Seven teams are contesting the longest fully crewed race in the sailing world that started from the Spanish port of Alicante on October 22. This latest edition of the Volvo Ocean Race uses the same Farr designed one-design yachts and the previous race in 2014/15, but there have been many changes to the format of this iconic race and the equipment used.
The last three editions have all taken the fleet to Abu Dhabi at New Year – a significant diversion from the race’s ‘natural’ route, but an important one for sponsor Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, which won the last edition at the third attempt, but is not returning to defend their title.
The Volvo Ocean 65 Dongfeng clinched a hard-fought class win in the Rolex Fastnet Race with a 54 second lead on MAPFRE. Credit: J.Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race
This frees up more options of the course, which now comprises 11 legs, taking competitors from Alicante to Lisbon, then Cape Town in South Africa. Next is one of the two supremely challenging Southern Ocean Legs to Melbourne. After a sojourn at warmer latitudes in Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Guangzhou they will return to Auckland, New Zealand. Next is the longest leg of the course, around Cape Horn and up to Itajai in Brazil. The final legs take the fleet to Newport, Rhode Island, then Cardiff in Wales and The Hague in the Netherlands.
MAPFRE rounding the Fastnet Rock. Credit: Rolex/Kurt Arrigo
Another significant change is in the make up of each team. The race has come under significant criticism in recent years for both lack of opportunities for younger sailors and for women. The latter have a long history of involvement with the event, dating back to when Claire Francis became to first women to skipper an entry in 1977 and the first all-women crew on board Tracy Edwards’ Maiden in 1989. However, several editions of the race had no female participation until the all women team SCA in the last edition. This has changed for the 2017/9 race, in which there’s no all-women entry, but all the teams, with the exception of one, will have at least two women on board.
On board Vestas 11th Hour Racing for the knife-edge battle between the VO65s in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race. Credit: Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race
Despite a huge following for the past few editions of the race, the biggest challenge for organisers has been finding enough sponsors that are happy to invest a budget of some €10-12 million per team. Granted, race veterans including Team Brunel, Team AkzoNobel, Mapfre and the Dongfeng Race Team are on board, as is Vestas 11th Hour. Each of them are fielding very experienced and knowledgeable teams that have every chance of taking an overall win. It’s certain to make for tantalisingly close racing. The two other teams, include Turn the Tide Against Plastic, skippered by Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe veteran Dee Caffari. Although her team was brought together at a late stage, she is one of the most experienced and successful skippers in this edition of the race and has every chance of proving a match for any of the more established teams.
Follow the race here: www.volvooceanrace.com