Shanghai Sailor nails another VOR Innerview for us, this time with VOR CEO Knut Frostad. Part one of the transcript below:
SS: 3 legs gone, all the boats pretty much ready for the next leg to Auckland but a few hours into leg 1 you’d lost a third of the fleet and a further dismasting in the Southern Atlantic brought the figure to 50%. You must have had a few concerns about the viability of the race at that stage?
KF: Absolutely, when you have a race with 6 proper teams that can work pretty well but you are very vulnerable if you have damages, when we had those incidents on leg 1, clearly it wasn’t good. I think we worked it as hard as we could in the media side to be open and not keep the lid on anything. You can do that once, you can do that twice but if you start to do a bit too much of it
SS: that leads on nicely to my next question because the dramas did little to dent the media coverage, could it be that the race almost needs that sort of human drama thankfully without anybody really getting hurt?
KF: I’ve always said that, and a lot of people asked me afterwards, ‘Thank god we had some drama’, if nothing happens on the race then it becomes boring, sailing in itself for us to reach out to what we call the big audience which we are all striving to achieve and we are all ambitious to try and make the sport bigger and many people will get attracted to the racing and not necessarily for the same reason that the sailors will but more for the drama.
SS: So it is like Button going off in the first corner.
KF: You need to have some of that, there is no doubt about it, but, that said, masts shouldn’t fall down. You can have a lot of drama but those kind of things, it’s costly, it’s very expensive, you lose the b oat. One thing is having boats with problems but losing boats on the race course is no good and it shouldn’t happen. I think you can explain when people crash with things or they push beyond limits, you can explain it as part of the event
AS: This is kind of like a wheel coming off on a rally car.
KF: Yes, I mean, it just shouldn’t happen so I wasn’t very happy with then and neither were the teams obviously. It’s a vulnerable machine but you would think after the last race where we didn’t have a single rig failure and not having changed a rule that we would get very solid, strong rigs. Suddenly some designers and engineers go off track and try something new and we have a problem.
SS: so losing the jumpers from the top of the rig and putting the weight elsewhere
KF: Yeah. I’m a bit puzzled about it, we are still having discussions with the teams about it of course because in the next race we would basically try to just stop it by making it illegal to have those sort of setups. Nothing to gain really.
SS: Yeah because 50% of the fleet have now had rigging problems
KF: Hopefully they are fine now. That’s the tricky thing with rigs and carbon and these new materials because these guys have been training with this setup for thousands of miles
SS: I think Abu Dhabi has done 10,000 training miles
KF: Yeah they had, they had. Not with the same set of rigging but a similar set, there’s no doubt that it is a more vulnerable system and it’s stiffer so for the race in general I don’t think it’s a positive, I think it’s unfortunate that these things happen but we managed to live through it and barely just hanging on with our nails and our teeth and doing the best we could but I don’t think we need any more of it.
SS: So what would you say to the people who would say that the Volvo Ocean race was being dumbed down, softer route to the Middle East and the Far East and reduction in Southern ocean sailing?
KF: Well dumbed down?
SS: That’s quote unquote from some of the stuff written
KF: I know some people think that but certainly the last two legs we have had have been very difficult sailing, I don’t think they have been very easy and we are going tp get half of the Southern Ocean from Auckland, you know that and I think we are going here to China for a reason and there will always be skepticism. When the Tour de France moved out of France, there’s a lit of sports events that had to make changes
SS: People don’t like change though
KF: No one likes change, and I am probably the same, I loved the Southern Ocean in the old days and I think we still will I think we will have some interesting racing here as well but I don; think if you ask the sailors if it is any easier or ‘dumber’, I don’t think so. First of all we have close racing all the way to the finish and if you look statistically at Southern Ocean legs its very often they are decided at the beginning, whoever hits the south first
KF: Gone, and then it’s very much following the leader and very few places change from there on until the finish so I think we have more so I think we have more exciting racing now, but it’s tricky. Should there be a race around fishing pots and shipping lanes and things like that? Ideally not, I would love if they were not there but unfortunately it’s the only way to get to China
SS: Plus they were probably there first anyway!
KF: They were probably there before us, unfortunately there is very few other opportunities to get to China and I still think that’s the right thing to do
SS: And of course reduced numbers as well with just 6 entries and I am sure you would have referred more but considering the global economy are you pretty much happy with what you managed to get to the start line
KF: I wouldn’t say that o am happy because I would like to see more boats and my ambition was clearly to have more boats. Knowing how hard it was to get 6 boats, I am not unhappy with that. We are the only event in the sport of sailing today that is fully sponsored, really everything is based in sponsorship so the money raised for the event is significant in difficult times but I reckon that we would have liked to see more boats, there’s no secret about it.
SS: But on the upside, although small, the fleet is one of the most competitive, if not THE most competitive fleet ever.
KF: I think it is although Telefonica is looking a bit sharp at the moment, I think that in the last races it has always been one or two boats that is miles ahead. There are two different leagues in the race and I think now Sanya’s a bit off at the moment but the rest of them are very much in the same league and it is going to be interesting to see when we make up the scores to see who’s won the different legs and the in-ports and who’s been on the podium and I think every single boat will have been on the podium because almost every single boat has podiums and that’s making it look more interesting because you can have as many different boats as you like but if one is so far ahead it really doesn’t make it so interesting. So for me it is a good race. I wish we were a couple of more boats but it is what it is and we are making as good a race as we can
SS: Now the Indian Ocean element was by necessity of the safety of the sailors a little bit different so what would you say to those detractors who don’t really understand the situation
KF: It is something that we wouldn’t like to do and something that you would never think that this is the way forward. When we made the decision to go to Abu Dhabi we were fairly confident that we could sail all the way and looking back today it could have been that we could have sailed but 6-7 months before all our advisers including the military were saying no you can’t sail so we were left with two options. If our advisers tell us we can’t sail and we then sail and there is a problem afterwards I am going to end up in jail.
SS: Presumably problems with insurers and all sorts
KF: Yeah – we do what we are told by the expert advisers and so then we had to come up with this plan of putting the boats on a ship, something that we had looked at for a long time. I think we learned a lot so I think we could have done it better if we had planned this from the beginning. We probably have ended the leg somewhere, probably India and stopped it and that was that leg, shipped the boats and then done something in Abu Dhabi rather than this in the middle, going stealth sensation because I think that’s, talking to the sailors and the teams today, I think that most of them felt it worked quite well. I mean it wasn’t We finished, got off the boats put them on a ship, shipped them and that worked. I think what is going to hurt through this process is the fans because it was a difficult period to follow the race and to understand what was going on and you kind of were seeing the boats but not seeing the boats and then suddenly they were on a ship and we lost some fans in that period which we hopefully are going to win back but I think it not good for growing the fan base of the race.
So in hindsight if we have done this again we would have stopped somewhere at a full finish and then obviously you can ask yourself is it worth going to Abu Dhabi. For us this time we had a fantastic stopover there, really good.
SS: Often you only learn from making mistakes.
KF: Yeah, you do that, this was a first, it has never been done before and we learned about it. I think that Abu Dhabi is a very important place for us, the have a team, they are a sponsor of the race, they had a fantastic stopover so that has a big merit. We will see when we make up the numbers if it is the right thing to do.
Part two next week.