Edition 29 May 2018, by John Mahnen
Few sporting events on this planet can evoke such powerful images as the Volvo Ocean Race. Formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, it is held every three years – spanning four oceans and fi ve continents. Currently, seven boats are circumnavigating the world having started in Alicante and hoping to fi nish fi rst in the fi nal port of call in The Hague. As much an endurance test as a sailing race, the Volvo Ocean Race is the ultimate test of seamanship with crews blazing across the water at speeds up to 75kph, alternating work and sleep on 24/7 basis. Crew members live a spartan life on board often having only a single change of clothes. Keeping on-board weight to a minimum is sport itself, with tactics such as cutting toothbrush handles in half to conserve any unnecessary grams not unheard of.
In order to bring the spiraling costs of participation under control, a standardized boat was introduced to the series. The current boat is the Volvo Ocean 65, a 22 meter (total length) monohulled racing yacht designed by Farr Yacht Design based in Annapolis, Maryland. The 65 was introduced for the 2014- 2105 race and replaced the Volvo Open 70. The boat is designed to take on the most grueling conditions of an offshore race and also serve as broadcast unit with cameras, telemetry and satellite equipment along for the ride. In the early Whitbread days, the race was often seen and domain of the elite and held limited relevance for a wider audience. These days, the Volvo Ocean Race captures the imagination of millions and is also on the forefront of important social issues such as gender equality and sustainability. Claire Francis became the fi rst female skipper in the 1977-78 race and in 1989, Tracy Edwards MBE skippered Maiden out of Portsmouth with nothing short of an all-female crew – unheard of at the time. Since then, women have a played an important role in the race. In the current edition, the Turn the Tide on Plastic boat is skippered by Britain’s Dee Caffari. Turn the Tide on Plastic is a mixed, youth-focused team with a strong sustainability message. The campaign, backed by the principle sustainability partner the Mirpuri Foundation, and Ocean Family Foundation, is dedicated to the issue of ocean health. The campaign is also supported by Sky Ocean Rescue who recently became a media partner to the team to help raise awareness of the issues our oceans face. The team’s guiding mission is to amplify United Nations Environment’s ‘Clean Seas: Turn the Tide on Plastic’ campaign throughout the eight months of the race. Caffari has built a multinational, 50-50 male-female squad, with the majority under 30 years of age.
Turn the Tide on Plastic also underscores another important theme of the Volvo Ocean Race: sustainability. The race is committed to raising awareness and conducting important research to combat issues such as plastic waste and climate change that threaten our oceans and their ecosystems. Each boat carries a standard payload of research equipment to capture important data to aid environmental scientists in their efforts to stem the tide of damage to our oceans. All of the boats are sending 36 data points back to Race Control at Race HQ in Alicante every 10 seconds. This information covers temperature, barometric pressure, wind strength and direction. This data will contribute to more accurate weather forecasts and climate models to better understand the weather tomorrow and climate change in the coming decades. The boats also troll drifter buoys which transmit information on ocean composition and currents. Several of the boats are also carrying an instrument package on board to test salinity, partial pressure of CO2, dissolved CO2 and Chlorophyll- a (algae) directly in the seawater around them. These key metrics are then analyzed at the Institute of Marine Research of the University of Kiel in Germany.
The selection of The Hague as the race fi nish is not surprising considering the signifi cant Dutch infl uence the Volvo Ocean Race. From its roots in the Whitbread, the Netherlands have played a large role – ffnot the least of which was supplying the only two-time winning skipper: Conny van Rietschoten. He won the race in both 1978 and 1982. Compatriot Bouwe Bekking is currently piloting the Team Brunel boat and four of the seven boats including Akzo Nobel have a Dutchman aboard. The arrival in The Hague will be a spectacular family event featuring a number of activities including an In-Port race and an extensive Race Village. At the heart of the Race Village is The Globe – a large dome that serves as a Sustainability Centre and a place to take a few minutes to discover more about the growing problem of plastic pollution and the need to act now. The Race Boat Experience lets visitors see up close what is like to live on team AkzoNobel’s 65ft racing yacht such as crawling into a bunk and using the bathroom. The village also features an upgraded Pit Lane, featuring cool new Team Bases and a Suppliers Corner, with all the different materials that go into making the Volvo Ocean 65s. The Volvo Ocean race also features an extensive schools programme which is an open-source online programme that educators can use in their classrooms for ages 6-12. The programme is meant to teach children about the Volvo Ocean Race and plastic pollution. It is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch and Chinese.
For more information see: www.volvooceanrace.com