The toughest challenge anywhere on water

PUMA Ocean Racing, Volvo Ocean Race 2008-2009One of the toughest physical and mental challenges known to man has begun off the coast of Mediterranean Spain.

Six teams of 11 sailors have embarked on a mission to sail around the world in the epic Volvo Ocean Race, which will take in every inhabited continent and some amazing stop-offs, sailing some of the most treacherous seas on the planet.

It’s not even a glamorous lifestyle. Inside the Volvo Open 70 boats, the fastest ‘monohulls’ in the world, each team is crammed into a tiny space on board where the other bodies, universally either cold and sweaty or hot and sweaty depending on the climate, are pretty much squashed in together.

Picture the scene: you’ve worked unbelievably hard for hours, eaten nothing but the dehydrated high-calorie, low-taste slop that’s crucial to success, and then it’s time for bed. It’s at that point you remember that the sleeping quarters are more like sleeping sixteenths, and more often than not one of your crewmates is right above you, just six inches away, dripping a mix of sea water and sweat onto your face.

Ericsson 4, Volvo Ocean Race 2008-2009That’s the way of life on board for about three weeks at a time, but as the crews will attest, if you’re tired enough you’ll sleep. And these guys will definitely be tired enough. They’ll be battling huge waves, gale-force winds and five other teams to try to be the fastest around the world.

The way it works, despite it being an awful lot harder than most, if not all other ‘sports’, is on a simple points-scoring system. First place in an off-shore leg nets 30 points, second gets 25, third 20 and so on. Then there are 10 in-port races, one at each host port. Six points are up for grabs to a winner, with each place below that decreasing in value by a point.

The race has already started in Alicante, where the Abu Dhabi team skippered by Britain’s Ian Walker scored a maximum six points in the in-port race. Disaster has since hit the team though, with the mast breaking as the boat crashed down off a huge wave, even before reaching the Atlantic.

Volvo has been involved with the race for several ‘editions’, as each event as a whole is known. Apparently, those involved in sailing are particularly likely to buy a Volvo over any other brand and it’s partly down to the race’s effect. Several Volvo models in Europe can be ordered in Volvo Ocean Race trim.

Around four million people visited the ports in the last edition, and that’s predicted to climb this year by the time the race finishes in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. There’s also TV coverage courtesy of Sky Sports, and a very handy Ocean Race app for smart phones that keeps people up to date with detailed progress maps, photos and video from the boats themselves.

Volvo V60 Ocean Race in AlicanteI was lucky enough to be taken out off the coast of Alicante in one of the last edition’s boats. It’s a hell of a ride, and not one for those weak of stomach – or arm. The speed and stamina that the sailors possess is simply astonishing for a normal Joe to witness. Most people who think they’re fit would need to think again on an Open 70.

The race is live now, and you can keep up with it on TV, via the app or on the Volvo Ocean Race website. There have already been dramas aplenty including broken masts and broken bones, so make sure you tune in.

Matt Kimberley

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