Rob Kothe was in Cardiff during the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) stopover and over the weekend talked to reigning Volvo Ocean Race champion skipper, Ian Walker, about this 2017-18 race about how it has unfolded.

Photo: Matt Knighton / Volvo Ocean Race

Who would have thought that just 1500nm from the finish of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, at the bottom of Ireland that there would be another complete restart to this leg and in fact to the entire Round the World Race?

As of this minute (at 1400 BST Tuesday 12 June), MAPFRE is crossing the high to the north and Dongfeng is leading the southern pack.

Last comms to us from Race Director Phil Lawrence was his prediction of a challenging second part to this leg. “Forecast looks pretty tough for rest of the leg – fast downwind in Gale force conditions off Scotland and super hard leg across the North Sea on starboard tack,” he explained. So plenty of tough miles to be sailed even in this coastal leg. But who will come out on top?

“From the start of the race Dongfeng and MAPFRE have had a massive advantage through their training programme, but they have spent 30,000 miles of late match racing each other which I think has really helped the other boats stay in touch,” explained Ian Walker in Cardiff.

“Now the other boats have caught up, particularly Brunel, but I don’t think we should forget AkzoNobel have played their role in the race, and so have Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

“If Vestas had managed to finish into Hong Kong and hadn’t broken their mast then they wouldn’t be far off the leaders either.

“Obviously, it’s a race of two parts. As the fleet left Auckland what stood out was the poor performance of Team Brunel, and they have turned that around in spectacular fashion.

“I would love to know what’s gone on there. I don’t know whether they’ve changed sails, their second set of sails or whether they have changed the dynamic on board.

“They didn’t do very well to Hong Kong, and their worst leg arguably was on the way to Auckland, so it’s really from Auckland onwards where they have had the hammer down. It does look like they have done very good at driving hard in the windy weather and if I were Dongfeng or MAPFRE, I wouldn’t have been pushing too hard because they had nothing to lose at that point.

“But MAPFRE damaged their mast track and then suffered sail damage as a result. The next leg they were lucky to win having been fifth a day out, so they dodged a bullet really. In the last leg, they made the wrong decision to cover Dongfeng in the north. It is interesting because Dongfeng had decided not to go north before the race started. They overruled themselves.

“I think Dongfeng is generally the quickest boat, but it is different on different points of sail. Dongfeng had been leading but made a few big mistakes navigationally particularly on the leg to Cape Town where they were sailed into the middle of the high.

“I think both Dongfeng and MAPFRE have just spent too much time covering each other. If they hadn’t been doing that they would have had more one, two’s and that would have put Brunel away.

“Thinking back to our last race, we were on the podium on every single leg as far as Newport, and by then we had a big, 10-point lead then we basically had a policy of just trying to cover Dongfeng. From that point on we sailed worse and worse and worse, and in fact we had a poor transatlantic leg, I think we were fifth. We had a good leg to France, but then we had a very poor last leg.

“All I know is that when we sail our own race and concentrated on the fleet and sailing fast and making solid decisions irrespective of one other boat we did better than when we started covering and I suspect there has been a bit of that going on for about the last 30,000 miles.

The iconic British technical clothing brand MUSTO, as well as being the Official VOR clothing supplier is a strong RYA supporter, and in the role of RYA Director of Racing, Walker is a Musto ambassador, so the conversation moved towards kit.
He commented “It’s interesting to watch the equipment changes as the races roll by.

“This has been a challenging race. I talked to Simon Fisher (SiFi) and Chris Nicholson (Nico) during this stopover and they are hard guys who have done a few around the worlds, and they said it was brutal.

“The Volvo boats going back to the [previous class, the Volvo] 70’s has been very wet. In fact, the 65’s are a little drier, but it’s still very wet on the VOR65 when you are hard downwind in 30 plus knots of wind with the bow spooning a lot of water over the deck.

“When you are sailing as hard as these sailors are, you have got to be dry otherwise it is thoroughly miserable.

“It’s particularly hard when you have a lot of VMG running because you have to do a lot of manoeuvres and you have big choices on how hard you push. It’s not that we didn’t have any wind in the last race, but if you are windy and you are reaching, then there are fewer choices. It’s when VMG running is hard and wetter.

“It is just relentless, it’s the squalls. Even the light spots were 25/30 knots and the next minute its 50 knots or 45 knots and its dense air, and that’s what’s really draining. You don’t know whether to set up for the gusts, and then you lose distance in the lulls or do you set up for the lulls and then all hell is let loose in the gusts. You do that and get caught out, and then you get too conservative, and then you go the other way. Not enjoyable.

“With the rule changes, there are a lot of newbies in this race, and they have seen a lot of wind.

“Wind through the Straits of Gibraltar and then leaving Lisbon. They had a pretty good breeze on the sail to Melbourne so at least by the time they got in the south pacific they weren’t newbies any more. They had been doing weeks of it.

“In this race, Brunel, Vestas and Turn the Tide on Plastic have Musto kit, and the word is that the changes made after the last edition of the race, following extensive work and feedback from all the crews have helped everyone to stay warm and dry. There will obviously be another round after this race.

“The key thing on the clothing is the material and the waterproofness. The modifications we made during my generation was on shapes, on the reduction of seams, on the cut, the fit, the pockets. The detailing if you like, for different roles on board and the longevity of the clothing.

“Important on a brutal journal, now ahead we can look forward to the two final sprint legs.

“When the fleet sailed the INPORT race on the Severn Estuary last Friday, the finishing order was exactly aligned perfectly with the current leader board points order, that might be a guide.

“I can’t pick who is going to win the overall race, and at the end of the transatlantic leg, we have always known who was going to win, if not before. I think we had won the race arriving into France last time.

“So, it’s a totally different race had everything in many ways. It has had tragedy sadly, for some disappointment, it’s had some amazing victories, and now we are in for a thrilling climax.”

Indeed, we are, with just eight nautical miles covering the whole fleet including Scallywag, now (officially, at last) in third place, after being 80 miles back yesterday morning.

Hands up if you think the one-minute tracking is addictive!

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