Volo Ocean Race – In the quest to conquer the Everest of the ocean, VOR skippers sacrifice Olympic bids and carry the hopes of a nation while putting their reputations at stake and this is all for the challenge in a race that all can complete but, only one can win.
The opportunity to compete against sailing’s best is what drives the men back to a race that offers no prize money, just the glory of holding the Volvo Ocean Race trophy.
Team Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez had the opportunity for a third successive Olympic campaign, after winning gold and silver in the last two Games, but the chance to lead a Spanish team in the Volvo Ocean Race was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Along with his 49-er crewman Xabi Fernández, Martínez committed to a third Volvo Ocean Race.
'I want to achieve a very different goal, to try and fight for victory in the race,’’ he said. 'This is always difficult, but goals that are difficult like this can mean even more. Once you do the Olympics you want new things.'
Frenchman Franck Cammas is the face of the first French entry since Eric Tabarly skippered La Poste in 1993-94, leaving Cammas carrying the hopes of his sailing-mad country. His reputation as one of the world’s greatest sailors is also at stake as he takes on monohull racing in his first Volvo Ocean Race.
'It’s a positive pressure,' he said. 'I think it’s very good to have a French boat in the Volvo Ocean Race because we have a presence in the sailing world. The French sailors are good at ocean racing, but it’s the first time since 1993, so it’s a long time since we’ve been here.’’
At 50 years young PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg skipper Ken Read is well aware that he is the oldest competitor in this edition – mainly because the media won’t let him forget it.
Taking his third dip at Volvo victory, the seasoned sailor reckons he’s still young and remembers that the likes of Magnus Olsson skippered at the age of 60. Still, this time he is going to approach things differently.
'I plan on stopping and looking around a bit more, kind of absorbing the adventure because you don’t ever know when you’re going to get back to doing something like this ever again,’’ he said.
As the only Volvo Ocean Race skipper to have led a team to victory previously, Mike Sanderson has plenty on the line at the helm of Team Sanya.
Racing a second hand boat against a fleet of latest generation Volvo Open 70s that have had years to develop potentially race-winning advancements, he knows he’s up against it.
Making no secret of his expectations, Sanderson admits he has the simple goal of not finishing last in every race and just enjoying the race he loves. Not to mention the ultimate goal of returning to the 2014-15 race with an invincible Chinese entry.
'Obviously it’s not an ideal circumstance, we’re in someone else’s boat and we’re late,’’ he said. 'But I enjoy the sailing, I enjoy the camaraderie of the team, I enjoy the whole Volvo family. I wouldn’t’ have done it if I didn’t’ think I had one more in me after this.
'The worst nightmare will be if we dropped off the back and we spend the next nine months as Tail-End-Charlie. So, there is some apprehension in that we realise the new boats are quicker, but there's lots of other variables -- where you go, what sails you’re taking -- so hopefully those have all mixed it up a little bit.'
At the 'Everest of the ocean' photo shoot atop the Cabeçó d'Or, some 4000ft above the Mediterranean, the six skippers joked and chatted away like comrades. But in just days the Leg 1 sprint to Cape Town will begin and the men will become competitors with the shared ambition to win. Racing begins at 1400 local time, 1300 GMT. Don’t miss it.