Knut Frostad
Knut Frostad

Volvo Ocean Race update

VOR CEO Knut Frostad talks about his new policy for picking stopovers

Tuesday February 23rd 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Talking to the CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race 20 or so months out from the start of the next race is always a somewhat futile exercise. At this point they have a good idea of the route, but can’t confirm it and they have a good idea of the teams involved which again they can’t talk about until the teams themselves are ready.

So the first leg of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race has been announced from Alicante to Cape Town – which comes as no great surprise. Knut Frostad says that they did look at some alternates in Africa and had some interesting options, but it was a little bit early to go elsewhere.

And...that’s it at the moment. We don’t even have a start date, other than ‘August to October’ 2011. All this is likely to change over the next weeks as further announcements over the route and stopover ports are drip fed out with the complete route known by the end of March.

This schedule of announcements is significantly earlier than the last race when the route wasn’t finalised until just a few months out from the start, points out Frostad. This has come about due to the significant difference this time round in how Frostad and his team are choosing the ports.

Under the Glenn Bourke regime the plan was for teams to come forward and then in an exercise in supporting them, the Volvo Ocean Race would visit their country. This is no longer the case, as Frostad explains: “When I did my first races in 1993 and 1997, there was never a discussion of ‘if you had a team, you would get a stopover’. And I think it was good that way. Then the race evolves around cities that really want the race and you can create a good route. If you keep changing the route for whatever boat that comes up, then first of all your route will be announced very late and it is not necessarily the ideal sailing route and it is not necessarily cities that really want the race.

“So we are doing it the other way round. We are saying to the cities – ‘if you want to be in the race, show us you can support a team and how you are going to do that’.”

This time Frostad, a former skipper in this race, has also been keen to improve the route from the sailor’s perspective. “We have tried very hard this time to balance the sailing side and the opportunities for the cities. So we have looked quite hard at the routing of each leg, at the conditions and the time we’ll spend sailing and to keep in mind what we learned from the previous race. The last race diverted quite heavily from what was seen as the tradition route of the race. Some of that was, I think, a very positive experience and some was less positive, although sometimes people criticise something for sailing a particular leg once. Two weeks later that whole leg can be completely different.” We guess he is referring to the heinous leg up to China.

For most traditional followers of the round the world race, it is the tales of death-defying feats from the Southern Ocean that is the highlight of the race. Heading up to India and China last time reduced the amount of time in the Southern Ocean, although in the end most boats sailed pretty much the whole of the Pacific section to Cape Horn. Again Frostad says he has to be a little cryptic about the amount of Southern Ocean there will be in the next race – so could this mean Sydney or more likely Auckland as a stopover? With the recent hiatus over the America’s Cup Grant Dalton has certainly been gunning to get the race to return there. There has been some association of him and an entry fielded by the Yacht Club Costa Smerelda, although he told us in December he had been talking to a number of people about a possible entry.

We ask Frostad if the race will be going to the Middle East and the Far East and all he will commit to is “the East”. However it seems likely that the race will head up to China once again, even though this proved the real headbanger of a leg (and as a spectator one of the most interesting) last time.

“Some of it was very much pioneering,” says Frostad of the 2008-9 race’s loop up into Asia. “Certainly China was a big success for us. We do have a big following now in China on the media side, and there were a lot of Chinese companies and people who were very interested in the event. But it will take time – you don’t change the audience and the marketplace for sailing in a day. It is not about leaving one country and entering into another one, it is about including a bigger part of the world in the sport, which I think the sport needs.”

According to Frostad they have had around 80 expressions of interest from potential stopover ports. In general terms they are looking for slightly less stopovers than in the last race and he had hoped to reduce the total duration of the race by around one month.

“I don’t think we’ll get the full month,” he admits. “But certainly we will achieve some weeks shorter. What has proven for us to be the biggest challenge is the fact that the boats are so fast which makes a problem for logistics.” Typically the race organisation and the teams have two sets of containers leapfrogging each other between stopovers in order to keep up with the schedule of the race. This time Frostad says this may not be fast enough.

This is partly because the boats are likely to be going even faster than they were before, but also because the duration of stopovers are set to be reduced.  “Last time the stopovers were very varied in length. We had one month in Singapore and some others were only a week and a half. This time we are trying to make it a more standardised format.”

Plans this time are to hold an in-port race in every stopover and in most cases this will take place the same weekend as the start. For this time, changing the boat to ‘inshore mode’ as well as bringing on extra crew for the race are prohibited. This move potentially chops a week off each stopover and as Frostad points out makes it much more cost efficient for the teams.

This time it is unlikely there will be any pitstops or mark roundings in order to take the race to more places. “The experience we have is that it works better when you have a proper stop - both for the city and the event,” says Frostad. “Even though we put rules in place that you couldn’t lift your boat out and you can’t work on your boat, still the teams do have the opportunity if they break on the leg to stop and fix their boats. So the problem is that even if you just have a pitstop they’ll still be on stand-by and they will still treat it almost like a stopover. Then the cities having the event just coming by for a day or two, we don’t get the opportunity for the public to watch it properly.”

Obviously each stopover has its own complexion and some are made for commercial reasons. The US stop is a typical example as North America is such an important market. Unfortunately sailing events, with the possible exception of the America’s Cup,  typically make little or no impression on the public/media Reichter scale there. Frostad largely agrees with this: “Most European sports have been struggling in the US. F1 have pulled out. The US have their own sports and they have a way of doing sports. If you go to an MBA match or an NFL match or Nascar -it is a similar kind of concept. But we have made some progess and Puma helped us last time and I think we can make more progress.”

The Groupama VO70


At present there have been just two firmly announced – Giovanni Soldini’s Italian campaign and Franck Cammas’ Groupama. Soldini has acquired the former Ericsson 3 with financial support from John Elkann, grandson of the late Fiat boss, Gianni Agnelli. He intends to field this boat in the next race with a view to building new for the subsequent race.

While Franck Cammas attempts to gain himself the Jules Verne Trophy, so his insurance company sponsor Groupama have announced their participation, and have already followed the ABN AMRO and Ericsson example by buying the previous race winner and going to Juan Kouyoumdjian for a design. The former Ericsson 4 is expected to be unveiled in her new green livery imminently. Like Soldini, Groupama has committed its entry in the next two races – something that Frostad has been encouraging this time from both teams and ports. “It is what sailing needs - some reassurance of the future,” he says.

A top rumour recently has been that a US team with a prominent red wild cat logo may be returning with a former ABN AMRO/Ericsson watch leader in charge. Frostad will neither confirm nor deny.

“What I can say is that we know about six teams at the moment that we are quite confident about - which is more than we had at this stage in the last race, which I am very pleased about it. It is no secret that 2009 was a very difficult year for economic reasons. But we have a list of more than 50 teams that have showed interest to us and have plans, and around 15 we are supporting almost on a daily basis and who are working very hard to get on the start line.”

Most are looking for money for new boats, but Frostad says a few, like Soldini, are planning to go around in old boats. “In my ideal world we would see three boats from the last race,” says Frostad. “We believe that it is possible to do a fairly competitive campaign with one of the top three or four boats from the last race - and that is extremely cost efficient compared to building one. But the new builds are not looking too bad when it comes to cost. It is helping that you can’t build two boats and the designers are working on multi-team platforms.”

VO70s from the last race have to be modified to comply with the latest version of the class rule, however they are allowed to keep their original bulb and keel. This means that there is the potential for some of these boats to race with a marginally larger bulb than the new boats.

Ericsson have announced that having won the last race, they are not returning, but Frostad says that they are talking to two Swedish campaigns, one most likely to be from Atlant, who were behind Ericssion, Assa Abloy, EF, etc. Following Telefonica’s participation in the last two races, Spain is almost certain to be fielding at least one campaign.

“Obviously our objective is to have more boats than the last race and I am still optimistic about that,” says Frostad.

Another possibly significant change this time around is that the Volvo Ocean Race HQ has now moved from its traditional base in the south of England to Alicante. The move took place at the beginning of December and they are currently operating out of temporary office space while the permanent facility is finished off (due, in theory, by the end of March). They have also been busy recruiting and have secured the services of a new Director of TV in ex ITV, BSkyB and TWI man, Adam Binns and a Commercial Director Greg Miall formerly MD of Sport magazine and Global Sales Diretor of Metro International newspaper group. “We have been finding people from outside of sailing this time which has been a breath of fresh air. So far it has been mostly Brits!” says Frostad.

So watch out for a steady stream of Volvo news over the next weeks.


Latest Comments

  • James Boyd 23/02/2010 - 11:44

    Here here 938302!
  • 938302 23/02/2010 - 11:38

    You deserve all the support available to you Knut. The Volvo has been and still is the race all offshore sailors dream about. Keep strong and you will be the victor. The Volvo brand is one of safety and I for one believe the race is in safe and exceptional hands.
  • 156143 23/02/2010 - 10:09

    Interesting... I remember sitting in on the press conference at the end of the 2005-06 race where Glenn announced the 2008-09 route. Whilst the final stopovers were not announced in detail until later on, the teams had more to go to sponsors with earlier than this time. If the route is finalised, stop drip feeding it out so you get more press releases in, and let teams know the route so that they can go to sponsors with something definite. Too much talk and not enough action.

  • Graeme 23/02/2010 - 09:45

    Ericsson has had a few bad years with the recession, and has laid off quite a lot of staff in the division I worked in a year or two ago. Running an expensive sailing campaign against those sorts of economic results probably isn't politically acceptable to staff and shareholders.
  • pauloriain 23/02/2010 - 09:04

    I have to laugh at Knut Frostad "a sailor" talking about bringing in "breaths of fresh air" (non-sailors) it'll be funny if he loses his job at some stage. You never know they might even get a car racing guy in and put 4 wheels on the boats and race them round a land based track and then really increase the audience figures - good man Knut, be careful what you wish for.

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