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Volvo Ocean Race Team Vestas Wind skipper - One Design is key

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World team on 13 Aug 2014
Chris Nicholson with the two Danish crew members and Morten Kamp Jorgensen of Vestas - Team Vestas Wind - Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015 Pre-launch Team Vestas Wind http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/teams/49_Team-Vestas-Wind.html
Denmark's Vestas, has confirmed they are sponsoring the seventh entry in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015

Chris Nicholson, (Nico) the Skipper of Team Vestas Wind is a four Volvo Ocean Race veteran, a two-time Australian Olympian with three 49er and three 505 sailing World Championships to his name.

Nicholson was the skipper of the CAMPER TEAM, run by Emirates Team New Zealand (ENTZ) which came second in the 2011-12 race. He was expected to be once more the skipper of the ETNZ team had they entered in 2014-15 race.

However ENTZ decided they needed to focus on the America’s Cup and so the hunt for a sponsor for boat seven went into overdrive, with Danish company, Vestas Systems, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, taking on the challenge, as has been announced today.

The only reason that a very late entry was possible was because of the One Design elements of this race of which Chris Nicholson forecast back in 2012 would be critical.

Immediately after the last race Nicholson said ‘with the race up to now being a design battle the changes to a largely one design race increases the attractiveness of the event.

Before that you could not guarantee to a sponsor that you will be competitive when the start gun went. With a one-design that can be guaranteed to the sponsor.’

Today Nicholson told Sail-World:

‘Finding the sponsor has been paramount. There was a rumour out there that there is a Russian entry, a Dutch entry. There was some truth in it. You try and pursue every lead as far as you can because to even get a role in a Volvo program is extremely difficult at the best of times. I was almost resigned to the fact that I would fill in on legs. I figured I would have opportunity to skipper during the race once all the pressure comes on really hard onto the current skippers. I thought that may have been what I was destined to do this race.

‘Then that turned around as discussions with Vestas became very serious.

‘Within the last five weeks literally from start to finish it has been pulled and pushed together and here we are to date in a controlled scramble.

‘The only reason we have been able to join in so late is because it’s a one design boat. I was pleased that two and a half years ago when I first heard the concept. Not many people were and I fully understood, of anyone, how difficult it was raising the funding in previous programmes and also justifying the risk to sponsors.

‘The risk in the past has been just incredible in terms of trying to deliver a fast boat and a reliable boat with multiple designers out there. The risk to a sponsor was immense back that.

‘Now for all the current sponsors, they are very fortunate to have a level playing field with the one design structure.

‘Of course the sailors who have grown up through the Volvo 70s would probably prefer that boat, which is just an awesome machine. Forget about that. The longevity of the race, the benefit of the sponsors and the closeness of the racing far outweighs anything we have seen in the past.

‘It’s a great concept, from what I can tell the boats have come out very even and it’s just all set up for super tight racing.

‘This program has come together quickly, I read some rumours the other day that this has been in the pipe for a long time. It certainly hadn’t. I ordered an A Cat six weeks ago, I was planning on having some serious A Cat racing this year. And then I had to cancel that order four weeks ago once this came up.

‘Our Shore Manager Neil Cox, (Coxy) and I have worked together a long time now, this will be our third program together now and him and the team that he has had over the years have been legendary in the race.

‘Neil and I had some pretty serious discussions if we could even do it. We had some clear standards. We didn’t want to do it if we didn’t think we could be competitive. We had some real tough discussions if we could do it and without a doubt if it wasn’t him there in that position I wouldn’t have done it.

‘The only reason we could put this program together was the whole range of one design elements.

‘The sails for instance. They are supplied all identical. When I did have a little involvement in the early days, setting the rules for this race, I was quite adamant that we shouldn’t recut them.

‘If you allow latitude in areas like that it’s tempting for teams to run like a mini arms race. The more you spend the more you get to break the competitors who don’t have the money and time.

‘To be honest if they had allowed sail recuts, I would have said we can’t actually be competitive given our short time frame.

‘Anyway we hit the go button and right now Coxy and his team are up in the UK now finishing the signage on Team Vestas Wind. We will be rolling it out the shed in about five days.

‘We will probably splash it around the 18th at the moment and then we have all the systems worked up and sea trials. Then we have a safety course on 25 and 26 August.

‘We will finish our sea trials and sail off to Alicante to see if it possible to make it down there on the assembly date. I think we can make it, if all the stars align and everything happens perfectly but as you know putting a new boat on the water normally tends to bring up the odd problem but we will overcome them.’

In Part II, Nico talks about his crew, the competition and more.

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