Stepping up to the Volvo Ocean Race
Image credit: Martin Keruzoré
Time has literally flown by since starting with Dongfeng Race Team back in January, always busy, always sailing, always training. I sailed one leg with Team Dongfeng in the last race, it was a fantastic experience but I joined the team quite late after finish my second Solitaire du Figaro. I joined the team as a shore crew and eventually managed to get the opportunity to sail onboard, for this I didn't really get the full experience of what it was like to be a sailor in the lead up to the race.
This time has been a lot different, starting at the very beginning you are able to see what really goes into making a campaign in this race possible. It is the biggest jigsaw you have ever seen. It’s a very complex, fast paced project which at times is mind boggling how everything keeps going(mainly thanks to the logistics team for that). There is so much to do but at the same time it is very rewarding as everything is evolving very quickly so you are seeing it happening. We haven’t even got to the race yet but we are currently in the mass organising and packing phase. All the spares, tools, gear, onboard food and everything that the whole team will need for the next year is being packed up now. Some things will be sourced during the stop overs but the main bulk of items down to how many rolls of masking tape we need is now packed. The amount of excel spreadsheets is simply extraordinary.
Image credit: Benoit Stichelbaut
Compared to my experience in the last race where I was a shore crew, I am doing less work on the boat but the work load is equal in other ways. Our general program is broken into week blocks of inshore or offshore training. We start nearly everyday with a gym session, this is great but when you do gym in the morning then sail all day/night you generally can’t lift your arms when you get back. For inshore training we practice sailing around a short course with lots of manoeuvres, a practise race is around 45 minutes of solid physical exertion. For a boat of this size you generally would sail with around 15-18 people as we are 8 or 9 onboard everyone does multiple jobs. I am the bowman but also do the backstay for when we change tacks. The backstay is a cable that pulls tension in the mast and rigging and is controlled on a winch. The loads on this are between 6-11 tonnes and requires just about all your strength to wind up the last of the load. This is done every couple of minutes in between running to the bow, grinding on the pedestals. After 45 minutes you can barely breathe!
The majority of our training time is spent offshore training. We go offshore for between 24-72 hours. Splitting time between sailing a course non-stop to practice racing or testing where we would try different sail set-ups during the day and go easy at night with just two people on deck so you could get a good amount of sleep. A good amount being 4-5 hours of broken sleep in a black, carbon boat bouncing all over the place. Coming in from these days we go into a debriefing to discuss what we did, how to make it better and then put that into the next training block. In general you are tired and physically wrecked most of the time. Everyone is pretty fit and we just had another round of testing in the gym. I was pretty happy with a 6 minutes 25 seconds for a 2000m on the rowing machine, which our coach later told me is equal to the woman’s world record! Got a way to go to the men’s record but happy with that.
We are about to sail to the UK where we will compete in the Fastnet race which will be our first race against other Volvo boat’s, we are all pretty excited for this. Having now sailed since January on our own, everyone is keen to get some racing in!