"…a ship who has lived no less than five different lives, who flew three different flags, who sails on when so many thousands of bigger, grander, newer sailing ships disappeared forever. This is the story of a staunch survivor, a ship born under a lucky star."
Like the quote above about the world-famous French sail training ship Belem, the VELUX 5 OCEANS race (formerly BOC and Around Alone) is a survivor, born under a lucky star, and no matter the size of the fleet its history and the people who run it and sail it will likely keep it alive and creating some of the enduring stories of our sport. And like the Belem, which is the centerpiece of a race village that makes a VOR stopover look positively pedestrian, the Velux is likely to still be here long after the others have fallen from memory. Let me explain:
As a keen friend of Brad Van Liew’s VELUX 5 OCEANS campaign, I’ve watched the 2010 edition of this historic race unfold with quite a lot of interest. We met with the US President of Velux, Inc last year and were immensely impressed with the huge backing they provided the race, and more than a little surprised that they’d re-upped so massively to an event that was, from a US perspective at least, a total bust last time around, with a runaway victory of Bernard Stamm and attrition of half the fleet deciding the final results of a small field long before the end of the event.
And with very little buzz in the US (outside of this page and a few other sites) for 2010, and an entry list that went from 8 to 6 to now 5 boats, we were more or less ready to count the race as a failure, yet another casualty of an overcrowded marketplace of events combined with the worst sponsorship market in more than a decade and a global tightening of money across all sport.
Thank god we came over here, because had we not, I’d never have understood what this race is really about, why guys like Brad and Derek are so enamored with it, or what Velux (who I think is the largest window and skylight manufacturer in the world) gets out of it. And after a couple of days lolling about the docks, watching hundreds of schoolchildren learn all about their maritime history and ocean racing here in the incredibly beautiful and historic city of La Rochelle, I understand completely – and the Velux’s mission isn’t far from our own here at Sailing Anarchy.
HE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST STORIES WINS
The Velux was established in 1982, making it the longest run solo RTW race there is. It’s not a non-stop race, which gives the skippers an excuse to push harder for what are essentially long distance sprints across oceans, and puts more value on sailing fast and hard and less on pacing and conserving gear like the Vendee requires. But that level of pushing has also been responsible for the race’s real historical value, which is a litany of carnage, rescue, and the ascendancy of some of the sport’s biggest offshore racing stars. You see, the BOC/Around Alone/Velux has rarely been about tight competition; it’s the drama, the stories, and the heroes.
It’s therefore fitting that the race was inspired by the original Golden Globe – the race that saw Sir Robin sail to a resounding victory, Donald Crowhurst sail off into madness, and Bernard Moitessier sail off into poetic legend. Sir Robin translated his win into a lifetime career of promoting and running offshore events, Moitessier ignited a national passion for the offshore stuff in his countrymen, and Crowhurst became an interesting side note, but the public’s hunger for the stories produced by these kind of races only grew.
In the nearly three decades since its founding, the Velux has fed that same hunger with the drama of the Southern Ocean and the characters attracted to the ultimate sailing challenge. This is the race that saw the first-ever female solo circumnavigation with Isabelle Autissier, as well as the birth of the Open 60 class that would become the most important solo racing platform in history. The Velux saw names like Gautier, Soldini, Mouligne, Garside, Stamm and Plant become international celebrities, and some of the world’s epic stories of rescue as far from land as is possible on Earth. And as important to the race’s history as these tales of human strength are those of weakness – suicide at a race stopover, sailors lost at sea without a trace, life-threatening infections, and so on…
PAST MEETS PRESENT
That brings us today, and the purpose of our trip here, which is to find out just what this race offers the public, the sponsors, and the competitors in today’s world. And so far, what we’ve learned has made us extremely excited that it’s still alive and kicking.
First and foremost is from the racer’s point of view. To them, the Velux provides a sort-of test bed for the biggest show in solo RTW action, the Vendee Globe. With cheaper boats being competitive over the shorter distances, the barriers to entry are considerably less than for a Vendee. Second is the camaraderie and connections that the stopover format provides: Both Derek and Brad have told me that the friendships they and their families have created during this race are some of their most valued and cherished. And then there’s the safety net afforded by the stopovers themselves – you can get dismasted and still win the race. Also a big factor is two new opportunities offered uniquely to the Velux – the race’s embrace of green technology and marketing with the ECO 60 Class, and the cutting-edge media package that allows the competitors to engage the public and offer a different, more social return to their sponsors. And finally, the financial and moral support of a truly invested sponsor and the management team they’ve hired – and believe me when I tell you that you have to see the kind of job they do to believe it. And you will tomorrow when we start the recorded interviews.
From a racing fan’s perspective, the Velux can be counted on to provide the drama, and technology will provide the kind of sharing of images and video that could only be dreamed of a decade ago. For the first time, we’ll be able to see what it’s like to race in a Southern Ocean gale as it happens. We’ll be able to live inside the cockpit and, assuming the racers buy in as they claim to, we’ll take part in the drama of the race as they live it.
But the sponsor angle may be the most interesting to many of us, especially in a time where very few companies will throw millions of dollars into something like this. Velux returned to the 2010 event not because of the super-tight racing of the 2006 race, because there wasn’t any. They came back because the drama of the ’06 event garnered a massive amount of international publicity, and because the eco-friendly and energy-efficient focus of this edition is exactly the kind of thing that a Danish window and skylight manufacturer wants to support. The full Biscay gale that greeted the start of the 2006 race created images that will endure forever, and that the world’s media (outside the US, of course) ate up with aplomb. Knox-Johnston’s successful trip around at 67 made him the oldest-ever to complete the task, a story in itself. Kojiro became a household name in Japan, and Mike Golding’s rescue of Thompson and subsequent dismasting was reported all over the globe. "The Ultimate Solo Challenge" is more about man facing the elements than about man racing man, and on that front, the ’06 event delivered exactly what the sponsor wanted, enough for them to come back with even more support for ’10.
Velux also takes advantage of the corporate hospitality aspect of the race like few other sponsors of any race – they fly in thousands of employees, customers, and media to the stopovers, and the environment lets them achieve things they never could in more conventional surroundings.
As far as we’re concerned, every fan of ocean racing should be asking for Velux windows and skylights in their next home – it’s the least we can do to keep a multi-million dollar supporter of the sport coming back.
But the Eco aspect of this event is potentially the biggest deal of all going forward, and the race village here in La Rochelle, full of vendor booths selling and promoting dozens of energy-efficient and eco-conscious solutions, is something we’ll likely see more and more of as green living continues the transformation from something only hippies and Scandinavians care about to a way of life for the educated consumer.
The ’10 Velux will see the first-ever modern round-the-world race completed without diesel fuel, the Eco Class rewarding innovations in power control and generation that are already trickling down to more mundane boats. Our ‘green sport’ is becoming more honestly green thanks to the leadership of Velux and the race organizers and rules writers.
WATCH IT LIVE!
We’ve done some testing, and it looks like we’ll be able to stream some 6 hours of racing and dockside footage to you from La Rochelle this Sunday. We’re positive that we can do it from shore and 95% that we’ll be able to get you the race start live as well, and we’ll begin at 1100 hours CET (0500 EST, 0200 PST) this Sunday the 17th with the boarding ceremony, with thousands of spectators wishing the fleet off from the inner harbor. Then we’ll head to sea and stream the start at 1600 CET, following the race until we lose signal an hour or so later. Be sure to check this page and the Velux 5 Oceans thread for the latest info and links to the action. We’re not sure where we will host the live feed, but you can always watch it at our live channel on Justin.TV, and if you sign up to ‘follow’ our channel, you’ll get a message when we go live right on your mobile device. You can watch the feed on your computer or on iPhone/iPad and Droid devices if you’ve gotten the app.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL
We’re here thanks to the support of some great sponsors, and our coverage of the Velux is just the first of three awesome events that we’ll be bringing you over the next 18 days. After the Open 60s head off, we’ll run up to St. Malo for a day or two to get a feel for what’s developing for the Route Du Rhum and to do some interviews before heading down to Hyeres for the Farr/Mumm 30 World Championship. We’ll get you the dockside scoop, photos, and interviews down there and stream live video from the first two days of the four-day event, then we’ll haul ass back to the North for the start of the Route Du Rhum, one of sailing’s biggest spectacles. We’ll post the stories here and in the forums, and if there’s something you’d like to see, let us know.
Please check out our Presenting Sponsors’ pages to learn more about what they do: Velux, the world’s premier (and eco-friendly) maker of windows and skylights, the International Farr 30 Class, one of the world’s most beloved offshore racing boats and perhaps the best all-around 30-footer ever built, and Magic Marine, the maker of some of the sexiest and highest-quality dinghy and offshore racing gear anywhere. We’ll be announcing a few supporting sponsors soon, and the more you like the kind of inside reporting that we can bring you, the more we need you to tell the sponsors how much you appreciate their making it possible.
Photos from OnEdition.