Volvo Ocean Race: Making the Difference

Published on March 13th, 2014

Ed Gorman talks to Mike Sanderson, Jules Salter and Ian Walker as he attempts to identify what it will take to win the first ever one-design grand prix race around the world…

A new edition of the Volvo Ocean Race is always a mouthwatering prospect and this year’s race is no exception, not least because the strict one-design boat and sail rule – brought in largely to reduce costs in time of recession – levels the playing field.

Although pro sailors and designers love to express themselves in a development class – which was always the stock in trade of the Volvo Ocean Race and the Whitbread before it – the one-design rule has one hugely attractive element: there should be no place to hide for the sailors, skippers and navigators. If the boats are as equal as both Volvo and builders Green Marine say they are – and they are very confident about this – then we are in for an exciting show.

In Formula One it has long been the dream of paddock watchers to put the superstars and also-rans of world motor racing in identical machinery and see who really is the fastest. Many believe it possible that some of the quickest racing drivers spent their best years in the middle or the back of the grid for want of the right break or sufficient financial backing.

So in the Volvo Ocean Race context what is going to make the difference in identical machinery, assuming none of the crews resort to dirty tricks? What will be the key parameters governing performance and who comes out on top? You can tick off most of the key categories quickly enough.

Getting the balance right between pushing hard and not breaking the boat; understanding what makes the boat tick and where the sweet spots are; making the right tactical calls; helming and trimming and selecting the right sail combinations; gear changing in evolving sea and wind conditions; consistency, stamina and fitness; leadership and crew deployment.

Mike Sanderson, who won the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race as skipper of ABN AMRO ONE and who has almost unrivalled experience in the race going back to the Whitbread of 1993-94, has no doubt that the simple business of driving fast will be a critical factor. He says that the difference between a merely excellent helm and a world-class one can be enormous over hours on the water. In the last race he noticed that every boat was running out of helmsmen by the end – by which he means fewer and fewer guys were doing more and more of the driving because skippers could not afford to use second-raters even for short periods. – Seahorse, read on

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