Imagine Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and all the other Formula One drivers having to hand in their keys to the grand prix organisers as they stepped out of their cars at the end of each race. I
Imagine then a situation where they wouldn’t see their priceless machines until a day or two before the next race. During this time, as the circus left town and rolled on to the next venue, the drivers and their teams would not be allowed to work on the cars. Even when the cars were handed back, fully serviced and ready to roll, all that teams could do would be to fill them full of fuel and replenish the driver’s Camelback with water before heading out to the qualifying session.
While it might sound implausible in grand prix motor racing, this is pretty much what’s happening in the current edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. This time around as crews tie up after finishing a leg they might as well be leaving their 65 footers on Volvo’s park and valet pontoon. As the sailing team steps off, their shore crews climb aboard, but unlike previous races, this time it is only to prepare the boat for Volvo’s central maintenance team, The Boatyard, who will take their machine for a 6,000 mile service.
Only after three to four days will the race team get their boat back, leaving just enough time to fiddle, fettle and polish before being pressed back into action for the in-port and pro-am races shortly before starting the next offshore leg.
Forty years on from the first Whitbread race, plenty has changed. Gone are the long lazy stopovers and in come tightly controlled, time conscious turnarounds to keep the Volvo show on the road.
Driven by the need to reduce overall campaign costs, slimming down the cost of a stopover was seen as a key part in making the Volvo Ocean Race more affordable. The starting point, aside from halving a typical stopover from four to two weeks, was reducing significantly the number of staff that race teams needed to employ by creating a central service and repair centre, The Boatyard. This was only possible due to the new one design which meant that all parts and processes could be standardised and while it is still early days with the fleet only just reaching the halfway stage around the world, the concept has proved successful.
Australian Nick Bice, who has competed in four Volvo races, two as part of the sailing team and two running teams’ shore side operations, now heads up the innovative Boatyard project for his fifth trip around the world. But this time he’s responsible for the entire fleet, a task that has taken a great deal of planning and preparation in itself, not least of all in developing the travelling service centre.
The March 15 issue of YW reveals just how this impressive operation works.