For six guys and one woman about to take on the world’s toughest offshore challenge in just over 24 hours, the skippers of the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race were in amazingly relaxed mood today.
A press conference packed by international media to bursting point probed all seven for signs of nerves and apprehension before the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile challenge but were rewarded only with smiles and messages of confidence.
Not that the sailors were taking anything for granted ahead of the treacherous first leg from Alicante to Cape Town which sets off at 1400 CEST tomorrow – memories of 2011 are too fresh for that.
Ian Walker’s recollections are particularly vivid after his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing challenge came to shuddering halt just hours into the previous race when a first-night Mediterranean storm left his mast in a sorry, broken heap.
This time, he has the comfort of knowing he has at least the same boat as the rest of his six rivals, the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65, which has been designed for durability with the breakages of the previous edition in 2011-12 still very much in mind of the organisers.
“We have spent the last six months trying very hard to break it without success,” Walker told the news conference. “Now we’ll have to make sure we don’t.
“But it’s up to us to try to judge how hard to push and when the new boat may or may not break.”
The sailors ran through all the threats they face in this 6,487-nautical mile opening leg – possible storms and very difficult sailing conditions through the Mediterranean, tricky tactical choices entering the Atlantic, the go-slow Doldrums and then a final week of high-speed surfing towards Cape Town.
“I’ve done it twice – once I nearly made it back to Alicante in time for the first-night on-shore party there and the other I nursed it home after an encounter with a whale off the Brazilian coast.”
Sam Davies of Team SCA at least has a secret weapon to stay safe.
Sailing has been in her blood since girlhood – her parents live on a houseboat and her grandfather served in the British Navy during World War II in a submarine.
“My grandfather had a St Christopher’s medallion which he told me kept him safe all the way through the war,” Davies told the conference. “He gave it to me and I’m wearing it right now.”