Could India be the biggest showcase for the Volvo?
As the teams set out from Cape Town on Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race the sailors knew they were stepping into the unknown as they passed through the scoring gate and turned north for India.
For the shore crews, Cochin was also a leap of faith. What would the facilities be like and how would these affect a team’s ability to prepare the boat for the next leg?
Those who had arrived here early were struck by the lack of preparation with team base areas that were as level as a motor cross circuit, as one base manager put it and roads that simply didn’t exist.
Then came reports of serious damage aboard some of the boats out at sea. A broken boom and some serious structural issues were among the biggest concerns. How feasible would it be to be able to fix these boats while carrying out the detailed service that such highly stressed machines require?
When the mobile crane driver lifted Ericsson 4’s mast it was the first time he had raised anything as tall or as delicate as this – then came the boat.
To add to the stress for the hosts, most of the fleet arrived several days early, catching them unawares and only part way through their build up.
Mild mannered, relaxed and charming as these gentle, enthusiastic people are, it’s easy at first to underestimate their willingness to make sure that the India stopover is a show stopper.
Go out for lunch and by the time you return the rubble that you walked on will have turned into a road. A mile of pavements will have been grouted and an entire stage erected. In the three days that I have been here a huge hangar styled hall has been fitted out and a trade fair installed.
This evening saw the opening ceremony for which thousands sat through speeches and presentations, as the race village was officially opened. At the end, as the stage lights dimmed, a rumour spread through the crowd that Team Russia was on her way and shortly to be at the dock. I have only previously seen crowds run like that on television when being chased by a water cannon. The excitement here is beyond anything I have witnessed at a Volvo/Whitbread stopover, ever.
With the mass exodus from the race village to the harbour wall had drained several thousand people from the main arena, it was easier to define the enormous queues that have been snaking around the compound for the last two days. When asked if they knew what they were queuing for, most admitted that they had no idea. Yet, those who’d reached the front and had witnessed whichever of the ‘experiences’ that their queue led to, be it the simulator, 360 degree cinema or the winch grinding competition, were grinning and giggling like school children that had stepped off a fairground ride.
For those that have seen this all before, it’s the change in atmosphere that really strikes you. From Southern Ocean straight line global blasting to complex legs that thread between boisterous, boat busting conditions in the south to another crossing of the equator, this race now has the feel of an international desert rally.
All of which leaves you with the feeling that India may well have been a step into the unknown for sailors, supporters and shore crew alike, but Cochin could well turn out to have the biggest impact locally of any of the 11 stopovers.
The experience was new to India, and to us.