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Back in the Volvo Ocean Race Saddle

Published on May 21st, 2017

Mark Towill

Since their announcement in March that Americans Charlie Enright and Mark Towill will follow-up their debut in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race by leading Vestas 11th Hour Racing in the 2017-18 edition, the team has already done one transatlantic crossing and is in the midst of their second.

Before their departure from Newport, RI to the UK, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck caught up with Mark Towill for an update.

The Volvo Ocean 65 has had some upgrades since the last race. What has stood out so far?
One area is the sail inventory. We have one new sail on board (the J0) which we expect will improve performance upwind in light air conditions. A lot of the comms and tracking systems were still in testing, so it’s difficult to evaluate what will come off the boat compared to last race, but we expect there will be improvements here too. We also have a small hydro turbine on board which we can use to produce power and save on fuel, which is a major plus for us and our partners – Vestas and 11th Hour Racing – as we develop and implement our long term sustainability plan.

In the 2014-15 race, the AIS tracking system contributed to conservative tactics which kept the fleet together. Will the rules be different for this next race?
More Southern Ocean miles should make a difference to this, but this is something that Volvo Ocean Race need to decide – it’s definitely something that had an impact in the last race, and we would expect they address it in the most favorable manner in order to keep the racing competitive.

There are a lot of crew configurations now available in the rules. Is 7 men and 1 or 2 women a no-brainer?
There’s probably not a “no-brainer” per se, as there are a lot of different variables to consider when planning a crew for a Southern Ocean leg, and for example, an in-port race. The seven male plus one or two female combination is certainly interesting, and it’s no secret that we’re trialing mixed crews on our transatlantic crossings, but no final decision has been made. The best option for us is still to be determined, and the return transatlantic to the UK will help us make some key decisions.

How much does the route factor into crew decisions?
The route is a major factor. The Southern Ocean is going to be wet and wild, but it will also make decisions on board all the more crucial, so we’ll need to develop a specific skillset to optimize performance in these conditions. It could very likely be where we see this race lost and won, not least due to the double points available. Aside from the Southern Ocean, it will all depend where the goal posts are set at the beginning and end of each leg – you can always expect an interesting finish in Cape Town, for example, so it’s important to have a strategically sound group of sailors who have the experience, but bring fresh ideas and tactics to the table.

Your 2014-15 crew was announced in July. Any variables that will drive that decision earlier or later?
The transatlantic is certainly a pivotal point in our build-up. We can’t pinpoint a date for you, but can tell you that we expect to finalize our crew make-up in June, so you can expect to hear some announcements in the near future, probably before July.

Race detailsRace routeFacebook

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)

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.

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