The 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race has slipped into the history books and I have to admit, I kind of have withdrawal symptoms. Clicking on the race tracker was starting to become a bit of an obsession – say nothing of a giant time-suck – so maybe it’s a good thing that “normal” life has resumed. I took some time away from the Internet (to get married and also to buy my house with my new wife from myself and my ex-wife, an interesting challenge I can assure you). The time away was perfect because it gave me some time to reflect on the race and to come to terms with how the Volvo Ocean Race has changed and is evolving. Here are some of my observations.
The racing was intensely close and exciting and for sailors that’s about as thrilling as it gets. To not know who would be the overall winner until the last few minutes of a nine month long event was nothing short of mind blowing.
The idea to return the race to the Southern Ocean, including the leg around Cape Horn, was just what the event needed. The race found it’s roots by racing in the Deep South and the video footage and imagery that came out of those legs was beyond spectacular.
While on-board reporters were not a new idea for this go-around, the OBR’s in the race ratcheted things up to a whole new level. Not only were they superb photographers and videographers, they were unbelievably great drone pilots. One thing that has been lacking from previous races was the ability for the sailing public to get a birds-eye view of the boats pummeling through some incredibly rough weather. I now have a new respect for what the sailors had to deal with on a day-to-day, or more to the point, hour-to-hour basis.
There is such a thing as poetic justice. One of the first pieces I wrote about this Volvo Ocean Race was well in advance of the start. It was after the VOR management released a new crewmember system that gave an number advantage to teams that took on female sailors. Scallywag skipper David Witt promptly declared that he had no interest “in participating in some kind of social experiment.” He was going with all-male crew. Well Mr. Witt I think that it’s fitting that the only female skipper in the race, Dee Caffari of Turn the Tide on Plastic, handed you the last place finish by putting enough boats between themselves and Scallywag at the final in-port race in The Hague to put Turn the Tide on Plastic into 6th overall.
I also learned that I should not be so quick to judge. I watched an interview with the aforementioned David Witt after the race was over and he came across as a pretty decent guy. He was humbled by the experience and very introspective about the loss of Scallywag crew member John Fisher in the Southern Ocean. I used to think he was a bit of a wanker; now I would like to buy him a beer.
During the race I said enough about how I didn’t like the VOR65 boats and I am glad that the race management has announced that they will be including IMOCA 60s in the next event, a move that I applaud as loud as I possibly can. I am not sure that anything I wrote led to this move but I hope it did. The future of the VOR is going to be great in foiling monohulls pushed beyond their safe limits by experienced crew.
I used to think that the VOR sailors were just a bunch over overpaid prima donnas but that has changed. I guess I was just a little bitter that we made so little money back in the old days that forged the event while the modern sailors are pulling down decent salaries. Now, having seen the drone footage and watched what they went through I think they have earned every right to be a little supercilious.
The idea of finishing each leg right off the breakwater in the finish port looks good on paper but it’s not such a great idea, to my mind anyway. Team Brunel might well have been the overall winner had they not been pipped by Mapfre at the post in drifting conditions in Newport. Brunel deserved to win that leg. There was only a handful of spectators up at that time of day so the idea that the finishes would draw huge crowds was good on paper. My suggestion is for them to still have the leg finishes right off the docks, but give the race committee the ability to shorten course if the outcome of the leg would radically changed due to the wind dropping or an absurd amount of fishing boats as was the case in the dark off Hong Kong.
And last, and this is good and a story that will be appreciated by every racing sailor. I got this from a blog written by sailing journalist Mark Chisnell and it’s right on. Mapfre should have won this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, but they blinked. As the approached the traffic exclusion zone on the approach to The Hague, Mapfre was a comfortable two plus miles ahead of Dongfeng Race Team and they could have stayed between them and the finish line all the way to the finish. But at the separation zone third place Team Brunel decided to remain to the west of the separation zone while Dongfeng and Mapfre were set to go to the east. It’s that ‘oh shit’ moment we have all experienced racing sailboats but what made it worse was that there was a massive no-go zone that had to be honored. On a normal race course you can gybe to cover but in their case it was as if there was an island inbetween them. I know for sure that numbers were being crunched by the gigabyte, and then Mapfre blinked. They had been covering Dongfeng but gybed back to cover Team Brunel and the game was over.
Mapfre can’t really be blamed for their decision. Team Brunel had hunted them down and had won three out of the previous four legs. They probably thought that they would be able to put away Dongfeng. Monday morning quarterbacking is always easy but the data seems to show that it was in those moments of hesitation aboard Mapfre about who to cover lost them the top spot and if that’s not superb yacht racing I don’t know what is.
I am already looking forward to the next race. Foiling monohulls, enhanced drone footage, Southern Ocean sailing, what’s not to like?