The Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 will open in Alicante, Spain, Saturday with the first of seven in-port races. The action kicks off at 13.00 local time and there have been plenty of changes to the format.
The fleet will race into the wind initially, from a start line at the bottom of the course. Tacking upwind, they will have to pass through a 300-metre wide mid-course gate on every leg. Once through the gate and around the top mark (which they will have to leave on the port) they will head back down the course.
Now sailing downwind they will have to pass through the mid-course gate again. The bottom of the race course will also be a gate, giving the yachts a choice of rounding the buoys at either end, before they turn back up, into the wind for the second and final lap.
The scoring is straightforward – they get a point for each yacht that they beat in each race, and the yacht with the highest number of points from the two races wins the day. This time around there will be two races each day, both lasting for a couple of laps, with a target time for each race of just 50 minutes. The sailors amongst you can do the maths - the implications for the crew work are stark – with four legs per race that’s an average of 12.5 minutes a leg (give or take a bit).
And with the mid-course gate to be negotiated as well, that means the fleet will be pushed back together every six minutes or so.
That’s going to put a lot of pressure on crew work, especially on boats that were designed to primarily race around the world, rather than around short courses inshore. And it’s going to mean that a clean lane – or space to sail, free from the opposition’s bad air and wake – will be worth more than gold bars in a credit crunch.
The boats are allowed another couple of crew members for these in-port races, so you will find some America’s Cup grinding legends on the crew rosters. I’ve already bumped into (and that can hurt) Andrew ‘Raw Meat’ Taylor on the dock – sailing with Kenny Read aboard PUMA, before returning to duty with BMW Oracle (whatever that entails, these days) and not worrying about the weather in the South Atlantic anytime soon. Another thing to watch out for is that we are going to be using Addendum Q for protests and penalties.
Boiling it down to the bones, Addendum Q says that the umpires can give on-the-water penalties in the same way as they would in a match race like the America’s Cup. If there is an incident in which one boat thinks another may have infringed a rule, they can ask the umpire for a decision by shouting protest (which you probably won’t hear) and waving a red flag (which you might see).
The umpires can then penalise a boat by blowing a whistle and waving a red flag at the guilty party – who must complete a penalty turn, involving a tack and a gybe, and a minimum rotation of 360 degrees.
If the umpires don’t think a rule has been broken they can wave a green flag. There’s a bunch of other stuff to account for more serious infringements, but let’s hope we don’t need any of that ...
The high pressure that has dominated the weather in Alicante recently will continue drifting east, and that will ease the northerly gradient wind over the race course, and veer the wind (shift it to the right, looking into the wind) round to the south-east.
As to who’s going to win and what it’s going to tell us … the opening in-port race of the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race was won by Ericsson, who subsequently slid down the rankings to finish fifth overall, with only movistar (abandoned to the elements to sink on Leg 7) and Brunel (who missed the middle half of the race) behind them. So er … like, last then.
And who was last in that first in-port? – ABN AMRO ONE – the run-away winner of the last Volvo – so don’t expect to learn too much. ROUTE REMINDER
Leg One: Alicante – Cape Town
Leg Two: Cape Town – Cochin
Leg Three: Cochin – Singapore
Leg Four: Singapore – Qingdao
Leg Five: Qingdao – Rio de Janeiro
Leg Six: Rio de Janeiro – Boston
Leg Seven: Boston – Galway
Leg Eight: Galway – Goteborg/Marstrand
Leg Nine: Goteborg/Marstrand – Stockholm
Leg Ten: Stockholm – St Petersburg