history, the seven teams (and eight boats) that are expected to be on the starting line will all be professionally crewed, commercially sponsored entries.

Among this deeply talented fleet, it is now the exception rather than the rule for a crew member not to have previous around-the-world experience. Grant Dalton, the skipper of the Nautor Challenge’s Amer Sports One, will be sailing his seventh circumnavigating race. Roger Nilson, also of the Nautor Challenge, will be participating in his sixth race around the world. Kevin Shoebridge, the skipper for Team Tyco, will be making his fifth go round, as will Juan Vila, the co-navigator for illbruck Challenge. Even the Nautor Challenge’s all-woman entry aboard on Amer Sports Too will have more round-the-world vets on board than novices.

The caliber of sailing talent here is simply in keeping with the way this race has evolved, and that recently accelerated evolution will be most evident in the boats themselves. For the first time, all of the entries competing have been purposely built for this event and launched within 12 months of the starting date. Among the seven syndicates represented, five have shouldered the additional expense of building two boats in their no-holds-barred preparation for the race. It’s safe to say that more funds have been thrown at the coming race than in any of its previous editions, all of which is great news for the ocean-racing enthusiasts who intend to follow the VOR.

Enhanced sail design—a key factor in the '97-98 race—has produced even more efficient sail plans like the mainsail on board Assa Abloy.
The other great news is that enhanced communication systems and multiple sponsors’ desire for exposure will collectively ensure that the on-the-water action of this race will be easier and more accessible to race watchers than ever before. The organizers of the event have put up a strong website and hired a phalanx of media professionals to keep journalists and media outlets stuffed to the gills with up-to-date information, images and audio. If that’s not enough fodder for you, each individual syndicate is also represented online, offering bios, photos, and technical details that should keep everyone with even the slightest interest fully engaged. Here’s SailNet’s quick overview of the event and its participants—including an oddsmaker's look at their chances for success:

The Course    As one skipper holds, ‘the VOR is more a series of races than a race around the world.’ After leaving Southampton, the competitors will head south to Cape Town, South Africa on the longest leg of the event (7,350 nm). Pundits expect the fleet to complete this leg in roughly 30 days. On November 11, they’ll restart en route to Sydney, Australia for Leg Two (6,550 nm). After a brief layover there, the fleet will partake in the annual Sydney to Hobart Race beginning on December 26 (630 nm). After finishing, they’ll immediately restart and head north to Auckland, New Zealand for the official finish of the third leg. Leg Four to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil gets underway January 27 (6,700 nm). After a 20-day layover there that will coincide with Carnival, the racers will depart on March 9 and sail 4,450 nm north to Miami, FL. They’ll linger in the sunshine state until April 14 when they depart on Leg Six to Baltimore (875 nm). After a brief stop in Baltimore, they’ll head across the Atlantic on April 28, bound for La Rochelle, France (3,400 nm). The fleet will start Leg Eight to Goteborg, Sweden—Volvo’s hometown—on May 25 (1,075 nm), and the final leg to Kiel, Germany (250 nm across the Baltic Sea) is scheduled to begin on June 8.

Spanning over 32,000 miles, the nine-stage VOR includes four legs that measure less than 1,000 miles.

The Game  
  For the VOR, each of the nine legs of the race are equally weighted. That means that competitors will be awarded the same amount of points for the 7,350-mile first leg as they are for the 870-mile sixth leg from Miami to Baltimore. This new twist for the event will have an enormous impact on strategy; some teams have opted to sign on short-course specialists like Peter Isler (Team Tyco) for the shortest legs. Like most other ocean races, no outside assistance will be allowed once the starting gun goes off. That means no team can utilize information that’s not available to all the players. The other important parameter is that each team will be limited to a total of 38 sails for the duration of the race (not including storm sails) and only 17 can ride aboard for any given leg, so sail selection before each start will be critical.

The Players    Among the eight teams that will be on the starting line in the English Channel are some of the most proven and talented offshore racers alive.

Team Tyco gets in some heavy-air practice in the Atlantic earlier this summer.

Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One will have to play catch up in terms of boat prep, but no other skipper can claim as many ocean-racing miles as this six-time circumnavigator.

Laying the Odds

OK, we’ll admit it right here that anytime you attempt to predict the outcome of an event where the field of competitors has never before been assembled, you’re treading on dangerous territory. Throw in the vagaries of 32,000 miles of open ocean and 10 months time and you’ve got some really sketchy ground for oddsmakers. Apart from that, the results of a transatlantic brush-up with three VO 60s and the Fastnet Race indicate that the current crop of boats has taken on a decidedly one-design aspect in performance. So we advise you to view the following numbers with a skeptical eye, we certainly do:

Illbruck Challenge—two-plus years of prep time should give this team the most advanced sail designs and the most fluid crew dynamics—5 to 1.

Nautor Challenge Amer Sports One—Two words: Grant Dalton. Two more words: Roger Nilson. They’ve got a late start, but perhaps the most experience—7 to 1.

Assa Abloy—Heiner and Rudiger have the collective talent to lead the field, but if not, they’re sure to be in the hunt (barring breakdowns)—8 to 1.

SEB—Kranz narrowly missed placing second in the last go round. After some initial snafus in this month’s Fastnet Race, you know he’s hungry for redemption—8 to 1.

Team News Corp—Fanstone and his crew have strong experience and good chemistry, and veteran Ross Field will be on board for some legs—9 to 1.

Team Tyco—If navigator Hayles can put the boat in the right spots, skipper Shoebridge and his crew have the know-how to keep it at pace—9 to 1.

djuice dragons—with one of two non-Farr designs in the race, skipper Frostad and crew could be a dark horse, particularly on the shorter legs with Erle Williams involved—10 to 1.

Nautor Challenge Amer Sports Too—lack of prep time, relatively less experience, and a Frers design puts Lisa MacDonald and her team at the bottom of our list, but we hope they prove us wrong—15 to 1.

Suggested Reading:

The Volvo Ocean Race, Six Months and Counting by Dan Dickison

The 2000 Telstra Sydney to Hobard Race by Rob Mundle

Volvo Ocean Adventures Launches Educational Website by Mark Matthews

Buying Guide: Personal Flotation Devices