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Volvo Ocean Race action begins - Sailing from North America & beyond


The latest sailing news from Canada and the world.
 14 Aug 2017

Volvo Ocean Race action begins - Sailing from North America & beyond

Team Brunel, Sail No: NED 0, Class: Volvo 65, Owner: Volvo Ocean Race, Type: VOR 65 Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Sail No: USA 0, Class: Volvo 65, Owner: Volvo Ocean Race, Type: VOR 65
rounding the Fastnet Rock - 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race  © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
August's warm sunshine and blue-sky afternoons have a wonderful way of relaxing the mind, especially when mixed with plenty of saltwater, wind and sunscreen, but while we North American sailors are enjoying summer's final flight, the reality is that fall's arrival brings with it the start of another edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR). While I can't speak for you, the fact that we have an exciting and competitive VOR shaping up makes the thought of shorter days, fleece jackets and empty deciduous-tree branches much more palatable. (I'd mention the “snow” word, but there's no need to get panicky with this much sailing time left on 2017's books.)

For anyone who might not have been closely following the ramp-up activity before the 2017-2018 VOR, there are currently seven teams entered, with in-port racing scheduled to begin on the waters off of Alicante, Spain, on October 14, 2017, and the first offshore leg-from Alicante to Lisbon, Portugal-set to unfurl on October 22, 2017.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing - Volvo Ocean Race  © Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

North American fans should pay special attention to Vestas 11th Hour Racing, which is being led by Charlie Enright (USA) and Mark Towill (USA), who led the American-Turkish-flagged entry Team Alvimedica in the 2014-2015 VOR. In addition to Enright and Towill, the team is complimented by highly experienced offshore hands including Damian Foxall (IRL), navigator Simon “Sci-Fi” Fisher (UK), Nick Dana (USA) and Phil Harmer (AUS).

Other teams include Team AkzoNobel, led by skipper Simeon Tienpont (NED); Dongfeng Race Team, led by skipper Charles Caudrelier (FRA); MAPFRE, led by skipper Xabi Fernandez (ESP); Sun Hung Kai Scallywag, led by skipper David Witt (AUS); Team Clean Oceans, led by skipper Dee Caffari (UK), and Team Brunel, which is being led by Bouwe Bekking, the most experienced offshore skipper in this year's VOR, with seven previous VORs under his metaphoric keel.

Annie Lush - Volvo Ocean Race  ©Richard Edwards/Volvo Ocean Race

While Caffari and her Team Clean Oceans campaign clearly draw from the talent pool that was the all-female Team SCA in the 2014-2015 VOR, other teams are moving quickly to snatch-up talent, both from VOR rosters and from America's Cup teams that are now entering an undefined fallow period. One such recently hired sailor is Annie Lush (UK), who also has years of Olympic sailing experience to her credit, in adition to a lap of the planet aboard Team SCA.

'I think all the sailors know how complete she is,” said Bouwe Bekking, Team Brunel's skipper. “Annie has twelve years of Olympic Sailing experience, and she did the Volvo Ocean Race before. She is a fantastic addition to our team. The way she just established herself with the guys and the way the guys has embraced her is marvelous. We're all really happy that she is part of Team Brunel right now.'

Kiwi sailing superstar Peter Burling will compete in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 onboard Team Brunel  © Ugo Fonolla / Volvo Ocean Race

In addition to VOR experts such as Bekking, Lush will be joining forces with Peter Burling (NZ), who is fresh off of winning the 35th America's Cup for New Zealand, as well as Kyle Langford (AUS), who long served as Oracle Team USA's wing trimmer. Burling, it should be noted, has also won Olympic Gold, putting him in a prime position to attempt to earn sailing's elusive triple crown, namely an Olympic medal, an America's Cup win, and a win in the Volvo Ocean Race. To date, only John Kostecki (USA) holds this proud distinction, but unlike Burling, Kostecki's Olympic medal is silver, not gold.

Likewise, Burling's Olympic and AC teammate, Blair Tuke (NZ), has signed on with skipper Xabi Fernandez's Spanish-flagged MAPFRE campaign, and is also in the running to earn sailing's triple crown.

New Zealand's Blair Tuke joining MAPFRE - Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18  © María Muiña / MAPFRE

While official racing does not begin for two months, these are busy times for VOR sailors and teams. Previous VOR editions required that each team log at least 2,000 miles of offshore training prior to the start of Leg 1, however the 2017-2018 VOR will instead use a “Leg Zero”, which is meant to pack-in a lot of offshore and inshore sailing in a racing environment.

Leg Zero consists of the Cowes Week Round Isle of Wight Race (August 2, 2017) and the Rolex Fastnet Race (August 6, 2017), as well as offshore passages including a run from Plymouth, UK, to St. Malo, France (August 10-11), before then setting sail from St. Malo to Lisbon, Portugal (August 13-16, 2017).

Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 0 start  © Nic Douglass /

Once each team completes Leg Zero, which consists of (ballpark) 2,000 nautical miles, they have a month to train before they must be back in Lisbon for the VOR's official Assembly Period, which is expected to last from September 18-30. Then, once the crews complete their safety at sea and medical courses (these happen as the boats are being measured and fitted-out), teams compete in the Prologue Race, which takes the fleet from Lisbon to Alicante and the start of the official VOR.

While there's a heck of a lot of great sailing before the 2017-2018 VOR's final leg, which starts on June 21, 2018 and stretches from Gothenburg, Sweden to The Hague, the Netherlands-as of this writing-Xabi Fernandez and his MAPFRE crew are currently topping the pre-start leaderboard for their performance in Leg Zero, followed by Bekking's Team Brunel and Caudrelier's Dongfeng Race Team.

Leg Zero, Rolex Fastnet Race – on board MAPFRE – Volvo Ocean Race  © Ugo Fonolla / Volvo Ocean Race

So, if you've been known to place pre-race wagers, consider Leg Zero your sneak preview...but just remember that plenty of VOR-winning teams have started off slow before finding their big gears offshore.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor

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