The 2008-09 event will be the tenth running of the iconic ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante, Spain in October 2008, it will for the first time, take in ports in Asia. The race will span some 39,000 nautical miles, stop at around 11 ports and take nine months to complete.
What progress has been made in securing port stopovers?
In the new territories our first task has been to focus on education in order for the authorities to appreciate just what the Volvo Ocean Race brings from a commercial and sporting perspective, the infrastructure we require and the interest that can be aroused from our arrival in those stopovers. Beyond that point of introduction and education, we have found a tremendous appetite for the race. We are making headway but, as you might expect, the progress we have been making in places like the Middle East, Singapore, India and China has been a bit slower than I had hoped but the desire is building. I don't see us having to make any rash changes. There may be a few nuisances around a particular port. In some cases we are looking at two or three ports in a country or region which is a nice position to be in. Obviously it would please our stakeholders if we had the route cast in stone two years out from the start, but they understand that's not possible. The dream ticket from the last race where we had an affiliation between port and boat will be successful in some territories in 2008-09 and not in others. It will take us a little while yet to lock it all in.
What other ports on the more traditional route are under consideration?
Places like Halifax (Nova Scotia) and Boston are very enthusiastic. There are always unknowns in negotiations. Halifax, for example, which I visited the other day, has a magnificent venue for the race. But, will it get the government support? Will the weather conditions be right at the time? Will they have a boat in the race? They are the questions which still need to be answered. Then there's Ireland. There is this romantic attachment with Ireland as a tourist destination. If I go into a North American port discussion - be it Baltimore, Boston or Halifax - and I say 'you can be the beginning of the leg to Ireland' lights go on everywhere. Ireland will be a wonderful place for us to go. The enthusiasm there is infectious.
Is a French port likely?
We have had several conversations with French ports where there is a proud tradition of ocean racing. Sure it predominantly translates into single-handed racing but I'm sure we can expect to see enormous crowds turn out if the race stopped at a French port. In 2005-06, Seb JOSSE and Sidney GAVIGNET, two of the biggest characters in the last race, are French and helped to sustain what is historically a healthy French interest in the event. Despite the popular perception that the Vendée Globe is the only ocean race on the French sailing aficionado's radar, we generated sizeable French media coverage and public interest in 2005-06.
Where is the race finish likely to be?
We have German sponsorship interests so it could be Kiel again with 500,000 people witnessing the finish as they did in 2001-02. Or St Petersburg or Finland. All of them will provide a vibrant, mid-summer atmosphere. But there's still a way to go before we decide.
Where do you stand on entries for 2008-09?
We have repeat sponsors for 2008-09 which sends out a very strong message to other potential sponsors who are out there contemplating their involvement. If, as Ericsson have done, you can come back to this race despite under-performing on the scoreboard last time and still be so enthusiastic about doing well, that sends out a potent signal. And from that statement of intent, we are getting a number of sign ups. I am confident that we are going to build the number of entries from the last race and that this will be the first time in three/four/five editions of the race that the field will grow. As to when more syndicates announce, we know they are engaged, we know they are preparing their advanced battle plans, but they are not ready to go public as yet.
When can we expect further announcements of entries?
I think we will see them reveal themselves in the lead up to and during the summer. It always takes longer than you expect. The public will know the identity of at least one of those syndicates in the next couple of months. One thing's for sure, I certainly don't feel the same anxiety over entries as I felt in the build up to the previous race where we carried a great deal of hope and enthusiasm and not too much concrete endorsement in the early stages. That tells us that the innovations we introduced in 2005-06 and evolved for 2008-09 are appealing for potential team sponsors.
Do you expect syndicates to follow the examples of TEAM ABN AMRO and launch two-boat campaigns?
Yes. There are at least two syndicates looking at two-boat campaigns and I expect there to be more than one two-boat programme in 2008-09. Many of the sponsors and syndicate heads, old and new, have used ABN AMRO as the benchmark for evaluating their participation.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for crews given the 2008-09 route?
It is going to be a race of attrition - no doubt about it. The hot climates we will visit mean that it's going to be a lot harder than previous races even though the soothsayers have argued otherwise. I have sailed in hot climates before and they are very tough psychologically and physically. Sunburn, sores, rashes, boils, dehydration and infection will be commonplace. If you get any sort of infection from sitting inside wet weather gear that infection magnifies quickly in hot conditions. So those issues will shape our thinking on medical provisions and treatments and the general well-being of crews in our preparation for the race. Anyone who has sailed one-design boats knows that sitting in light airs searching for that next hint of pressure to eke out a slender advantage demands enormous effort. It might not be hairy chests and white knuckles as you hammer through the southern ocean but it is just as taxing mentally. The port stopovers are shorter so the shore crews will have to be doing maintenance on the run. It will also challenge the teams in the ports, including my own. The plan will be: come in, prepare the stopover to a Volvo Ocean Race standard, bump out, go to the next stop and do it again. If we thought 9 ports in the last race was hard work, imagine what 12 will be like with shorter windows?
How will the route challenge designers?
They are going to have to design a more all-round boat. Long legs are not going to be just blasting in the southern ocean predominantly downwind. There will long slogs upwind and its going to be more difficult tactically to defend in the light air legs. I expect to see greater variation in leg winners and therefore a more compelling competition from a sporting perspective.
What applicants have you had for the media crew member positions?
It's hugely amusing that some of the print press who have found fault with the race in the recent past have been at the head of the queue to sign up. If they do get a chance to sail on board and they get a fresh sense of what this race really is about then I'd be delighted. With the new markets we are visiting, they might have to learn language skills as well. So we might have a hard-nosed journalist who is learning how to use an on-board camera, interview people when the boat is rocking and rolling in 10 metre seas and in 50 knots - and practising their Mandarin. I should add that, the Notice of Race clearly states that it is the responsibility of the individual teams to fill these positions. Potential candidates can lobby us all they like, but at the end of the day it's the team's call.
How will you police the media person on board to ensure they don't participate in the sailing the boat?
Having the media person on board will mean that everyone on the boat will be walking a moral tightrope. Imagine this: The spinnaker's in the tide, 10 guys are hauling it out and one guy is filming the drama as it unfolds. The 10 guys have to be able to handle that this one guy is not part of their programme and the guy filming can't feel like he should be helping them out. To monitor those situations, we will have a big stick but we are not going to tell the crews what that is yet. What we will say is, 'if you transgress this rule, be aware that we will be looking over your shoulder, big brother-style'.The Volvo Ocean Race is an ISAF Special Event. For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race, the Volvo Open 70 and the teams competing, visit the official Volvo Ocean Race website - www.volvooceanrace.org.
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