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The Ocean Race - Part 3: Making the shorthander fully crewed

by Richard Gladwell/ 12 Apr 03:07 BST 28 March 2020
The Ocean Race European Tour corporate sailing event in Kiel, Germany, June 19. © Ainhoa Sanchez / The Ocean Race

At the end of February,'s NZ Editor, Richard Gladwell, spoke with Richard Mason, Race Director and Peter Rusch, PR Director, of The Ocean Race for a general update on the race, which is scheduled to start from Alicante, Spain in October of 2021.

At the time of the interview, the sporting landscape had not been upended by the governmental ordered lockdowns, reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the context of the questions and answers were different from today's situation. By the time of the race start, in 18 months time, the current situation will have been resolved and life will have been reset to something approaching normal. Here's Part 3 of a series looking at all aspects of The Ocean Race. In this report, Mason and PR Director Peter Rusch explain how the media function will be handled onboard the IMOCA60's and how the shorthanded racer will be set up for fully crewed sailing.

In Part 2 Mason explained the two fleets, how the teams can be put together, and the use of charter boats. The Ocean Race 20 teams registered in two fleets And in Part 1 he discussed the Course and Ports "Which side of the Big Island"

One of the success stories from the last Volvo Ocean Race was the use of onboard reporters who were employed by the race organisation and then allocated to the boats on a leg by leg basis to capture, write and pump out some stunning media content. The OBR team were the first to master the use of drone cameras of OBR's onboard VO65's.

However, fitting the OBR's down below in the IMOCA60 will be tough - it was tight on the VO65 - sitting in an area aft of the navigation station.

Mason says that in the last edition the OBR's were able to tell a unique story, with all the drone footage coming out of the Southern Ocean. "That's just not going to happen if we don't have the OBR's on board."

Mason reflects on the days of his early Whitbread races.

"Back into the Whitbread60's, the crew performed the OBR work. We had 12 guys on board, 35 days of food, 18 sails and water ballast tanks on either side. We managed to exist - it was pretty grim, but we did it. And the conditions now with the IMOCA60 are no different to that - except the boats used to be slower, and the W60's used to go deep into the southern ocean to play chicken with the ice-bergs!

Peter Rusch, PR Director for the Ocean Race chimes in.

"We have done some good studies on this. 11th Hour Racing on their delivery back across the Atlantic went in the fully crewed configuration and had Amory Ross (an OBR from previous VORs) on board."

"For sure, it is not easy. It is a difficult and maybe different job than on the 65s, but it is absolutely necessary and absolutely do-able."

"The guys have come back and say it does work - there's a few things we need to change about how we work, with workflows and where we are on the boat and all those types of things," he says.

"Our technology guys are working hard on the package that will go onto each boat. The difference this time around is that in the last Volvo Race, the race organisation employed the OBR's and spread them around the teams.

"One team could have an OBR for two legs and then a different one for two or three legs. This time around we are reverting back to the team employing the OBR, and we will outfit the boats with a standardised kit which makes it a lot easier for us in terms of servicing, supporting and trouble-shooting."

In past editions the media kit construction has been contracted out to a spec supplied by the organisers. But for the new event The Ocean Race, has built the media kits as an internal project.

"Already the beta version of the new kit has done a transatlantic and come back in good working order. It is quite impressive," says Mason.

Of the eight VO65's listed on The Ocean Race's website Mason says not all are definite, but they are "all active and out there. Mirpuri is announced and definite. We know there are another two or three who have been unable to announce at this point, however they are not far off."

"Then there are a few new ones like the Austrian team which have probably done more days sailing than anyone. There were several teams in the Caribbean 600 as well as other teams out there and doing well. We have about five other teams at the moment wanting to buy boats or get control over a boat."

Mason says the VO65 teams are a very different set up to the IMOCA world, and says the teams with VO65s probably wouldn't exist in the new class.

He adds that the VO65s being used for a third time has opened up a lot of new opportunities for teams who want to cut their teeth. "We are expecting between 6-8 VO65 teams. "From what we know today I'd expect to see most of the VO65s on the startline in 2021/22."

"In the IMOCA world you've got to get into a new boat and invest 6-million euros to get going," Mason explains. "The 65s have been sold for the best part of 1-million euros which has allowed them to get out and get sailing now, and with a much cheaper entry point."

Another factor with the VO65 is that it has allowed some of the very experienced sailors, who don't want to physically sail on another round the world race, to get involved on the management side - and bring some youth sailors in to take their place on the boat.

"Sailors like Bouwe Bekking and others have had a lot out of the sport, but now want to form competitive teams where they can impart their knowledge and see the next generation coming through - hopefully into the IMOCA side. It will be a different story," Mason explains.

He also expects to see a good percentage of the sponsors from the last race returning, some of which own boats. There is no formal entry deadline for the event, and the teams make the announcements when they are ready. More are expected over the northern summer.

The idea of the boats being able to sail around the planet without using fossil fuels has been discussed, but ultimately dismissed on safety grounds.

"In the Notice of Race we are going to have a requirement for each boat to produce 30% of the energy that is used for that leg to be from renewable energy sources - solar and hydro. We'll be setting that percentage before each leg," Mason says.

"The main reason for not going completely fossil fuel free at this point is because we don't believe that the technology is there yet for it to be safe. There are some, like Hugo Boss that have electric engines on board. But at times, you can have trouble with them pulling enough power, and having enough battery reserves on board, particularly in cold temperatures."

"Try putting your iPhone in the fridge and see how long the battery lasts!"

"If someone falls over the side in the Southern Ocean, we don't want to be in a position that we can't get back to them because the battery is flat. That's just not an option. It's a decision made from a safety standpoint for us.

"We have to have the reliability on board. You can always start a diesel and get back to someone. Until that same level of reliability is available, we will not switch to electric engines. We made that decision before Christmas."

In the final and Part 4, Mason talks how shore support will be handled for the teams, and Peter Rusch covers how the media will be divided across two fleets.

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