Keeping score: How to win the Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15
Ainhoa Sanchez
Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 - The rulebook? Race Director Jack Lloyd wrote it - and tells us why the new one-design boat isn't the only exciting change to this year's race...

So, you’ve said goodbye to the pets. You’ve told your Facebook friends that you’re going to be away for a while.
Now, suited and booted in your cutting edge, waterproof extreme protection gear, you’re up to your knees in freeze-dried food – and you’ve even taken your seasickness tablet.

But what else do you need to know, before you join us on this nine month, round the world voyage – the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race?

Well, a scoring guide might be useful. After all, racing full throttle across nearly 39,000 nautical miles, at break-neck speed, through wind, and rain, and bone-shaking thunder and lightning storms...wait, come back!
No really, don't worry. Help is at hand. The conditions might be hard, but that doesn't mean that the points system needs to be.

When it comes to the rules, Volvo Ocean Race Director Jack Lloyd has all the answers. Well, he should - he wrote most of them.

Hailing from New Zealand, this edition will be his third Volvo Ocean Race – and he’s also worked on other elite events such as the Vendée Globe, the America’s Cup and the Olympics.

Basically, when it comes to sailing, Jack’s been there, done it, and has the slightly damp, salty t-shirt to prove it. The water is his kingdom.

'We’ve actually turned the scoring system right around this year,' he explains.

'Previously, we’ve always used high points scoring. So, if a team finished first out of seven in either an in-port race they’d be awarded seven points, or in an off-shore race, 35 points, as the latter was weighted to be worth five times more than the former.'

Got that? Oh. Nope, me neither. But don’t worry – it’s all much simpler this time around.

'This edition, we’ve moved to low points scoring for the first time,' he adds. 'It means that the team that finishes first in an off-shore leg, or an in-port race, will be awarded one point.'

'The team that finishes second, two points – and third, three points. If you are disqualified, or have to retire, then you earn an extra point.'

'There’s no weighting – the points are the same across the off-shore legs and the in-port races.'

'Now, the objective for all teams is to reach the June finale in Gothenburg with as few points as possible – the lowest wins.'

Ah, like golf, then - sounds easy enough. But that’s not the only benefit of the new system, says Jack.

'It means that, at any time, you can look at how many points a team was awarded for a leg, and instantly know where they finished.'

'But also, from an administration point of view, the move has brought the Volvo Ocean Race into line with the rest of sailing as a sport.'

'It’s much easier to act if two teams tie – the jury use the knowledge that they already have, and they can just refer to the sailing rulebook. We don’t have to write our own'.

And in another change from previous editions, the off-shore legs and the in-port races will be run as two separate series’ – side by side.

The benefits of splitting the two wildly different events are clear, according to Jack.

'We used to have an overall in-port race winner – so it was already a separate series, if you like.'

'But on closer inspection, that meant that a team could win the in-port series, but there was no trophy for the team who performed the best on the off-shore legs.'

'In some ways, that meant that we were making more of the in-port races than we were the off-shore legs. Yet, ultimately, we are an off-shore race.'

But isn’t there a risk that the sailors might treat the in-port series as a secondary competition?

Jack shakes his head. 'No, they'll still take it really seriously. Yes, the Volvo Ocean Race will be decided by winning legs – but there’s a possibility that teams could tie on off-shore leg points because of that.'

'What we’ve agreed is that, if that’s the case, then whatever your place in the in-port series will break the tie – meaning that performing well in the in-ports is vital, as it could be the difference between winning and losing.'

And, actually, Jack reckons that, with boats so close that fans can almost touch them, the short, sharp and intense in-port races could be more popular than ever this time around.

'It’s more of a spectacle now. When I took over, the in-ports were about three and a half hours long. This year they will be more like one hour - smaller and closer in-shore. We're bringing racing right into the beaches.'

So, there you have it. Make no mistake - that 647nm jaunt from Lorient to Lisbon is just as important as the 6,487nm opening leg slog from Alicante to Cape Town.

In terms of approach, they’re completely different ball games, but they’re both worth the same amount of points in the quest for first place.

And with the IWC Schaffhausen 24-Hour Speed Record Challenge once again to play for – measuring the fastest team in any 24-hour period over each leg - the teams have an extra incentive to keep their brand new, state-of-the-art Volvo Ocean 65’s going full pelt.

But then that’s the beauty of the Volvo Ocean Race – it’s the ultimate test for any sailor. Skill vs speed. Tactics vs throttle. Experience vs exuberance.

'Life at the extreme?' I ask. Jack smiles. 'The writers want to write a really good story, the photographers want to take a really good photograph - I just want to run a really good yacht race.'

1 nautical mile = 1.852km = 1.150 miles
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