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Has the Volvo Ocean Race lost its way?

Published on June 11th, 2018

Since the start in October, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race has sought to gain our attention and interest, but with crews filled with first-timers and a changing landscape for endurance contests, has the self-proclaimed “world’s premier offshore race” lost its way? British commentator Magnus Wheatley thinks so as he shares in this report.

Like the drunken uncle that refuses to leave the coming-of-age party, the Volvo Ocean Race staggers on. But just like the uncle, its glory days are way in the distant past and the cool, relevant ones desperately want it to go home, tuck itself quietly to bed, and get on with the proper party.

Does anyone, anywhere, have any emotional connection whatsoever with boats called Mapfre, Brunel, Dongfeng? It’s a passing circus act for ice cream lickers whose only experience of ‘yachting’ was a blow-up dinghy on a beach in Corfu three years ago.

These ridiculous ‘race villages’ are doing anything but inspiring the next generation. They’ve become ‘a thing to do’ on a Saturday afternoon with the kids and granny whilst the circus is in town and are deeply depressing.

This is all desperate stuff for a tired format that long since lost the interest of the forgiving maniacal sailing enthusiasts (who pretty much forgive anything and read the ‘Butt daily) and totally alienated the mainstream sports media. CNN manfully carries on flogging the dead horse and occasionally Seahorse inexplicably puts one of the Jurassic boats on its front cover attempting some relevance but miserably fails.

It’s over – the last race was a stretch but only the sight of watching Ian Walker dramatically age in front of our very eyes kept a modicum of mild interest and amusement.

The problem is, we look at Alex Thomson with a sexy murdered out yacht, hydro-planing a lap around the planet single handed (!) whilst filing video reports daily, one-handed from a desolate southern ocean. Or we see giant multis blasting round fully crewed by some stone-hard Frenchmen that have been sailing cats out of Lorient since the age of two.

This is what captures the attention. Their weather-beaten, sleep deprived, salt-riddled, unshaven faces tell the story alone, whereas the sight of those clunky old sheds in the Volvo is almost laughable.

It’s the, “You know what? I’m an okay sailor but I’m not even sure I could get that thing out of Portsmouth Harbour, let alone around the world” conversation that matters today. I hate to say it but give me a year to get in shape and I’m pretty sure I could do a Volvo race as another number in a pro crew. I joke but it has lost that dark allure and it isn’t coming back.

Look back to the Whitbread when we saw photos of Flyer coursing down gigantic southern ocean rollers and that was on another plane of adventure. Check out Blakey and that Steinlager ketch – a ketch! Watch Walker blast that sucker around the Horn after two minutes sleep in the last six months.

That was interesting and the sailors were characters. Most of them today are duller than a winter in Gothenburg. The Volvo is now just the Clipper Race without the mid-life crisis brigade.

We hear of mountainous seas and desperate tragedy pre Cape Horn but it sadly doesn’t have any meaningful impact (although a lonely death in the South Atlantic is truly horrific, desperate and sad). Equally the fishing boat collision in Hong Kong was awful but I hate to say it, it barely raised a flicker in these social media, minute by minute, all-in, highly connected times.

Interesting that those are the only two things that this edition will be remembered for. The racing is so dull and anemic to be irrelevant. Witness this weekend’s Cardiff racing as a strong case for the defense or that nonsensical ghosting into Newport. Who cares?

In all honesty, the race is now just a payday for the offshore pros, jockeying some dinosaur billboards around the planet to increasingly obscure ports. It probably always was, but Cardiff anyone? Hardly the hotbed of UK sailing. Rugby perhaps, but grand-prix yachting? The organizers were surely having a laugh with that one. Sadly it’s at the event’s expense.

I know a lot of people in the race and they are bored witless. The sailors, the mafia shore crews (who are the biggest jobsworth’s anywhere in sport), and laughably the travelling media. This is a tiresome, divorce-inducing shambles that needs to quietly die in The Hague (NED) in a couple of weeks’ time.

Can it, under new ownership, come back from the dead? No, is the short answer. The dead horse has been flogged. The life support machine must be switched off. The world has moved on. It’s a pointless charade of a format and it’s time to admit that it’s “Game Over.”

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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.

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