Changes in the nature of the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015 have as expected moved the race from a technical boat design competition to an emphasis on sailing ability.
British Volvo Ocean Race veteran 44 year Ian Walker is very happy with the change.
After winning silver medals at two Olympics, 1996 silver in the 470 Class, 2000 silver in the Star, then coaching Shirley Robertson to the 2004 Olympic Gold, Walker turned his attention offshore racing.
In 2008-09, he skippered Green Dragon to a fifth place and then led Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's debut in the race in 2011-12, finishing third.
Following that mathematical progression, this time the veteran racer is aiming for the top step on the podium.
With less than 90 days to the start of the race in Alicante Spain, Sail-World.com’s Rob Kothe interviewed Walker (as he came off watch mid Atlantic, on their training run back to the UK.) Ian, You must be in a good position to compare the last generation 70 and the new 65 now. You have had a bit of time on the new boat.
Yes we have done about 10,000 miles on this boat. Yes we have a very good idea. We know the last generation race boat inside out and I guess they are a very similar breed of boat but there are few differences, a few things that make it interesting.
Fundamentally the boat, you have to get used to sailing around a lot more, they are a little tender, on the upside outside all a bit (tired) and on the downside a bit slower, especially upwind and reaching. Once you get off the wind the boat is pretty good. A pretty well-mannered boat I have to say. Not too many nasty quirks to deal with not that we have found so far.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bowman Wade Morgan in his old role, getting pounded by waves during a sail change, at the start of leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. - Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race
Yes it is very strong. We have had no down time at all touch wood. The boat is stronger through the water. Straight out of Alicante, you had problems last time?
We dropped the rig on the first night of the last one. It wasn’t ideal, thanks for reminding me of that. Don’t expect those issues this time. Comparing the preparation this race to last time?
Very different. We have had a lot more time and we have got the experience, a lot of crew that have done it before.
We are in a much stronger position with obviously a lot more time in the boat. Last time I think we launched the boat at the beginning of July.
By comparison, this time we have already done the best part of 10,000 miles. A couple of those times we have crossed the Atlantic.
We are really happy with where we are at. Able to spend a lot more time sailing, thinking about people and training and things like that. The one design elements of the boat have made it a lot easier in that regard? More emphasis on crew and crew work.
Absolutely and we have really tried to reflect that in the training. We have been spending a lot of effort to understand the boat. Most of our training has been basically trying to get to grips with the boat and understanding the boat. We have focussed a lot more on the people and how we improve.
There are some frustrations of one design. Like any boat you want to make it your own. The galley or the head or just for living on the boat. Not necessarily for it to go faster. With it being one design obviously there are a lot of hoops you have got to jump through to get the improvement of all the capacity. We haven’t had to do all that stuff before but would farther do enough … than turn up in Alicante not knowing whether we had a (job) or not. Are you planning to use the VOR boat yard facilities completely or add your own specialists?
The Boat Yard will help a lot but from the outset we have had six shore crew, six people who are day to day working on the boat. It is still a small number. They would be fully occupied. I think it is about the right number to move round the world.
It’s a lot of work, getting the boats out of the water, preparing the boats, taking care of winches and all sorts of stuff we have to do ourselves.
It still about the right number. It’s probably about the same number of people that are in the mini maxi type runs to take to your world championships. Differences in comms and navigations in the last three years?
I guess the biggest difference is the increased use of IRS. The fact that it is easier within say 10 miles of your position. What speed you are going. That’s going to be a big change particularly at night. You are to know instantly if people are in IRS range.
That is a difference along with some of the different ways in which we are handling … traffic separation. The tightening of that.
In terms of the sport comms wise the broadband is much improved.
Yes we have got more cameras on board. We have got the satellite. A media station that was built to be worked in. It is no doubt a much better setup than in previous races. A better quality onboard reporting. It is actually good.
The nav side not too much change. Same software. Slightly updated. Same processes. Crew positions just about settled?
Yes. In a couple of weeks we are going to announce on new crew member and a change on board reporter and we have been trialling a couple of reserves. At the end of this transatlantic we would have done about 13000 miles by the time we have finished. We have s chunk of miles under the keel and all going well. A fifth last time, can you do better this time?
Yes for sure. We are going to try and win the race. That’s what everything is focussed on.