'It doesn't take very long to explain the timeline we are on with this campaign,' says Chris Nicholson skipper of the seventh entry in the Volvo Ocean Race. 'That's because there's very little time between now and the race start!'
The late entry to the 40,000nm race around the globe will be sponsored by Vestas Wind Systems and will be a Danish flagged entry in the race.
Painting on the VO65, finished on Tuesday night, and she will be launched on August 21, and then undertaking some trial day sailing, followed by a two day Safety at Sea course in UK. Then the crew head off on their required 2,000nm qualifying sail out into the Atlantic Ocean, before arriving for the race start venue at Alicante, Spain.
'It’s a compressed time-frame, and we can’t afford any mistakes, if we are to meet our obligations to be in Alicante for the race start.'
'Our race has already well and truly started,' Nicholson adds.
Volvo Ocean race Director Knut Frostad chimes in, noting that no other crew in the history of the Round the World Races has left it this late to make an entry. ‘This is only possible with the changes we have made with the one design fleet, and it is going to be a fascinating story to follow. They are up against time. They are in the water much later than everyone else. They have the same equipment, and they have a good blend of experience and youth in their team. Vestas Wind Systems will be a team to watch. This is something that wasn’t possible in previous years – but now it is possible.'
Chris Nicholson, speaking at the skippers press conference during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. - Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race Click Here to view large photo
Entering the race this late took some serious consideration from all concerned, says Nicholson. 'We needed to be certain that we had the time and ability to achieve the milestones that we all wanted to achieve.'
With the one-design concept of the Volvo Ocean 65, plus the shared shore services, there are some short-cuts that Vestas Wind can take to catch up. 'There is a very good question and answer system setup through Volvo. But to be honest the problems are extremely minor compared to when we had to commission the Volvo 70 – a custom made boat – and that is when you get a long job list after the boat goes on the water. The one design boats have had very few issues getting on the water.'
Nicholson says that while the other crews have had longer with their boats they have had more time to work on the minor changes. Sailing Vestas Wind virtually straight out of the box will mean her crew have to focus on the basics. ‘We are quite late in the piece and are more than happy to focus on how the boat should be set up, worrying about the more important things like going sailing, crew-work, our strategy, our performance and pulling the team together for the race.'
Part of the qualifying test will be to chase some big breezes in the Atlantic. 'Remember it is not only the heavier conditions we require to make sure we are safe and sound, but we also need to get lighter conditions to work out how to sail the boat and develop our crew maneuvers.'
'Primarily, the purpose of that sail is to ensure that we can sail the boat safely and confidently, but also to develop our maneuvers and speed. We want to arrive in Alicante as close on the heels of the other teams as we can.'
From the left: Chris Nicholson, Nicolai Sehested, VOR CEO Knut Frostad, Vestas CMO Morten Albæk and Peter Wibroe. - Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 - Søren Øverup
Their first race against the Volvo fleet will be an informal one ahead of the In Port race on October 4, followed by the start of Leg 1 on October 11 - in less than eight weeks time.
Nicholson had been set to lead an Emirates Team NZ crew in the current edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. But a boat came unexpectedly available when that deal fell over after uncertainty over indecision relating to the 2017 America's Cup.
Volvo Ocean Race stepped in and brokered a deal with Vestas Wind Systems to take on the sponsorship, with Nicholson accepting the role of the skipper just five weeks ago. 'So far there has been a tremendous amount of work done in a very short period of time,' Nicholson explains. 'If we can keep that momentum going we will find ourselves in good shape later on.'
The key person in the boat preparation is former Camper shore team manager, Neil Cox.
While he is coy about naming his full crew at this stage, Nicholson, a six time World Champion in the 505 and 49er classes, says that all but one of the eight man sailing crew have been identified.
'We have agreements with various people, and these are all key placements,' was Nicholsons response to a question as to whether he had secured a navigator for the race. 'We are working hard on it, and I am keen to soon announce the full crew.'
Sail-World understands that at least two of the Kiwi crew of Camper, second place getter in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race will be aboard Vestas Wind. They will be joined by two top Danish sailors, Nicholai Sehested and Peter Wilbroe who cut their sailing teeth on the world match race circuits before moving onto Extreme 40's.
'It's time for them to try a different aspect of the sport of sailing,' says Nicholson, now on his fifth Volvo Ocean Race. 'I’ve told them that their performance is a key to how we go in this race,’ he adds. 'Not to put added pressure on them, but I know what I am going to get with the experienced guys. Now we have to get the best out of the young guys.'
The reality for Vestas Wind is that she will cross the start line in Alicante with just a couple of thousand sea miles on her log. 'The other teams will have sailed about six times the amount of miles that we will sail,’ he says.
That additional mileage includes a double Atlantic crossing for all of the fleet, plus competition in the 1800nm Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland race, currently underway, and a number of shorter events.
Vestas Wind won’t have a low-mileage advantage in starting the race with newer sails. Nicholson explains that all the boats currently sailing are using their pre-race allocation of sails. All seven competitors will be on the Volvo start line with full new sail wardrobes.
'Every one will turn up fresh. Obviously I would have liked to have done more miles. But we have to get our heads around how to sail the boat and how to look after the boat. We need to look after the sails that we do have – so that when we get back to Europe we are in good shape.'
That last comment is a reference to Nicholson’s last race, where Camper was able to pull their race together in the last two legs scoring second and first placings to secure second overall in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
In late August, Vestas Wind Systems will unveil their marketing and branding campaign for their entry and participation in the race. It is believed that campaign will focus around the fact that as a wind technology company, Vestas Wind Systems' involvement will focus on Green technology.