A good new idea for ocean races is given an improved twist


They say that when you see a good idea, you should copy it. Or better still, improve it.

That’s what the Volvo Ocean Race organisers have done in allowing each of the yachts the option of 12-hours of undercover sailing per leg, a period in which their positions, course, speed etc are not made public. It allows crews to make a break at a critical weather juncture.

What they are calling ‘StealthPlay’ (great name, good on whoever came up with that one) comes directly from the silence period introduced as a new idea by OC Events this year in The Transat. That worked fine but it threw a blanket over the whole of the fleet simultaneously at a time determined a couple of days in advance and it lasted for 36 hours.

It relied on judgements based on weather forecasts on shore rather than on tactical decisions being made on the water. And in practice this year, the weather transition it covered on the Transat didn’t produce too many surprises.

So this idea, to let teams decide when to go undercover, and to allow the decision to be made only 30 minutes before a position report is due is a clever improvement and I think it deserves to be adopted for all long ocean races. It recognises this perverse thing: that the frequency and detail of information now available online from fleets actually plays down many of the gambles teams routinely have to take.