One thing about the organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race, they’re not afraid to lay it on the line. While the America’s Cup organizers are still looking for the highest bidder to host the event, and trying to figure out an actual date, the Volvo Race organizers have no problem shifting the event to one-design, finding new and interesting places to stop, and creating a truly international event.
As expected, the one-design concept is working. After nearly 10 days at sea, six of the seven boats are within 40 miles of the lead, with Team SCA only another 30 miles back. Just about every boat has led at some point. Time will tell if 24-hour records have any chance of falling when the boats get to the Southern Ocean.
But as nwyachting.com contributor Peter Marsh is quick to point out. “Last time at this point, half the fleet had broken down!” There’s something to be said for dangerously light construction not being part of the competition. As soon as lighter construction becomes a possible advantage, breakdowns, or more chances for breakdowns, ensue. The sailors and designers all know they’re pushing the limits, and are willing to do so in the name of winning. Personally, I like seeing it come down to the sailors.
And here’s where both the competitors and the race organizers are really coming into their own this time around. With the one-design nature of the event, the organizers have unabashedly focused their efforts on spotlighting the sailors. It’s all about the story, and less about the boat. The grumpy among us might say “what took you so long,” but the truth of the matter is it’s a whole lot easier to tell personal stories when you have the unbelievable communications that we’re now seeing, and a dedicated person on each boat to tell those stories. And all that is even better this time around than last. The tracker is disappointing, and the web site leaves something to be desired, but the fundamental concept of storytelling is solid.
The biggest story so far is Dongfeng Race Team’s middle-of-the-night rudder replacement. They sheared off nearly the whole port rudder on an unknown floating object, then planned and executed a rudder replacement under darkness. They lost the lead, only to soon gain it back again. Watch the video and be impressed:
As of right now, Brunnel and Abu Dhabi are trading the top of the leaderboard, with Dongfeng not far behind. Team Alvimedica, the closest thing there is to a US team (skipper Charlie Enright and much of the crew are from the US) is proving very resilient, never losing touch with the leades. Team SCA, the “girls,” are behind but only by 60 miles, which is not much for these boats.
If one of the boats can wrangle a significant lead transiting the doldrums, it could go a long way toward a leg one victory. There is in fact a chance of that happening becuase even though they’re all nearly the same distance from the mark (yes, they round a mark) at Fernando de Noronha, there is an east-west separation of about 100 miles.
But chances are they’ll all stay close together. After all, this is one-design racing.