Safety at Sea, Volvo Ocean Race Style

Published on September 25th, 2017

The Volvo Ocean 65s are high and dry in Lisbon as they get their final tune up before the race, but the sailors are wet to the bone in Newcastle, UK for a sea survival course.

Just 27 days separate the Volvo Ocean Race crews from the start line, but first they must all pass through the Marine and Offshore Safety Training Centre, just outside Newcastle, for two days of intensive first aid training, firefighting and an opportunity experience the challenges of safety at sea.

Round-the-world racer and 2017-18 Race Reporter Conrad Colman went along to get the scoop on what goes on as the world’s best sailors go back to the classroom.

Hearty laughs and good-natured banter echoes off walls of the pool room as the crews jump into the pool in shorts and T-shirts and told to tread water. An easy task for some of the burliest sailors on the planet, all of them experienced seamen and surfers for whom the sea is their playground.

Then the waves roll through the swimming pool, drenching rain deluges from overhead spray heads. Smiles fade. Industrial fans kick in, creating a deafening roar that extinguishes any remaining glint in the swimmer’s eyes and makes it hard to breathe.

They struggle to stay afloat, some go under the waves. Eventually one of the sailors taps out, reaching for the ladder. Two minutes later the instructor stops the exercise to save the rest. How long had the world’s hardest sailors lasted? Just five minutes.

Lesson learned, always wear a lifejacket! Now, dressed in survival suits and equipped with custom-made Spinlock Deckvest lifejackets, the crews returned to the pool and were put through their paces by Ocean Safety drill sergeants who barked orders over the screeching fans and pounding waves.

The final part of the exercise was how to survive in a life raft, and if teams thought their race boats were cramped, they were in for a surprise with the rafts. Survival etiquette is important, basically, don’t throw up in your neighbor’s lap, and don’t eat more than your fair share of the survival biscuits.

The waves and the rain were turned back up, the lights turned off and the fans on. As the two rafts bobbed up and down, strobe lights flashing in the dark, voices rose above the maelstrom.

Defying the conditions and cementing their camaraderie, Team Brunel enthusiastically sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to their Argentinian crewmember Maciel Cicchetti.

If teamwork is key to survival at sea, the Volvo Ocean Race sailors are now ready for anything.


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2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED)
Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.

Source: Volvo Ocean Race

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