Welcome to the Asian Detour

Published on January 8th, 2015

When the Volvo Ocean Race was established in 1973 (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race), the signature leg was across the Southern Ocean. Paul Cayard, who skippered the winning team in the 1997-98 edition, considered the stretch of water to be his ultimate sailing experience.

“The waves you surf are on an uninterrupted journey around the planet. The storms have to be respected. The ice has to be avoided. There, in one of the most isolated places on earth, you have to be one with Mother Nature. If you don’t, you get eaten alive.”

But the race no longer crosses the entire Southern Ocean, trading tradition for the commercial benefits of Asia. Rather than battle Mother Nature, the fleet is dealt other anxieties. Running aground on coral reefs. Piracy concerns. Collecting debris on their blades. Weaving through shipping lanes. Tearing through fishing nets. Apparently, with commercial benefits comes urban reality.

Instead of extending across the Southern Ocean from Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) to Cape Horn (Chile), the fleet is now routed north through the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, and then east through the Malacca Strait and South China Sea.

Race CEO Knut Frostad explains how the Asian detour is now critical for the race….
The first time was during the 2008-9 race when we went to India and then on to Qingdao, China. There was a lot of education as very few people in China knew about the sport and even less about the race. And we didn’t have a lot of sponsors that were very focused on that region, outside of Volvo and a few others.

For the 2011-12 race, we went to Abu Dhabi and moved the China stopover south to Sanya, where it was the biggest stopover we had in terms of commercial activation. It was also the first time since I have been involved in the race for 20 years that a port other than the start port was the biggest. We had almost 7000 corporate guests on the start weekend in Sanya. I think almost every single sponsor on every single team had activation.

It’s not so much that you go into China because of Chinese companies. You go there because it is an important market for nearly everyone else. This route is now almost essential.

While commercially it makes a lot of sense, you could argue that sailing-wise it is a detour. I was an early skeptic of the change, which eliminated half the Southern Ocean to route through the Asian territories. But now that we have done two races, and we’ve witnessed this route presenting the absolute toughest conditions we’ve had in each race, I now see this change fitting within the context of the race.

These legs are true challenges as they present unique strategy considerations. There can be lots of gains and losses in dealing with the weather and currents that affect these legs.

This video shares the view point of race veteran Bouwe Bekking…

Asian Detour, 2014-15 edition
Leg 2: Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE
Leg 3: Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sanya, China
Leg 4: Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand

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