It is very rare to have the opportunity of sailing onboard a racing boat such as a Volvo Ocean 60, and it is particularly special when it is race boat that is taking part in the world’s premier ocean race.
For most casual sailors, just to take the helm and feel the responsiveness of these sleek ocean racers is a memorable experience in itself. Not surprisingly, there are always queues of sponsors and team supporters who want to have this chance, and for a few, the dream becomes a reality when, in each port, the race boats set out with a cast of thousands, for a two hour parade of sail.
On Sunday March 3rd, five of the eight Volvo Ocean 60s currently taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race, set out on such a parade, leaving the dock in the Marina da Gloria, Rio de Janeiro, and actually replicating the start of leg five which will set off next Saturday en route to Miami, USA.
Tyco, News Corp, Assa Abloy, Amer Sports One and Djuice were all laden with enthusiastic passengers, all looking forward to having a turn at the helm of their favourite boat. Robert Scheidt, Brazil's leading dinghy sailor, was confidently at the helm of djuice, wearing the team's cerise team colours and looking very at home onboard.
At 1.30pm local time, under a cloudless sky, the starting procedure began, and although this lighthearted parade was not billed as race, it was difficult for the crews not to sail it this way, at least at the start. The fleet powered towards the line, spilling wind and bearing away down the line as the crews, professional and otherwise, waited for the sound of the start gun, and each brought their boat up onto the wind.
In the starting area, which was situated inside Guanabara Bay, there was plenty of wind and the fleet split tacks immediately, beating towards the forts that mark the picturesque entrance to the harbour, with some of the more enthusiastic sailors sitting on the rail with their legs over the side of the hull.
A fleet of press boats followed, with photographers clicking happily away as the boats sailed close to the pink and green base of Sugar Loaf mountain. Out to watch the V.O.60s in action was an impressive spectator fleet as well as a racing fleet of Lasers, 470s, Tornados and the odd Mistral sailboard.
A turning mark was set just off the Copacabana beach, but once clear of the harbour, the breeze faded until even the little zephyrs of wind disappeared and the light code zero sails failed to fill. The boats were left motionless under the relentless heat of the sun, mainsails idly slatting.
After an hour or so of sailing it was time to turn back, sails were exchanged for the engine, and the fleet headed back towards the forts, and much to the delight of the special onboard visitors, the new breeze inside the harbour gave them all another chance to hoist their spinnakers.