In the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race on Sunday five Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 boats will line up against each other in a dress rehearsal of the event proper when they compete. The race is expected to take at least five days to complete depending on conditions and will give a form guide for Team SCA, Dongfeng Race Team, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team Alvimedica and Iker Martinez’s Spanish crew ahead of the Volvo Ocean Race start on October 4 in Alicante, Spain.
For Abu Dhabi’s highly experienced skipper Ian Walker it is a real opportunity to scout the opposition ahead of the gruelling nine-month ocean battle round the world in their identical Volvo Ocean 65 boats.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's striking Azzam - Ian Roman
'I’m not worried about bragging rights,' said their skipper, Ian Walker. 'We don’t know where we are right now. I think we’re in a really good space – but we don’t know. Essentially, we will find out where we’re at.
'If you’re asking me whether I’ll have one eye on the other boats I can tell you I’ll have more than one eye on the other teams! I might even have some cameras on them,' he joked.
Team SCA finished third in the Round Canary Islands Race last month behind the Spanish team and winners of the mini-Volvo Ocean Race contest, Team Brunel. They will be looking to continue their offshore progress against more of their Volvo Ocean Race competitors.
Libby Greenhalgh laughed off claims that the teams might take the race a little easy, with nine months at sea playing on their minds. 'Full pelt'
'You’ve got to go full pelt, really go for it,' she said. 'We’re still massively learning. We need to work out where we
can make gains, and where our strengths are.
'It’ll be exactly the same approach as the Round Canary Islands Race, but with more of a fleet element. The other boats have done a lot of offshore sailing before, and this is all new for a lot of us.'
Sam Davies agrees. 'Although we’ve been training for the longest, we are the underdogs and the least experienced. We’ve come so far – this time last year we wouldn’t have been capable of doing this.
'We’re not going to hide anything, we’re just going to go out there and do the best job we can, knowing we have a lot to learn.'
For Team Alvimedica, who recently completely a transatlantic crossing to arrive in the Solent, the race poses a new challenge – the opportunity to race against their new rivals for the first time officially with a tricky route to navigate.
'It’s very coastal with lots of corners and headlands, so it will certainly keep us on our toes,' said leading crew member Mark Towill. 'I think there’ll be a real emphasis on boat handling. I’ve never done this race before so I’m looking forward to ticking that box.'
Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez on their brand new Volvo Ocean 65 - Maria Muina/Sailingshots
The Spanish team, whose main title sponsor is unlikely be announced sooner than next month, have recruited experienced Galician sailor Gonzalo Araújo for Sunday’s Round Britain and Ireland Race.
'With the little preparation time that we have, and the fact that we’re very behind on that score compared with the other teams, we need all the help possible from people with experience. That’s the case with Gonzalo, who will help us onboard in this regatta,' said skipper Martínez.
Araújo was watch leader on Telefónica Black in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 as well as being a crew member of the TP52 Bribon for two seasons and can count on vast experience in a multitude of boats and classes.
He is currently one of the crew members of the Brazilian TP52 team Phoenix which is competing in the Mapfre Copa de Rey, contested until Saturday in Palma, Majorca.
Dongfeng Race Team
Meanwhile, following an intense on-shore body conditioning workout, Dongfeng Racing Team skipper Charles Caudrelier stressed that the round Britain and Ireland trip will be an important education.
'I think we’re going to learn a lot,' he said. 'The level of the team now will be low compared with what it will be at the end of the race.
'Ultimately, I think that the best team will be the one who is ready to improve most. I guess that improvement begins here.
But ultimately, practice run as it may be, it will signal an important milestone on the Volvo Ocean Race landscape.
'Everyone will be there, except Team Brunel,' added Caudrelier. 'It’s going to be a good test barrier – the game starts now.'
Team Brunel, in contrast to their rivals, have opted to continue training in their Lanzarote training base while their five rivals are in competitive action.
Skipper Bouwe Bekking says he doesn’t want to reveal his cards – yet. 'We’re not going to make the competition any wiser,' he said. 'Let them work it out for themselves.'
During the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Alicante to Cape Town starting on October 11, Team Brunel will apparently not show their hand immediately. 'We will wait until we are out of sight of our opponents,' said Jens Dolmer.