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Volvo Ocean Race - Triple champion says Team AkzoNobel ready to race

by Richard Gladwell, on 20 Oct 2017
Leg Zero, Prologue, on-board AkzoNobel. Volvo Ocean Race 11 October, 2017 James Blake / Volvo Ocean Race
After a week of turmoil ashore, newly appointed Team AkzoNobel skipper Brad Jackson (NZL) says the team are moving on and looking forward to the start of the opening Leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The short leg from Alicante to Lisbon is due to start on Sunday. There the fleet will reassemble ahead of the start of the race proper with a 7,000nm leg from Lisbon, Portugal to Cape Town, South Africa.

'We are just getting into final preparations [for the start of Leg 1],' the three times Volvo Ocean Race winner told Sail-World. 'All the sealed items are in place. The final loading of food went on today, along with the survival gear we have to have.'

'There is not much left to do on the boat. We went for a sail today. We have started having a hard look at the weather today, and that will get more intense focus.'

The team's preparations have been marred over a contractual spat with former skipper Simeon Tienpont (NED) who Jackson replaced earlier this week.

Jackson won't comment on the dispute and any legal ramifications. 'We are just carrying on with what we are doing,' Jackson says. 'We have lost a few days and need to catch up and get organised.'

'It is not perfect preparation. I believe the boat is ready. We would have liked to have had a bit more time to look at the weather, more time in the gym, just getting into our normal daily routine.

'Over the last few days that hasn't happened as much as we would have liked. But now we are back into normal life', he adds.

With the Race about to get underway, Jackson feels a couple of favourites have already emerged, and Team AkzoNobel has to play catch-up.

'We have always felt a bit behind the MAPFRE's and Dongfeng's anyway', he says. 'They have been setting a fairly high bar so far. We need to work hard to catch up to them.

'They are both teams from the last race, and they have got a good base from that. They have been up and running early and doing a lot of sailing and they both have put good teams together. There is no reason why they shouldn't be strong.

'We are improving all the time, but with these boats and just looking at results it is hard at times to tell how you are going, as the differences are so small, or something happens that makes you go from second to fifth very quickly. We are happy with the progress we are making.'

Moderate breezes are expected for the first leg which will turn a rounding point off Madeira, a Portuguese territory 250nm of the Tenerife, Canary Islands before returning to Lisbon.

'At the moment the weather for the first leg (from Alicante to Lisbon) is looking very good. It is always a bit unnerving looking at the weather this far out because it always changes,' Jackson explains.

'The start should be nice - downwind, and we get out of the Med very quickly. So far it looks good.

'I think we could get out of the Med inside 24 hours. After that, it gets quite complicated. There is the possibility that they [Volvo Ocean Race] might change the course as otherwise, we could arrive in Lisbon too quickly. That adds another level of complication to it. I am guessing they will do it before the start the way the weather is shaping up.

'We have to go through a high-pressure ridge when we exit the Med and then we have to get around Madeira and the islands. Then there is the prospect of a SW cold front coming through to take us into Lisbon, which could be very nice. But that is a few days away yet.

In the buildup to the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race, the Spanish entry, MAPFRE, sponsored by the Madrid based insurance company, has won all three warmup races.

'It is all very tight,' Jackson says. 'MAPFRE has obviously been the favourite and performing the best all the way through the racing. They have been rock solid. They are the ones to chase. Everyone else has had their moments. Between all the boats there are just small differences and MAPFRE has been a small jump ahead. Everyone has to lift their game a bit to match that.

Described by one skipper as a 'social experiment', Jackson says the decision to sail with mixed gender crews seems to be working well.

Team AkzoNobel has 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Martine Grael aboard whose helming performance will be watched with interest given her experience at the helm of in the 49erFX skiff in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro. The other female crew member is Bermudian Emily Nagel who sailed in the Red Bull America's Cup aboard Team BDA. She's also raced an F4 foiling catamaran from New York to Bermuda.

'On these boats, you always feel very short handed. We have seven guys and two girls. It seems to be working well so far, and nine people seem to be a good number to be able to do everything you need to do. I think we would struggle with fewer people than that.'

Team AkzoNobel could go to ten crew, which would require five males and five females.

'With some legs that come up at the end of the race, if it were a light air leg we might look at whether we needed all that number,' he says. 'We can't increase that total number unless we went with five girls and five guys.'

'The girls just fit into a normal watch system with us. They have different skills to each other, but they all partake in the sailing and trimming and a little bit of driving. They are one of us. We have done quite a lot of racing now with long deliveries and trips as well. Our two girls are fitting in well.'

Team AkzoNobel runs what Jackson describes as a traditional watch system with four watches of two people and with navigator Jules Salter (GBR) floating.

'We are changing every two hours - there are new people coming up on deck, on four hours on, fours hours off basis. It is quite a traditional system. It brings a lot of consistency with the way you are sailing the boat. There are not too many people moving around downstairs at any one time. It all seems to work.'

This will be Jackson's seventh Volvo Ocean Race. He didn't participate in the 2014/15 edition as a sailor but was engaged by the women's crew Team SCA as a coach.

'At this stage of the race last time with Team SCA, I felt that we had done a lot of training and a lot of build-up to the race,' he recalls.

'I felt the girls were as prepared as they could be, and it was their time to get into it so that I could enjoy life a little, But now it is about to start for us. I feel like I have got a bit on my plate, but I'm looking forward to it.

This time around Team AkzoNobel doesn't have a coach. Jackson dismisses the question saying they 'have enough older guys on the team to be able to cover that.'

'From what I have seen there is only one team with a coach', he adds.

The 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race will be a break through for leading sailing apparel manufacturer Zhik, who are the clothing supplier chosen by four of the top medal-winning Olympic sailing teams.

The current race is the first for many years in which the teams have been able to make their own decision on wet weather and sailing gear. Team AkzoNobel and Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team have both chosen Zhik.

'It has been good,' Jackson reports. 'We are just getting our new gear which is in the right colours and we haven't yet sailed with it. So we will find out on the first leg. But so far so good.'

A veteran of six Volvo Ocean Races, Jackson says that since 2005 the wet weather gear hasn't changed a lot. 'What has changed is the quality control and how things are manufactured,' he explains. 'That is why things leak or don't work as well - not necessarily the material or fabric it's the way things are put together.'

Another experiment in this edition of the 45,000nm, nine stopover round the world race will be having the On Board Reporters change from leg to leg. Previously there has been one OBR per boat, and they have sailed as part of the crew - responsible for media tasks and cooking.

'We think we are going to have two guys for the race - and we have done a lot of miles with both of them,' says Jackson.

'They are working out really well. They are different types of people, but both are good fun, nice guys and fit into the team very easily, ' he adds.

The Volvo Ocean Race gets underway from Alicante, Spain on Sunday local time. There are four course options for the race to Lisbon, Portugal ranging from 1,100nm to 1,700nm and with a target time of seven to eight days.

The second leg of 7,000nm gets underway on November 5, from Lisbon to Cape Town, South Africa via a rounding point off the South American coast.

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