I was lucky enough to race around the world in the Whitbread Round the World Race back in the days when the world was flat (except around the edges) and we had wine with dinner every night. Yes, and we slept in cabins, not on cots. This was in the 80’s back when boats were unwieldy and surfing down a Southern Ocean wave at 20 knots felt like riding the six-o-clock train into Shanghai; noisy, scary and never quite sure that we would come out the other side unscathed.
These days it’s an entirely different story. The boats are highly strung machines as are the sailors that sail them. Yet for the last few editions of the Whitbread – now the Volvo Ocean Race – there seemed to be something missing. The course followed the money. Nothing wrong with that as money is the driving force of everything, even yacht racing, but those long Southern Ocean sleigh rides were no longer a part of the course. Until now. I am thrilled to see that the new course, just announced, includes two long rides across the deep south where pelagic birds and icebergs make each day just a little more interesting.
In recent years the course has wound it’s way from one financial hotspot to another driven by city bids that help fund the race and in return drive tourism to that city. It’s a model that works well for most sports but I happen to think that it neutered the VOR by keeping the boats in the tropics and missing out on the part of the course that stamped the Whitbread now VOR as the most epic offshore race; the Southern Ocean.
This new course is interesting. The race starts in Alicante, Spain with the first leg a short hop to Lisbon in Portugal. Then comes the first long leg of the race down the tropics to Cape Town, South Africa. Next a mammoth leg across the Southern Ocean south of Australia, north of Tasmania and then a sharp left up the Pacific to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong the fleet will make a non-scoring transition to Guangzhou on mainland China. From Guangzhou they will retrace their course down the Pacific to Auckland, the aptly named City of Sails. Then a second Southern Ocean leg down around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic to Itajai in Brazil. Itajai to Newport on the US east coast, a transatlantic to Cardiff, a weird leg over the top of Scotland to Gothenburg in Sweden before a final sprint to the finish in The Hague. Here is how the VOR press release described it. “Tough, intense, and featuring almost three times as much Southern Ocean sailing as the previous edition, the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 will be contested over the longest distance in race history at around 45,000 nautical miles, crossing four oceans and taking in 11 major cities on five continents.”
It’s always been the Southern Ocean that has made the Volvo Ocean Race an icon and I for one am thrilled that this new course has so much Southern Ocean sailing in it. The footage coming back from the boats is going to be epic.
– Brian Hancock