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The Ocean Race: Kiwi Challenge to attract new generation

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 23 Mar 16:32 PDT
Bianca Cook - Leg 9, from Newport to Cardiff, arrivals. 29 May, . © Jen Edney / Volvo Ocean Race

The first New Zealand flagged around the world race campaign in a decade is still very much in its infancy.

Bianca Cook, who sailed aboard the mixed crew entry Turn the Tide on Plastic in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race voiced her interest in promoting a Kiwi entry, Friday morning (NZT) during the global launch for The Ocean Race, broadcast live from Alicante, Spain.

The Ocean Race is the rebadged Volvo Ocean Race, which has been taken over by a sports management company Atlant Racing, headed by two former round the world sailors, who have successfully taken up sailing event management. Their last project was Team SCA the all-women's team in the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race and said to be the best funded of all the teams.

Cook who sailed 10 of the 11 legs in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race says she has teamed up with professional sailor, Tony Rae - a veteran of six round the world races, to promote the venture.

Trained in graphic design and growing up in the boat building family business, Cook took five years off sailing on superyachts, clocking up an impressive 70,000nm before crewing in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Rae's sailing career began - with the 1985/86 Whitbread race aboard Lion New Zealand, and continued as a sailor and coach, interspersed with America's Cup campaigns.

The two worked together on Turn the Tide on Plastic when Rae came aboard midway through the last Volvo Ocean Race in a coaching role

With two classes sailing in the new race, The Ocean Race, Cook says they have opted to enter in what was known as the VO65 class.

"We feel at this stage, the Volvo 65 is an excellent opportunity to get younger generation New Zealand sailors into offshore racing.”

In the last Volvo Ocean Race, a crew formula applied encouraging teams to break away from the male-dominated crews. By including female sailors in their crew, the teams were able to take a larger crew in the essentially short-handed event. Aboard Turn the Tide on Plastic, skipper Dee Caffari (GBR) opted for a five male, five female combination giving the maximum number of permitted crew.

Although the Kiwi team expression of interest was one of just two made in the livestream launch from Alicante, Cook says they are still very early in the process.

"We wanted to announce that we were working towards getting a team off the ground, and obtained some funding to really make this project happen," she told Sail-World after the show from Alicante.

The choice of entering the Volvo 65 event is a logical one. They are expected to be cheaper than the new fully crewed IMOCA60 class. But they are fast and spectacular - a Volvo 65 confounded the pundits by coming close to setting a monohull 24-hour distance record - sailing 608nm - just short of the record of 635nm held by a 35ft longer and designed as line honours race winner and record-breaker.

Several of the eight boat VO65 are listed for sale. Two are in private ownership, and another four are "spoken for", according to insiders, and indicating that the division should be a very competitive event.

"It is early days, but we are extremely passionate about having a New Zealand team in the race," Cook explains. "There is a long journey ahead of us. We have a few years until the race starts. The first step is to get a boat then get it down to New Zealand and really get a solid Kiwi team for the next race in the Volvo65."

The Volvo 65 is a better-known option for a new team. The Farr design has already contested two Volvo Ocean Races and have been extremely well maintained by organisers. In contrast to the previous editions which used open design boats to the Volvo 70 rule, there were no cases of structural failure, and the one design concept resulted in some very close racing. The overall winner of the 2017/18 event was only being determined on the final 11th leg, with three of the seven entries being able to win the overall trophy depending on who was first across the finish line in The Hague. It was a remarkable outcome after 40,000nm of racing around the 11 port course.

Rules are still being developed for the second class, the fully crewed, foiling IMOCA60, which are expected to carry just five crew and be helmed by auto-pilot. Campaign costs are expected to be substantially more than for a VO65 one design.

A second campaign featured in the hook-up Paulo Mirpuri (POR) said that the Mirpuri Foundation, backer of Turn the Tide on Plastic in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race would be backing a VO65 campaign in The Ocean Race. He also announced that his foundation was considering also entering an IMOCA60 in the race's other division.

Speaking live from Lisbon, Mr. Mirpuri also disclosed that he was actively exploring the possibilities of a second entry in the race, in the new IMOCA 60 development class which will be competing for the main The Ocean Race trophy.

Cook expects that there will be crew composition rules for the Volvo 65 event, as there was in 2017/18. "There will be certain crew requirements that will have to be met. That has always been the situation with The Ocean Race. I believe there will be ten crew on the VO65, and there will be a mix of both male and female crew."

"There is a real push to have a younger crew on the VO65's. Our incentive behind creating a New Zealand flagged boat is that we thought it would be really good to have a push for a younger Kiwi team."

"We want to tap into the whole country and explore the incredible pool of talent that exists in New Zealand sailing. It is going to be a nation-wide team," she says emphatically.

The last New Zealand team in the Volvo Ocean Race was in the 2011/12 edition when Team New Zealand entered the red-hulled Camper provided a focus for the America's Cup team, while the stalled event was being dragged through the New York Supreme Court.

Cook emphasises that it is very early days for the team and campaign.

"It has been so long since there has been a New Zealand flagged boat, we really want to see a New Zealand team back in the race."

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