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The Ocean Race: VO65 en route to NZ for Kiwi team

by Suzanne McFadden 9 Aug 05:02 PDT 10 August 2019
The campaign to Turn the Tide on Plastic, which reached millions of people during the record breaking 2017-18 edition of the race, was recognised for the breadth of its impact. © Richard Gladwell

Pioneering sailor Bianca Cook has her course firmly locked on the start line of the 2021 Ocean Race in Alicante - and she knows it will be a battle just to get there.

She has a boat, she has an experienced boss, and she has the belief.

Now Bianca Cook just needs the backing to become the first Kiwi woman to skipper a boat in the iconic round-the-world yacht race.

Cook, who’s just turned 30, is on a pilgrimage of sorts, taking her passion to yacht clubs all around New Zealand.

Her motivation is straightforward: to get a Kiwi team lining up in the 2021 Ocean Race (formerly known as the Volvo Ocean Race, and before that, the Whitbread).

Her nationwide tour, which hits Wellington this weekend, will spread the word of her yet-to-be-named campaign, which she’s embarking on with the help of Tony Rae – a veteran of six round-the-world races and seven America’s Cups. ‘Trae’ will be her highly-experienced team manager.

Cook also wants to share her experiences from her first circumnavigation of the globe, on board Turn the Tide on Plastic in the last version of the race, and the environmental crusade she’ll continue through this voyage.

“And I want to get people excited about ocean racing again,” she says.

It was half-way round the world – after a terrifying but exhilarating blast through the Southern Ocean – that Cook decided she wanted to do the race again, but this time with a Kiwi team.

“It was the toughest experience I’d ever had – the biggest highs and then the biggest lows, with the loss of Fish,” says Cook, after British sailor John Fisher was washed overboard and lost at sea.

"This race can consume you, but I wanted to be involved with a Kiwi team the next time around. The discussion as to who would lead it came afterwards, when we were really trying to make it happen."

Cook first ran the idea of her own campaign past her sister, Paige (also a talented sailor), their father, Ian – who happens to be the commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron – and their mother, Blanche, before she passed away in March.

“Mum definitely had her concerns around it,” Cook admits. “She wanted to make sure that I had a team behind me who would ensure the campaign was run properly and smoothly.

“She was supportive, but she had that 'concerned mum' hat on, as mum’s do. But I know she will be there with me.”

Cook admits she got in plenty of hot water with her mother in the last race.

The first instance was in the second leg, when Cook was hit by a large wave while she was on deck. Clipped on to the rail by her safety harness, she was washed into the cockpit – where her life jacket inflated.

“But somehow it got reported that I had been washed overboard. My mother, grandmother and my sister were so upset, until they saw the footage that I’d ended up in the cockpit,” she says.

A big proponent of safety, Cook also admits she was caught out in a moment of complacency during the race. As she was about to go off-watch, the breeze picked up and she went to help change the headsail. Again she was caught on camera, this time without her life jacket on.

“I got an email from my mother, written in full capitals: WHAT ON EARTH WERE YOU DOING? UP ON THE BOW WITH NO LIFEJACKET, NOT CLIPPED ON! I tried to talk my way out of it, but there was no way!”

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