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The Ocean Race - Part 4: Covering the Basics - Shore, Crew and Media

by Richard Gladwell/ 17 Apr 2020 19:18 PDT 18 April 2020
The Ocean Race European Tour corporate sailing event in Kiel, Germany, June 19. © Ainhoa Sanchez / The Ocean Race

At the end of February,'s NZ Editor, Richard Gladwell, spoke with Richard Mason, Race Director and Peter Rusch, PR Director, of The Ocean Race for a general update on the race, which is scheduled to start from Alicante, Spain in October of 2021.

At the time of the interview, the sporting landscape had not been upended by the governmental ordered lockdowns, reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the context of the questions and answers were different from today's situation. By the time of the race start, in 18 months time, the current situation will have been resolved and life will have been reset to something approaching normal. Here's Part 4 of a series looking at all aspects of The Ocean Race. In this report, Mason and PR Director Peter Rusch explain how shore support will be handled - for the IMOCA60's and VO65's, and how media coverage will be split for the two fleets.

In Part 3 the use of renewable energy was discussed including the potential use of electric motors, and how the shorthanded IMOCA60's had been upgraded to be sailed with a crew of five plus On Board Reporter, Part 3: Converting the IMOCA60. In Part 2 Mason explained the thinking behind the IMOCA and VO65 fleets, how the teams can be put together, and the use of charter boats. Part 2: 20 teams registered in two fleets And in Part 1 he discussed the Course and Ports Part 1: Which side of the Big Island?

Since the advent of the one-design Volvo 65 there have been two processes used to handle boat maintenance. In the first race, 2014/15 there was a mix of shore support, along with the teams being primarily responsible for support and all working out of a common facility.

In the last race, the maintenance function was taken over completely by the VOR organisation, who gave all boats a full refit before the race start and then took over each boat for maintenance after each leg finished as soon as the fleet hit the dock.

In the 2021/22 edition of The Ocean Race, the VO65's will be owned by the teams, not the event.

The Boatyard will again be involved - along similar lines to the 2014/15 race - with crews being primarily responsible for their own support, but with shared facilities and a communal spare parts pool - avoiding the need for teams to carry extensive parts inventories. The 65s will manage their own class and will have their own measurer.

Each team has a representative on a Board - which make the decision on spare parts inventories and other matters. Neil Cox who ran The Boatyard last time is back with The Ocean Race fulltime as Technical Director.

"That is pretty much how this register of teams works," Mason explains. "They will decide whether they have one spare mast or three. Whether they use old ones, or do they build new ones - how that affects their insurance and that sort of thing. Where we can offer synergies, we do."

The 65s were built as part of a project to produce a one-design boat capable of lasting two round the world races. Now they are being used for a third race. Designed by Farr Yacht Design, the VO65 has proved to be a remarkable boat - with none of the structural failures that dominated the VO70 era. In the last race a VO65 broke the 600nm a day mark - only the second monohull to break the "sound barrier" of ocean racing.

For the last race, the boats were all put through a standard refit by race organisers in Lisbon. This race the refit responsibility will come back on the teams.

"We have set a minimum safety requirement, part of the Notice of Race has a list of items that have to be checked and/or replaced. The teams have to be able to prove compliance to the class measurer. We will also do the equalisation and will be reweighing them all and make sure they are in the same state as they were last time," Mason explains.

"There are other areas they can refit by choice - but the responsibility for all refit work lies with the teams and not the race organisers as in the last race."

"We are trying to get away from managing and running boats. That's not our job as an Organising Authority."

Version 3 rigs developed for 65's

For the upcoming race, the teams are being strongly encouraged to use a new Version 3 rig developed by Southern Spars.

The existing Version 2 spars can be retrofitted to bring them up to a Version 3 specification.

"We certainly don't recommend that the teams build budgets around not putting in a new rig. But ultimately it is up to the team. I'm sure that any second generation mast will be well out of warranty by Southern!"

All the C6 rigging has to be replaced as part of the refit task list.

"The performance characteristics of the V3 rigs won't change," Mason explains. "They have the same external dimensions and the same bend characteristics, but the patching might be a little different - to improve reliability."

For a time it seemed that the sail manufacturer choice could come back to the individual teams - breaking the single supplier model that has been in use since the advent of the VO65.

"We did look at opening it right up - and we put that option on the table to the registered teams. They came back saying it was too complicated to come up with a one-design rule, and they just wanted to go with one supplier and were are happy with either Doyle Sails or North Sails.

"We have been through a bidding process and we are just finalising which of those two suppliers it will be."

The teams will buy two sets of sails from the same supplier, which get serviced at each stopover.

"It is quite a lot more than just a sail purchase," says Mason.

"The decision was driven by the teams, and it stops all the protests about someone gaining a perceived advantage through having an oversize headpatch."

"We want to keep the costs down and the supplier sails approach gave us enough muscle to go and negotiate very hard on behalf of the teams."

(SW: After this interview was recorded, the incumbent supplier, North Sails was selected as the sail supplier for the VO65 fleet.)

Change in focus to cover two fleets

PR Director Peter Rusch says the addition of the IMOCA fleet changes the story-line and the possibilities for coverage.

"The big change last time was the way the drone footage came off the boats, and the immediacy of the coverage along with the focus on "raw", and that was very successful.

"We didn't hold things back for television the way we had in the past and that's been the guiding light this time.

"The big change over the last year in coverage of our sport is the way it works so well on digital channels, and we're going to continue with that emphasis - where the content is made available as soon as possible without any filter.

"We're not holding content back for our TV show that comes out the next week or at the end of the day in a news roundup.

"The focus will be to get content to fans as soon as possible. We need to do some work as to how we do the story-telling across the two fleets. But that is hard to do until the story lines start to emerge, once the teams form and the race starts.

"Our starting point is that there will be compelling story lines in both the 60's and 65's, and we will be treating both fleets equally as to where the stories lie.

"We will see the types of sailors who are in both fleets. We will see the footage and openness that the teams have, and we'll look to engage the fans as much as we can across both fleets.

"We will be working with suppliers on a virtual race similar to what we've had in the past. That has been one of the high engagement points of our race. The numbers have always been impressive and growing.

"Probably the area we can do better is increasing the direct engagement for fans with the sailors and the teams - and we'll be exploring new ways to do that in the stopovers and for when the boats are at sea as well."

Crew rules explained

The last race broke new ground with female and youth crew, which despite some initial hiccups, worked well. For The Ocean Race the rule will be extended.

Both the 60 and 65ft fleets have a quota for women on board.

There are five crew (one of whom must be a female) on an IMOCA60, plus the OBR. There are no age restrictions (ie youth sailor requirements) in the IMOCA class.

On the 65's there have to be 10 sailors plus the OBR.

The 65's must have a minimum of three women on boats - with two Youth age categories - under 26yrs and under 30yrs.

Six of the crew have to be under 30 years. And three have to be under 26yrs at the end of June.

One person can fill two or three of those categories - a 25yr old female sailor ticks two of the Youth quota requirements as well as a female quota requirement.

"And then three sailors have to be experienced offshore - either a previous Round the World race or a good number of trans-Atlantics," explains Mason.

"They have to prove their experience to us and that they can support the less experienced crew."

"We're trying to create a pathway to get people onto these boats, and teams, while they are still developing their skills and they can go on to build a sailing career in both The Ocean Race and the IMOCA class offshore events," Mason explains.

There is no change on the restrictions placed on the On Board Reporters - who are restricted to media duties only and cannot contribute to the performance of the boat.

The next edition of The Ocean Race, scheduled to start from Alicante, Spain in October 2021, will visit 10 international cities, including the start port and the Grand Finale finish in Genoa, Italy in the summer of 2022.

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