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Living vicariously whist trying to keep New Year’s resolutions

by David Schmidt 8 Jan 08:00 PST 8 January 2018
Vestas 11th Hour Racing - 2016/17 Volvo Occean Race © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race

While I live less than a mile from the waters of Puget Sound, one of my yearly New Year's resolutions is always to get out sailing more in the coming months. Mind you, I've sailed for 42 of my 41 years on this planet, and while I try my best not to pass up offers to go sailing, life often has a way of intruding. Fortunately, with Seattle's weather (read: wet and cold but usually above freezing) and the better breeze that flows during the darker months, most of our keelboat racing takes place during the winter months, allowing me to (usually) go racing about once a month during the "off season", but I'm always jealous of people who get to really rack up the days early in January. Call it an attempt at depositing fun in the bank of life, but I think there's a good point to be made for hoisting sail as soon as possible during the first fresh days of each New Year.

Following this line of logic, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being a good pinch jealous of the crews sailing in both the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) and the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race (Clipper Race), as these brave souls are racking up serious 2018 mileage as the rest of us winter-bound landlubbers content ourselves with shoveling snow, skiing, and hitting refresh on the two races' tracker pages while counting days until winter spills into spring.

To be fair, the professional sailors competing in the VOR spent at least one whole day ashore and on dry land in 2018, but this period of reprieve from the constant fire hosings that seem to be par for the course aboard the Volvo Ocean 65 One Design boats was short lived, as the race committee's starting gun for Leg 4 sounded on January 2. This 5,600 nautical mile leg will take the fleet of seven boats from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong, marking the first time that the VOR has transited this routing.

While the sailors know that they can expect to tango with the doldrums on this leg, wild cards run aplenty and include everything from racing into question marks to tackling potential meteorological hurdles such as tropical cyclones and monsoon-driven weather patterns.

En route, teams will pass by (albeit considerably offshore of) some of Australia's most iconic coastline, the world-famous Whitsunday Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef (not to mention "a few" interesting islands and nations farther north), however it's fair to say that the sailors will only be focusing on VMG, not sightseeing, as they race to Hong Kong.

Given that thousands of miles still separate the VOR fleet from their finishing line, this leg is still anyone's game, but, not surprisingly, the four usual suspects that have consistently proven themselves to be the quickest during this edition of the VOR-Chinese-flagged Dongfeng Race Team, Dutch-flagged Team AkzoNobel, Spanish-flagged MAPFRE, and U.S.-and-Danish-flagged Vestas 11th Hour Racing-are crowding the leaderboard's best neighborhood.

Meanwhile, sailors who are competing in the Clipper Race can't count as many at-sea days in 2018 as their VOR counterparts-at least not yet-as they began their Leg 4, from Hobart, Tasmania to the Whitsunday Islands last Friday, January 5. While this is a minus for Clipper sailors looking to rack up their 2018 sailing days, their leg is significantly shorter than the Leg 4 of the VOR and they get to visit the Whitsunday Islands, which are hardly rough on the eyes.

The eleven Clipper Race teams, which consist of professional skippers paired with paying amateur crews interested in gaining serious offshore experience, are expected to reach the Whitsundays sometime between January 13-15, before pushing off again on January 29, next time for Sanya, China. VOR teams are sailing a bit more of a voyage of discovery, given that the race has never previously followed this track, but with in-port racing in Hong Kong set for January 27 and 28, and with Leg 5's (Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China, a distance of 100 nautical miles) start set for February 1, odds are good that teams will be arriving a week or so (ideally sooner, of course) before this next offshore leg begins.

As for the rest of us who are looking to exponentially increase our number of sailing days in 2018, my best advice is to get after it as soon as possible. Granted, given the serious cold snap that has been enveloping most of the country this is likely easier said than done unless plane tickets are involved. And while there's no question that there will be plenty of racing unfurling on my home waters of the Puget Sound over the next several months, there's also no question that the water is significantly warmer and nicer in Florida and the Caribbean-areas that need all the tourism support that the sailing community can muster after 2017's devastating hurricane season.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor

Seattle, USA

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