Photo: Brian Carlin / Team Vestas Wind

Volvo Ocean Race 2014-5 preview

We look at the latest developments of with the fully crewed round the world race and the teams

Saturday October 11th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

Choosing the Volvo Ocean Race winner used to be such a simple task. Either it would be the red boat or you just picked the team that bought the previous race winner and you were quids in.

Now that the Volvo Ocean Race has gone one design with the introduction of the new Farr-designed VO65s, the form guide has become a whole lot harder. Unquestionably the racing in this race will be closer than it has ever been before and will become ever more so as the race progresses. However while it is tempting to imagine the seven entries (one more than 2011-12) constantly within sight of each other as they race around the world, in practice the fleet will inevitably spread out, due to minor differences in boat speeds due to variations in trim, set-up and crew skill, plus differing choices of tactics and routes, while the biggest hold-ups will be due to breakage.

Thanks to the one design, no longer is the fully crewed round the world race a design and boat speed fest. Instead the main variables are the resources of the team, the length of preparation time, the experience and quality of the crew, particularly their ability to investigate and refine the minutae of their boats (within the limits of the rule) to get the best out of the new one design.

The one design has succeeded to some extent to achieve the organisers desire to reduce the cost of entering and being competitive in the Volvo Ocean Race. Specifically this time around the big budget teams have less of an advantage over smaller budget ones, but nonetheless they will still hold an advantage and since the Volvo Ocean Race is scored on accumulated points over the nine legs, rather than combined elapsed times, it makes no difference whether a boat beats another by one second or one day.

Another change this time is that the in-port races do not count towards the overall result of the event (although there is a separate championship for the in-ports and they will be used, if required, to break ties). This time teams must race their boats in ‘offshore’ mode, thereby eliminating the ridiculous scramble by each team’s shore crew, seen in the last three races, to change their boat to ‘inshore’ mode and then back again ready for the start of the next leg proper. Keeping the boats in 'offshore mode' has allowed the race organisers to make the welcome change of holding the in-port over the same weekend as the race start proper, providing longer recovery time for the crews between legs.


First held in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race, this is the 12th running of the Volvo Ocean Race and follows a roughly similar course to the last race in 2011-12 with nine legs and over a similar distance of just under 39,000 miles, but including some different stopovers.

The first four legs remain roughly the same, and include three Equator crossings, leg one taking the boats from Alicante out of the Med, south down the height of the Atlantic to Cape Town. Due to the Indian Ocean pirate situation last time the boats raced to a ‘secret destination’, Malé in the Maldives, from where they were shipped to the UAE, relaunched and then sailed the final miles through to Gulf to Abu Dhabi. This time due to the much reduced pirate threat in the Indian Ocean, such drastic measures are unlikely to be taken, but we have yet to hear whether the fleet will be ‘accompanied’, will have to dispense racing to sail in convey through this area or whether each crew will be simply ‘tooled up’.

From Abu Dhabi, the fleet heads on around the south of India and Malaysia (through Malacca Strait – where these days there is probably a bigger pirate threat than the eastern Indian Ocean) and up to the Chinese tourist destination of Sanya. From there it is south, back across the Equator to Auckland, where this time there will be a full blown stopover, rather than last time’s rather unsatisfying pit stop.

Leg five is the ‘proper’ South Ocean leg (albeit with waypoint gates to stay north of) around Cape Horn and up to Itajai in southern Brazil. Despite the race at this stage being back in the Atlantic and in theory on the ‘home’ straight, still almost half the points will remain on the table by the Brazilian stopover.

Changes to the stopovers are evident in the latter stages of the race with Miami being replaced with Newport, Rhode Island where the VO65s will be tied up in the new marina at Fort Adams. From there the race reverts to its 2011-12 course, heading across the North Atlantic to Lisbon followed by the shortest leg of the course up to Lorient. Instead of finishing in Galway as the last two races memorably have, the final leg this time takes the boats via a pitstop in the Hague into the Baltic to Gothenberg, Sweden, where Volvo has its headquarters.

The VO65

Those tasked with creating seven identical VO65s have done an impressive job. To achieve this the build was hived out to yards across Europe with the hulls and longitudinals constructed at Persico in Italy, the decks at Multiplast and the bulkheads and other internal structure at Decision in Switzerland (Multiplast and Decision have since merged into the Carboman Group), with the boats assembled at Green Marine in Hythe, near Southampton.

Generally the VO65s are felt at this stage to be evenly matched, but it will be interesting to see if the crews still feel this way over the course of the race.

A downside of one designs, particularly at this size (as the Challenge and Clipper fleet owners will attest) is that if something breaks through anything other than operator error then it must be considered suspect and thus replaced across the fleet. To date the worst issues that have materialised with the boats are a rather over-active electrolysis of the foils for the canting keels (particularly on Team Brunel) that caused the paint in this area to blister up. All of the boats have also had their masts reinforced at the spreader attachment points. The exception is Team SCA which has been fitted with a new mast.

The teams

Seven VO65s were built for this race and all will be racing – the organisers attempted to get an eighth built but the time frame between getting it finished and reaching the start line was thought to be too short. Even the last boat to leave Green Marine, Team Vestas Wind, only went sailing for the first time on 21 August, just over seven weeks ago.

According to MAPFRE skipper Iker Martinez, the key points to winning this Volvo Ocean Race are resources, experience of the crew and preparation time. “There are only a couple of teams which have all three: One is Abu Dhabi and the other is Brunel. Then there is a group after that where they are missing something. The girls have the time and resources, but maybe don’t have the experience. We have the experience, but not the time and resources and then there is a big group of people fighting to be there.”

Looking at the skippers alone, there are a number of serial VOR campaigners including Ian Walker, Bouwe Bekking and Chris Nicholson none of whom have ever managed to win this race. The nearest in this respect is Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier, who was an integral part of Franck Cammas’ Groupama crew, winner of the last race.

Double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker is back for his third stab at the fully crewed round the world race following his rather lacklustre Green Dragon (fifth of eight) and previous Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (fifth out of six) campaigns. While MAPFRE was born of the ashes of Pedro Campos’ movistar/Telefonica campaigns and there are links between Camper and Team Vestas Wind, of all the teams, ADOR carries the biggest legacy over from the last race, with half its crew returning including Simon Fisher, now promoted to navigator (a role he last held two races ago on Telefonica Blue), Justin Slattery and UAE sailor Adil Khalid.

ADOR is believed to be one of the best resourced teams and aside from Team SCA has spent the longest time sailing its VO65. They proved themselves to be top of the crop when they won the heavy airs RORC Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, by far the longest and most brutal of the pre-event training races for the VOR teams.

One of ADOR’s secret weapons is veteran VOR sailor Neal McDonald, who has been acting as the team’s fastidious coach. The team also has the most number of previous race winners aboard – Justin Slattery (ABN AMRO One) and Phil Harmer (Groupama), although Team Vestas Wind’s Tony Rae himself is a two time victor from the dim distance past, on Peter Blake’s Steinlager 2 and with Grant Dalton on New Zealand Endeavour.

Dutch sailor Bouwe Bekking returns to the Volvo Ocean Race as skipper of Team Brunel after a one race break. In this year’s event, Bekking is the most capped Whitbread/VOR sailor having first competed in the 1985 race aboard Phillips Innovator. The only other sailor competing in this race who dates back that far is once again Tony Rae. However while Trae has competed in five Whitbreads/VORs previously, Bekking sneaks ahead with six under his belt.

Bekking has skippered particularly strong campaigns for Pedro Campos in the 2005 and 2008 races, but has never quite managed to pull off the win, the movistar campaign coming to a sudden end when Bekking and her crew were forced to abandon their boat mid-Atlantic. Similarly navigator Andrew Cape has been involved with many top campaigns in the past that have come close but ultimately flopped, notably his first as navigator aboard Chris Dickson’s Tokio (which should have won the 1993 race by a country mile had it not been for a dismasting).

The Team Brunel campaign seems well resourced and has had a similar amount of training time to Abu Dhabi and Team Alvimedica, however significantly they didn’t take part in the Sevenstar Round Britain which many believe to have been a mistake. The official line is that that brutal race would have placed too much stress on their boat’s gear. Many of the team have been honing their race skills this season on board the J-Class yacht Lionheart (which docked in Alicante this week fresh from Les Voiles de St Tropez).

MAPFRE is one of the dark horses in this year’s race, an 11th hour campaign from the same stable behind the movistar and Telefonica campaigns that have entered four boats in the last three races, thanks to the efforts of team head Pedro Campos. While MAPFRE is a Spanish campaign, skipper Iker Martinez is friends with two time Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux (from whom he and his 49er crew and round the world sailing partner Xabi Fernandez chartered Desjoyeaux's Foncia for the last Barcelona World Race) and as a result has recruited several top Breton Figaro sailors to their crew. This includes navigator and past Solitaire winner Nicolas Lunven. Desjoyeaux is such a titan among offshore racers – admittedly shorthanded rather than fully crewed - it will be fascinating to see what impression he can make on the team and their performance in this race.

MAPFRE is also unusual in that Iker Martinez is attempting to juggle his commitment to the team with that of his Olympic Nacra 17 campaign for Rio 2016. As a result he won’t be able to sail all the legs, when he will hand over to Desjoyeaux/Fernandez.

Team Vestas Wind is another very late campaign. However skipper Chris Nicholson brings a wealth of experience personally and has with him a very experienced crew including Tony Rae and Rob Salthouse both of whom sailed with him on board Camper (in fact Salthouse was also with him on Puma before that…) Part of the deal with Vestas was that the two Under 30 crew (mandatory on all the VO65s) be Danish. The two nippers, Peter Wibroe and Nicolai Sehested, are both accomplished match racers, but lack offshore miles.

While right now the team is short of time on the water, the crew has already proved itself to be a fast learner having won leg 0 and having briefly led the Alicante In-Port race. By Cape Town expect them to be mixing it with the best.

Another dark horse, in fact more so than MAPFRE, is Dongfeng Race Team (pronounced ‘Dongfong’ as we have been told repeatedly this week). The campaign is managed by OC, providing an excuse for Mark Turner to get his foot back in the event that started off his career in pro sailing (during his navy days he was part of the mixed services crew aboard British Defender in 1989-90). The aim of the team is to develop offshore racing in China and in particular to train up Chinese sailors of whom, out of a squad of seven, at least two will be on board the boat at any one time during this race.

Given that Chinese sailors represent a quarter of the eight crew allowed on the all-male boats, it is tempting to discount Dongfeng's prospects were it not for the rest of her crew. Skipper is Charles Caudrelier, a past Solitaire du Figaro winner, thus making him one of the best offshore racers of his generation. He was also a key crewman on board Franck Cammas’ Groupama, winner of the last Volvo Ocean Race. In addition to MichDes’ efforts for MAPFRE, a further thinning of the French Figaro ranks has taken place due to Dongfeng's recruiting, with Thomas Rouxel and Eric Peron on board, in addition to the only Swede in the race, Martin Stromberg, who also raced on Groupama. Aside from Caudrelier, the other ‘top gun’ in the Dongfeng crew, is navigator Pascal Bidegorry, one of the leading ORMA 60 skippers of his day and the man behind the Banque Populaire maxi tri (now Spindrift 2).

Team Alvimedica is essentially a US team with a Turkish sponsor – Alvimedica manufactures cardiology equipment such as stents and is keen to make inroads into the US market. Spearheading the team are Charlie Enright and Mark Towill who both made a name for themselves in the Roy Disney-backed Morning Light campaign where a group of young American sailors got to race a TP52 in the Transpac, an adventure subsequently turned into a film by Disney’s company. However both lack round the world race experience. Alongside Dongfeng (if you include all of the Chinese sailors), Alvimedica has the youngest crew but includes also several old hands, notably ex-Camper navigator Will Oxley and Ryan Houston.

The team seems to have adequate funds and has managed to get considerable training time in, including two transatlantic legs and a round Britain. They showed their worth by winning last Saturday’s in-port race in Alicante.

It is easy to put the all-female crew on Team SCA in last position given the track record of women’s teams in the Volvo Ocean Race, famously pioneered by Tracy Edwards and Maiden back in 1989-90. However never before has a women’s team been provided with such resources and a good opportunity to prove themselves. The campaign is run by Richard Brisius and Johan Salen’s Swedish company Atlant, which has previously ran the race winning EF and Ericsson programs.

The team set up shop more than a year before everyone else, and a lengthy period was spent in crew selection, using the ex-Puma VO70 as their sailing platform from their base in Lanzarote. During this period the squad was provided with the best coaches including multiple race winner Brad Jackson (ex-New Zealand Endeavour, ABN AMRO One, Ericsson 4, Puma) and Joca Signorini (ex Brasil 1, Ericsson 4) who continue to work with the team. The squad was announced fairly late in the day with Sam Davies finally being appointed as skipper during the summer.

In addition to being well resourced, under race rules the women get to race with 11 on board while the male teams only sail with eight. This has allowed Team SCA to staff their boat like the VO70s were last time around, while the male teams are effectively shorthanded, skipper and navigator having to spend more time on deck than they have in previous races. However it should be noted that the last all-female crew in the race was the Lisa McDonald led Amer Sport Too in 2001-2 and so the SCA crew have been playing catch-up in terms of their lack of VOR experience, something they intend to continue doing through the race.

The team has benefitted from having its VO70 as they have managed to use it for some two boat training (the only team to have done this) once their VO65 arrived in Lanzarote.

Team Vestas Wind skipper Chris Nicholson assesses the all-female team: “Team SCA have had the benefit of time and good coaching. I think they are going to be stronger than people think. And stronger than their results to date.”

We certainly hope Team SCA doesn’t come last, and it is a great to have an all-women’s team back in the race.

Some anoraky facts and figures

Crews by average age

Team Brunel - 38.5
Team Vestas Wind 37.6
ADOR - 35.1
Team SCA - 33.9
Alvimedica - 31.6
Dongfeng Race Team - 30.5

Crew by number of VORs

ADOR - 20 VORs
Team Brunel - 18 VORs
Team Vestas Wind - 15 VORs
Alvimedica - 4 VORs
Dongfeng Race Team - 3 VORs
Team SCA - 3 VORs

Crew numbers by nation (including reserves)

France 10
Spain 7
China 7
Australia 6.5
USA 6.5
New Zealand 6
Netherlands 4
Denmark 3
Switzerland 2
Belgium 1
Brazil 1
Ireland 1
Italy 1
Argentina 1
Sweden 1

Crew lists (leg 1)

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Nat Age Past VORs Notes
Ian Walker GBR 44 2 2x Olympic silvers (470 and Star); ex-Green Dragon and ADOR
Simon Fisher (nav) GBR 36 3 Ex-ABN AMRO Two, Telefonica Blue and ADOR 
Roberto Bermudez de Castro ESP 44 5 Ex-Galicia Pescanova, ASSA ABLOY, Brasil 1, Delta Lloyd,  
Phil Harmer AUS 35 3 Ex-Brunel, Green Dragons, Groupama
Justin Slattery IRE 40 4 Ex-News Corp, ABN AMRO One, Green Dragon, ADOR
Adil Khalid UAE 25 1 Ex-ADOR
Luke Partinson AUS 24    
Daryl Wislang NZL 33 2 Ex-Telefonica Blue, Camper
    35.125 20  
Matt Knighton (OBR) USA 30    
Team Alvimedica        
Charlie Enright USA 30    
Will Oxley (nav) AUS 49 2 Ex-Brunel, Camper
Ryan Houston NZL 31   Ex-Delta Lloyd, Team Sanya
Mark Towill USA 25    
Sebastien Marsset FRA 29    
Nick Dana USA 27 1 Ex-ADOR (MCM)
Alberto Bolzan ITA 32    
Dave Swete NZL 30 1 Ex-Team Sanya
    31.625 4  
Amory Ross (OBR) USA 30 1 Ex-Puma
Team Brunel        
Bouwe Bekking NED 51 6 Ex- Philips Innovator, Equity & Law, Amer Sport One, movistar, Telefonica Blue
Andrew Cape AUS 52 5 Ex-Tokio, Toshiba, movistar/Ericsson, Puma, Telefonica
Gerdjan Poortman NED 38 2 Ex-ABN AMRO Two, Delta Lloyd
Jens Dolmer DEN 45 1 Ex-Ericsson 3
Louis Balcaen BEL 25    
Pablo Arrarte ESP 33 2 Ex-Telefonica Blue, Telefonica
Laurent Pages FRA 37 2 Ex-Telefonica Blue, Groupama
Rokas Milevicius LTU 27    
    38.5 18  
Stefan Coppers (OBR) NED      
Dongfeng Race Team        
Charles Caudrelier FRA 40 1 ex-Groupama VOR, Solitaire du Figaro winner
Pascal Bidegorry FRA 46   ex-Banque Populaire skipper
Kevin Escoffier FRA 34   ex-Banque Populaire
Eric Peron FRA 33    
Thomas Rouxel FRA 31    
Martin Stromberg SWE 33 2 ex-Groupama and Ericsson 3
Jinhao Chen CHN 22    
Jiru Yang CHN 24    
Liu Ming CHN 30    
Ying Kit Cheng CHN 33    
Chen Jin Hao CHN 22    
Kong Chencheng CHN 27    
Liu Xue CHN 21    
    30.46153846 3  
Yann Riou FRA 40 1 ex-Groupama
Iker Martinez ESP 37 3 ex-movistar, Telefonica Blue, Telefonica. 49er gold and silver medallist
Nico Lunven FRA 31    
Xabi Fernandez ESP 37 3 ex-movistar, Telefonica Blue, Telefonica. 49er gold and silver medallist
Michel Desjoyeaux FRA 49 3 2x Vendee Globe wins, Route du Rhum and OSTAR wins, 3x Solitaire du Figaro winex-La Poste, Charles Jourdain, 
Andre Fonseca BRA 36 2 ex-Brasil 1, Delta Lloyd
Antonio Cuervas-Mons ESP 32 2 ex-Telefonica Black, Telefonica
Carlos Hernandez ESP 27    
Anthony Marchand FRA 29    
Rafa Trujillo ESP 38    
Sam Goodchild GBR 24    
    34 13  
Francisco Vignale (OBR)        
Team SCA        
Sam Davies GBR 40   2x Vendee Globe and Royal & Sun Alliance
Libby Greenhalgh (nav) GBR 34    
Sally Barkow USA 34   Match racer
Carolijn Brouwer NED 41 1 Ex-Amer Sport Too
Annie Lush GBR 34   London 2012 match racer
Justine Mettraux SUI 26   ex-Mini sailor
Sara Hastreiter USA 30    
Abby Ehler GBR 38 1 Ex-Amer Sport Too
Liz Wardley AUS 34 1 Ex-Amer Sport Too
Sophie Ciszek AUS/USA 29    
Stacey Jackson AUS 31    
Dee Caffari GBR 41   Vendee Globe, Barcelona World Race, most capped female solo RTW sailor
Elodie-Jane Mettraux SUI 29    
    33.92307692 3  
Corinna Halloran (OBR) USA 29    
Team Vestas Wind        
Chris Nicholson AUS 45 4 ex-Camper (skipper), Puma, movistar, Amer Sport One
Wouter Verbraak (nav) NED 38 2 ex-Djuice Dragons, Pirates of the Caribbean
Tony Rae NZL 53 5 ex-Lion New Zealand, Steinlager 2, New Zealand Endeavour, Team SEB, Camper
Rob Salthouse NZL 48 3 ex-Tyco, Puma, Camper
Maciel Cicchetti ARG 41 1 ex-Telefonica Black
Peter Wibroe DEN 29    
Nicolai Sehested DEN 24    
Tom Johnson AUS 23    
    37.625 15  
Brian Carlin (OBR) IRE 30    


Latest Comments

  • James Boyd 16/10/2014 - 16:15

    Ouch - apologies. Comes from his sailing with a boatload of Kiwis last time. Fortunately this is the internet and can be corrected 'like it never happened...'
  • nicko 12/10/2014 - 12:06

    Chris Nicholson...NZL? Really?

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