Radical changes to this year’s Volvo Ocean Race have made it more attractive for potential entrants and also promise to enhance the experience for its followers, according to the race chief Knut Frostad.
The biggest change for the 12th edition of the round-the-world race centres on boat design. All teams will now use the same, one-design Volvo Ocean 65, adding a levelling effect to an often-uneven field.
That has also meant that more teams have been interested in entering. Though the race currently has five confirmed teams, Frostad anticipates having seven, which would mean an increase from the last race.
“We have two more teams that are soon to come – not announced yet, but soon to come,” Frostad said. “We are very confident about that.”
Frostad said the race has attracted more potential teams this time around because of the design, but that is also why they were limited to seven boats.
“It has been better, we have had more companies interested,” he said. “The challenge we had this time was that because we went to the one-design class – and that was primarily a reaction to the current economic climate, we had to make some adjustments and brought the budget significantly down – we had some very positive reactions.
“But we could only build eight boats between the two races, that was the limit we had time-wise, because the boats had to be built by the same manufacturer. A lot of the teams felt that the [manufacture of the] eighth boat was too close to the start.
“But we are very happy with seven teams. It is two more than we had last time. In the last race, we had five new boats, now we have seven new boats.”
One of the two incoming teams has previous experience, having competed in the last race in 2011/12. That brings the number of repeat entries to two; the other is Azzam, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's boat, which sailed last time as well.
The five new teams include one all-female boat, as well as one with an entire crew under age 30. That variety has excited organisers, but the change in how the race will interact with followers around the world, and how it is broadcast, is one that excites Frostad the most.
All boats will have wireless connectivity on board and crew equipped with tablets and other tools, in theory providing a constant stream of updates. Biometric data of the crew will be captured, as well as heart rates. The idea, Frostad said, is to humanise the experience and take it closer to the follower.
“We are going to see a completely new level of broadcasting from the boat,” he said.
“The equipment we have on the new boat, that’s a big step up from the past, so we can cover the race much better.
“In particular, the sound is where I have a really high expectation. Now we have designed the boat around the sound and TV equipment instead of the opposite, where we had to retrofit equipment in the past.
“We have a much better ability to capture voice from the sailors, which was always difficult in the past because of wind and water. We are doing a lot of cool, new things.
“We will broadcast the biometrics and broadcast some of the human data on board. We’re going to have a much stronger focus on the people, because it will be much more about them.”