New CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race announces a return to the roots of the race with a new route including a Southern Ocean leg that will be the longest in the race's history
The Volvo Ocean Race today announced the route for the next edition in 2017 and with that a return to the emphasis on long Southern Ocean legs.
The route will now go from Alicante to Lisbon before a 7,000-mile stretch to Cape Town and then the biggest leg in the event’s long history, 12,000 miles from South Africa to Hong Kong south of Australia and through the Southern Pacific Ocean. This will see crews at sea for an estimated 27 to 37 days.
From here the race has a non-scoring leg to Guangzhou in China, then on to Auckland before turning for another Southern Ocean leg and rounding of Cape Horn to Itajaí in Brazil. Then it stops at Newport, Rhode Island before crossing the Atlantic to Cardiff, returning to the UK for the first time in 12 years. The last two legs go via the north of Scotland and The Minch to Gothenburg before a grand finale in The Hague.
Announced by the new CEO, Mark Turner, who has been in place for only three weeks, the route decision largely pre-dates his arrival. The most significance change, the first big Southern Ocean leg, came about because sponsors Abu Dhabi are not going to participate again and so the race no longer needs to stop there.
However, Turner’s stamp can be felt in some of the ways he is seeking to implement the changes, and his enthusiasm for the return to the historic principles of the original Whitbread Race. Turner himself raced in the event in 1989/90 on British Defender.
Of the new Southern Ocean leg he says:
“This route is taking us back to our roots. This is the big one for us. We’re tripling the miles in the Southern Ocean. It takes the race close to the Antarctic and is the leg that has forged the reputation of this race, made the skippers as characters and leaders and is what every sailor dreams of. This is the place to test you and your team.
“We will sail in the Southern Ocean three times more miles than in previous races. It is the second longest leg in the history of the race, taking between 27 and 37 days. It’s a monster of a leg and we will apply some bonus points to it.”
He adds: “The race will be over 40,000 miles, longer than any previous race and [sailed] in eight months and not nine. We will be about capturing some of the original spirit. We will visit 11 cities, so we have the chance to inspire more people than ever.”
The race will stop in Hong Kong, a global commercial hub which Turner says both he and the race organisers have long had an ambition to include, and to which Turner has links through the Extreme Sailing Series he founded.
The new route also features a stop in Guangzhou, a city ranked as ‘tier 1’ status in China, and a short hop from Hong Kong. This will be a non-scoring leg, but there will be an in port race that does count overall.
The stop in Cardiff also has some Mark Turner hallmarks, as this is a city with which he also forged a partnership for the Extreme Series. And it will see the race to return to the UK, increasing the exposure to that market and providing another neat link with history, as the Whitbread once started and finished in the UK.
Organisers hope the next Volvo Ocean Race will involve all seven of the current VO65 one-designs. They also have the time if necessary to build an eighth boat, should sufficient teams be found. At present, four teams are believed to be interested, if not formally signed up.
Team SCA and Abu Dhabi will not be returning as they are said to have achieved what they hoped for last time. Abu Dhabi won on their second attempt and the Team SCA women’s team garnered record public engagement.
Mark Turner has some interesting things to say about shaping the Southern Ocean route, attempting to re-engage sailing enthusiasts and the inclusion of more women in the race and its following.
First, for the Southern Ocean legs, he suggests it might be possible to set fewer waypoints and leave more tactical decisions to skippers. A criticism of previous round the world races in general has been that waypoints constrained routes and sometimes forced yachts into worse weather.
“Waypoints are super dangerous things. The information on ice has never been so good, so we can spend some money on this and give a very high level of information and hand responsibly into skippers’ hands,” he comments.
“We can also be proactive. If we see a typhoon heading towards the fleet we can take action.
“But,” he adds, “we have to find ways to make the boats do something different. We will consider how to use AIS, maybe deprive them of weather info or have blackouts. A host of things are on the table to encourage people to take tactical risks, reward that and open it up a bit more.”
When I ask if there will be a return to more of a sailing narrative for knowledgeable enthusiasts of the race — my impression of the last is that the overall plot had become atomised into social media moments — he replies:
“I don’t think the sporting side has got less important. You can’t ignore it. Sports sponsorship is bigger business, but perhaps the decisions of where [teams] went and when got lost. There will be a rebalancing for sure. People grow up dreaming of wanting to win this.
“Where the race disappointed last time was that there was a lot of emphasis on the human adventure, but what happens to bring emotion out is in the sporting moments. The emphasis on lifestyle stories is fine, but once people are interested, how do you take it to the next level? That comes from the relentless intensity of competition.”
One key area of the race’s following that conspicuously lags behind when you look either at either the race analytics or our own is female engagement. I ask Turner if he is planning to change that, and he answers:
“The race will not be all male next time. I can’t tell you the solution to get there right now this second because this is a bit of a journey now for us, but I will do whatever I need to do to make sure that this is not an all-male race next time.”
The route of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/8
40,000 miles round the world
Alicante-Lisbon, 700 miles, 3 days approx
Lisbon-Cape Town, 7,000 miles, 22 days approx
Cape Town-Hong Kong, 12,000 miles, 32 days approx
Hong Kong-Guangzhou, non scoring transition leg and in port race
Hong Komg-Auckland, 6,000 miles, 29 days approx
Itajaí-Newport, Rhode Island, 5,500 miles, 8 days approx
Newport-Cardiff , 3,300 miles, 8 days approx
Cardiff-Gothenburg, 1,230 miles, 5 days approx
Gothenburg-The Hague, 520 days, 3 days approx