Erle Williams signs on for yet another Volvo Ocean Race

Erle Williams in 2009 about to embark on another Round the World race aboard Puma Racing.
Volvo Ocean Race/Sally Collision

New Zealand's Erle Williams cancelled a month-long family cruising vacation to take up a role as helmsman on PUMA Ocean Racing for the next two legs or maybe more, of the Volvo Ocean Race.

'I am not popular at home but you have to go when you have to go,' said the 50 year-old racing veteran who has four Whitbread and Volvo campaigns under his belt

Erle Williams became known for his aerobatics as bowman aboard KZ-7 in the 1986/87 Louis Vuitton Cup in Fremantle.
Alan Sefton
'Luckily I have a family that understands and I have promised to make it up to them tenfold when I get back.'

From the early stages of the PUMA campaign, Williams was on standby while he pursued other projects.

'Ken mentioned being a reserve for the team because of injuries and crew changes and I said yes. Then next thing I got the call about six weeks ago, so I am back again and it's fun to be back.

'I was about to do Cape to Bahia with Rambler and was looking forward to a nice light run but now I am finding myself going on a little upwind beat.

'I have sailed a lot with Ken and the guys on the boat so it should be an easy slide into the programme. We are in a great position so it is very exciting.'

Williams started his Whitbread career in 1981 when as a 21 year-old boatbuilder he joined the team of Flyer, skippered by race legend Cornelius van Rietschoten. There, he worked alongside another dynamic Kiwi and Volvo Ocean Race legend, Grant Dalton.

It was a winning campaign yet it was another 16 years before he returned to the race, this time as co-skipper with Gunnar Krantz on Swedish Match, which finished third overall.

He donned the vibrant pink overalls for three legs as tactician and watch leader on Djuice Dragons in 2001-02 then in 2005, a week before the race started, he joined Paul Cayard's Pirates of the Caribbean as helmsman.

In between races, he also took part in four America's Cup campaigns and as a result has earned a reputation as one of the best drivers in the business.

'I enjoy Volvo Ocean racing more than America's Cup racing - smaller, tighter teams and much more exciting sailing. You get to work on the bow and the helm and do a bit of trimming whereas on America's Cup you get stuck in one job. It's pretty boring.

'I have been brought in as driver/trimmer so I will just slide in and help them out. I am concerned on this leg that some of the boats will not reach Qingdao because these boats are not designed to go upwind in 30 knots, so for us it is a case of just getting there.'

Sail-World: Erle Williams started sailing career sailing Flying Ants, before moving in 18ft skiffs sailing with John Lasher. He began his Round the World Race career aboard the Dutch yacht Flyer , skippered by Cornelius van Rietschoten in 1981 along with feloow 18ft skiff sailors, Joe Allen and Grant Dalton. He then sailed aboard KZ-7 in the 1986/87 Louis Vuitton Cup as bowman, before resuming his Round the World racing. He is one of the few people in the world to have helmed a monohull at over 40kts - a feat he achieved in the last Volvo Ocean Race.