ALICANTE, Spain, August 21 – Battered, bruised, happy, worried. You name it, at least one Volvo Ocean Race sailor felt it after a roller-coaster of a Round Britain and Ireland Race. So what next?
For Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, it was a week of smiles but keeping a tight lid on the growing optimism built on a near-perfect build-up to Race start on October 4 in Alicante.
Their record-smashing victory in the monohull class in the Round Britain Race confirmed what many have guessed: skipper Ian Walker is going to be a very serious force in the 12th edition after a couple of under-performing boats scuppered his hopes in the previous two.
Typically, he played Mr Cool when he sailed into Cowes – “we’ve got plenty of areas for improvement” – but the ever-present grin on his wind-battered face told a different story.
“While this has been a great race and a great result, our main focus will always be the Volvo Ocean Race and our preparation will continue with that goal in mind,” he said.
The only downside was that two of his key men, Justin Slattery (ribs) and Phil Harmer (hand), suffered pretty painful injuries during the 1,800 nautical mile round trip and their Volvo Ocean 65 boat Azzam had a couple of mechanical issues of its own.
Dongfeng Race Team, like Iker Martinez’s line-up, spent most of their five days around the British and Irish coasts chasing Azzam’s heels eventually finishing third behind the Spaniards.
That was a pretty impressive result considering Charles Caudrelier’s crew still has a distinctly wet-behind-the-ears, rookie feel to it with four Chinese newcomers.
Not that they were resting on their laurels this week. For them it was the journey up north from Southampton to Newcastle for a sea survival safety course alongside the other race crews.
The training, which covers everything from fire and medical emergencies to survival at sea, is a pre-requisite of entry to the round the world race, and an important step that all crews must undertake over the coming days.
Jiru Yang (‘Wolf’) summed up: “Wow! That was two of the most intensive days of my life – and also probably the most useful. I just hope I never need to use what I’ve learned.”
As for Martínez, he was topping up his safety knowledge after competing in the past two editions and his mind could understandably have been on his yet to be named boat. A title sponsor should be confirmed for the team in the next two or three weeks.
After the Round Britain and Ireland Race, he revealed: “We did have some electrical problems that did not help us, especially with navigation.”
He still has three more berths plus the onboard reporter to confirm for his boat but there was no update on this during the course of this week.
Team Alvimedica grabbed fourth place in the Volvo Ocean 65 race, pipping the all-female Team SCA by just 10 minutes after a near five-day tussle, and their relieved skipper Charlie Enright reckons that the Jekyll and Hyde weather encountered showed the strength of his crew.
“Tough conditions and tough terrain are a good way to test character, and it became clear that we have a good group of characters,” he said.
The hardcore training and racing over the last couple of weeks has been an eye-opener for Team SCA, but Abby Ehler believes that it is beneficial, and the perfect preparation for the big race.
“To train in the worst conditions possible makes you realise how hard it is,” she reasoned. “You cannot hear each other, and you cannot see each other through the lifejacket hoods - so you learn a lot about what it would feel like to be in those circumstances.”
Team Brunel, meanwhile, were keeping their own counsel after watching the progress of five of their rivals in the Round Britain and Ireland Race from their training base in Lanzarote.
The newest kids on the block, Team Vestas Wind, were concentrating on launching their boat for the first time this week and they report that it’s a case of so far, so good.
Images and text courtesy of Volvo Ocean Race