Book review: Life at The Extreme - The Volvo Ocean Race Round the World 2005-6

Editor James Boyd pages through the official work of the last fully crewed race

Friday December 15th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
With the Volvo Ocean Race done and dusted back in June, so it is inevitable that the official book and DVD of the race be on the bookshelves in time for the Christmas rush. This time around it has fallen on the broad shoulders of leading Australian journalist and author Rob Mundle to chronical the definitive record of the fully crewed around the world race.

Readers may already be familiar with Mundle's top book on the terrible 1998 Sydney-Hobart race, Fatal Storm (available from Amazon in the UK here) - he has also written the authorised biography of his controversial countryman Alan Bond. His new Volvo book Life at The Extreme - The Volvo Ocean Race Round the World 2005-6, is written in a similarly sensationalist gripping documentary style that has become something of the norm with books of this type since the likes of Dava Sobel's Longitude and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm defined the genre.

"Imagine a sport where the participants put themselves under the same levels of stress as a soldier fighting on the front line in a war! That's the reality when it comes to the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World - proven by medical research during the previous event..." is the killer opening fact and a cracker.

With a substantial feel and littered with some tremendous photography, Life At the Extreme is landscape in format, making it annoying for your neighbours when you try and read it on the train, but a great format for using images of boats really big. Unfortunately we didn't feel the book's designers really harnessed this for maximum effect.

The book is most satisfying a two levels. Firstly the quick flick through and you realise that despite there being few boats on the start line of the last Volvo Ocean Race it was still a phenomenal story with the new generation canting keel Volvo Open 70s breaking frequently, the internal politics of navigators being fired and skippers replaced, the tragic loss of Hans Horrevoets from ABN AMRO Two, the speed record, ABN AMRO One's magnificent victory. Aside from the photographs the book makes great use of the daily emails the crews sent back daily. These are used as pull quotes such as one from ABN AMRO One bowman Justin Slattery:

"When you're up there and the yacht's doing between 35 and 40 knots, there's no way you're going to physically be able to hang on in a nosedive....suddenly you're completely under water, green water that's probably a metre over your head and you go tumbling aft. There's enormous relief when you find that you're still on the boat and not dangling over the side on your safety harness, being dragged along at 35 knots...."

At a second level and with more time on your hands you can tackle Mundle's purple prose which nicely ties the book together. His account is pitched so that it will be apreciated by seasoned yachtsmen while non-sailing readers will be wooed by the sheer drama of the event as Mundle recounts it.

The book predictably covers the race in chronological order and rightly or wrongly little is made of the in-port races. We particularly like the tail end of the book where Mundle hands over his quill to some other writers who each pen a chapter about the preceeding races. Thus we have Butch Dalrymple-Smith's account of racing on board Sayula II in the first race, Les Williams' account of the 1981-2 race, followed by pieces from Skip Novak, Adrienne Cahalan, etc. about their subsequent laps of the globe.

Life at The Extreme - The Volvo Ocean Race Round the World 2005-6is available from Amazon in the UK today in hardback for £27.31. (Saying this Amazon seem to be extremely slow delivering at present, so you might try another on line vendor or even - gasp - a trip to a real bookshop).

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