Racing in the Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s premier ocean race, is tough at the best of times. It’s hard to picture what it must be like to live onboard a stripped out racing machine, which is what the VO60 class is, for weeks on end, in cramped conditions with 11 other people. It’s either freezing cold or unbearably hot. It’s wet and it’s uncomfortable at best.
The six sleeping bags are constantly damp and are shared between the 12 crew. It’s hard, no, almost impossible, to stand up when the boat is pitching through heavy seas. Your body is cold and exhausted and on top of that, you are feeling wretched.
Seasickness is one of the most debilitating illnesses and it can affect anyone, even the world’s most professional racers, leaving you demotivated and afraid to move. Can you imagine what it must feel like for the Volvo Ocean Race crews who must press the boat hard, day and night, while suffering from seasickness?
Volvo Ocean Race first-timer, Chris Nicholson from Amer Sports One, explains how it feels, “You’re falling asleep all the time on deck because you’ve already been sick and so you’re through that stage and you’re pretty much debilitated.
“It’s like your worst hangover plus it affects the whole body, it’s not just your mind or your stomach, it really does affect the whole body. When you’re that sick you’re trying so hard not to move around anywhere, you’ve got no energy and you’ve got no control over where you’re moving so you just keep the body as still as possible. Usually in the fetal position – that is what the body does.
“These boats are undermanned and you’ve still got to sail. The guys would probably let you stay in your bunk, but you just can’t, as you just have to get on and do your job.
“There’s no eating because that just comes straight back up. But you still have to try and keep some fluids up, if you can, have a protein shake or something like that, but even that tends to come up as well. You just have to keep the liquids up and stop the food.”
Emma Westmacott from Amer Sports Too is another sufferer. “Seasickness is something that seems to be catching more and more of the sailors on this race. I don’t know if it is something to do with the boats becoming more aggressive, but a lot of people who don’t normally have a problem are coming down with it.
“I haven’t been seasick for years, but in the first leg I came down badly in the Bay of Biscay. It’s a feeling that you just want to jump off the side of the boat and end it all. It’s miserable, you don’t feel like doing anything, you get lethargic and you get tired. You loose interest in anything except in how manky you feel and pretty much each time you move, or change your environment, you end up throwing up.
“You have to go down below and take all your clothes off. You just sit on deck and you just think, ‘how am I going to get down those steps, take my foul weather gear off, be thrown around, hang it up and get into my bunk without being sick?
“And then once you have taken your foulies off, it is all over, because you can’t come up on deck to be sick because you would get soaking wet. People get wet and then they get cold. It is just an ever-decreasing circle.
“It is something that you have to combat early or accept the fact that that you have a problem with it. Once you actually are sick, it’s very hard to get better and you only get better when the breeze subsides.”
Seasickness is something that the body can overcome, as the body acclimatizes to being at sea, and so it is normally in the first few days at sea when the crews are at their most vulnerable. On leg two, the fleet set sail straight into a gale and this didn’t help those trying not to succumb to seasickness.
On day two of leg two, from Cape Town to Sydney, Ross Field, wrote from onboard News Corp, “What a start – it would have to be my worst first night at sea for a long time. Big seas, on the wind, bashing and crashing into a 38-knot south-eas