As newly announced skipper of youth-orientated Volvo Ocean Race Team Turn the tide on plastic, I have rarely been so busy, or so inspired.
They say you should be careful what you wish for but nothing could be further from the truth. I am delighted to have been named skipper of team Turn the Tide on Plastic in the Volvo Ocean Race, but I can barely get my head around the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead.
There are several requirements that the team needs to meet: 60 per cent of the crew will be under 30 years old and half will be women.
Those two aims alone mean our team will have much less round the world or Volvo Ocean Race experience than our competitors. So we are considered the underdogs from the start, but I am OK with that.
The Volvo Ocean Race and, before that, the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, has always been a closed shop. Selection came down to who you knew or who you could connect with; many of the sailors were selected race after race as experience was identified as being important. This made it very difficult to get the experience required, thereby making it hard to break the cycle and give new, young sailors a pathway into the race.
The rules have now changed and each team has to select two sailors under the age of 30, which has helped. I am now offering six places for sailors under 30 and making three of those available for young female sailors. There has not been an opportunity like this for young sailors since ABN AMRO 2, and never for young female sailors.
Within hours of the press release going out naming me as the skipper my inbox was full. Lots of congratulations, but also lots of sailing CVs. I have never been so popular with young sailors before! It was refreshing to see such high calibre sailors wanting a chance.
I now head into the trial period with excitement but also a certain level of trepidation. I must get the right crew selected quickly and that is tricky. Some basics are obvious, such as strength and power. It is physically demanding to sail these boats competitively and I do not have the time to offer the crew a gym programme for building strength. I need them ready and raring to go.
Sailing ability and experience is next but the overwhelming attribute is attitude. Can the sailor be a team player and work together with others to deliver excellence? Will they go the extra mile? That is what I must discover in just a few days on the water.
Time is my limiting factor. I am late to the party for such a new crew and so I needed someone with experience at the management level to get me up to speed. I was very fortunate to be able to appoint Phil Allen as the team director. He has worked with Ian Walker’s last three Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, finishing the last edition victorious. He knows what success looks like and I think he is the right person to help get me there.
Racing started at Cowes Week
The race effectively started this summer. All the Volvo Ocean Race teams were at Lendy Cowes Week to take part in the Sevenstar Triple Crown Round the Island Race on Wednesday 2 August. Then we all competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race and from Plymouth we started Leg 0, racing to Lisbon via St Malo (the final leg of which was cancelled due to lack of wind early on 16 August). These were all qualifying miles for the race that starts in October.
As a team, we must complete mandatory training courses and complete any missing qualifications. Medical and dental checks must be carried out and let’s not forget we need to learn how to sail the boat effectively as a new crew. Once crew selection is finished, I will have names and sizes for kit to be ordered and the machine can start rolling along in the background, but it all hangs on the choices I make over the next few weeks.
I feel a mixture of excitement, nervousness and panic. I am tired already just trying to keep up with my inbox. To be perfectly honest, I just need to go sailing to regain clarity and perspective and remember why I wanted to be in this position in the first place.
I believe this project was meant for me. Team Turn the Tide on Plastic is a culmination of all the programmes I have been involved in and campaigns I have promoted and talked passionately about. We will raise the profile of an environmental cause I believe in, promote diversity in sport and society and it is an opportunity to develop the future stars of sailing.