The Volvo Ocean Race – A Maritime Marathon

SLIDESHOW: The Dongfeng Race Team in Volvo Ocean Race 2014/15.

Next month the Volvo Ocean Race takes to the seas, a nine month round-the-world endurance test that will push eight boats and crews to their limits.

The 22nd October marks the start of this year’s race, but crews won’t be home until June 2018. Eight crews will battle this marathon of some 50,000 nautical miles over nine months, navigating broken masts, hull-shattering collisions, dangerously high winds, and living off freeze-dried fare. Luxury superyachts, these are not. "Inside it is absolutely about as raw as it gets, the sailors sleep in bunks with no bedding and there isn’t really a toilet," describes Nick Bice, Chief Technical Development Officer at the Volvo Ocean Race.

“It’s the longest sporting event in the world,” adds Charles Caudrelier, French skipper aboard China’s Dongfeng Race Team in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race.“This is a race about endurance and determination, physical and mental strength. You will never understand it until you have done it."

This will be Caudrelier’s second time helming the Dongfeng Race Team (he took podium last time) and this time they are a favourite to win. “Every day you are fighting between just a few metres to be the fastest. Sailing conditions are complicated, routes are frequently unchartered, you have a language barrier and unpredictable winds,” he adds. Some of the worst conditions are encountered in the southern oceans where waves can top 100ft.

This year, the race begins in Alicante then on to Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, back through Hong Kong, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, before finally crossing the finishing line in The Hague in June 2018.

After an upgrade in the 2014-2015 race, each crew will be sailing the high-performance Volvo Ocean 65 design, built to a single set of plans from Farr Yacht Design. A ready-to-race boat (including sails) costs an estimated €4.5 million to build and assemble over seven months and 36,000 man hours. The overall length is 72ft while the height of the rigging is nearly 100ft high.

Other boats in this year’s race include Team Turn The Tide on Plastic, a clean seas boat with a message of promoting ocean conservation, skippered by Britain’s Dee Caffari. Team Brunel is back for its eighth time representing The Netherlands, skippered by Bouwe Bekking for his eighth attempt at the trophy. Another Dutch Team, AkzoNobel, is led by first time skipper Simeon Tienpont. Spanish team MAPFRE have also announced their return to the race along with Team Vestas led by the American duo of Charlie Enright and Mark Towill. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag representing Hong Kong, is backed by Hong Kong-based Seng Huang Lee and Sun Hung Kai and aims to promote competitive sailing and build a long-lasting youth sailing legacy in Asia. The team will be skippered by experienced Australian sailor David Witt, who competed in the 1997-98 race onboard Innovation Kvaerner.

And of course, Team Dongfeng, just as keenly competitive as the rest. “It’s a lot of pressure,” says Caudrelier. “But it is the best offshore race in the world and, of course, we want gold.”

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