Volvo Ocean Race notebook: one day to go

Picking up the right crew members, English training, family fitness and swapping boats, Steve Elling gets behind it all.

Charles Caudrelier, right, is the Dongfeng skipper. Marc Bow / VOR
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Watching the watch

With only eight working sailors aboard, down from 10 in the last Volvo race, the division of labour will be crucial. Most will employ a 50-50 shift, with four working on the deck while the other four are below, eating and sleeping. The two Azzam units will be run by skipper Ian Walker and navigator Simon Fisher. But envisioning a straight four/four split shift might be a false assumption, said Neal McDonald, the Azzam performance manager. Some boats might rotate sailors through shifts in individually staggered intervals, instead of rigid, four-hour, four-man blocks, in an attempt to heighten productivity. In a staggered template, the crew on deck would not be hitting the wall of fatigue at the same time. “You might see skippers experimenting with that,” McDonald said. Several skippers indicated this week that the watch particulars on their boats were still in flux. With nine months at sea and a reduced crew, it could take awhile for some boats to find an optimal rhythm.

Learning quickly

The Chinese boat Dongfeng has generated an unusual amount of interest and not just because it has six native sons on the crew roster of 12. Not only are the Chinese sailors trying to catch up to their global counterparts in a sport where the nation has little experience, they have to broach a language gap to communicate with the Westerners on the boat. Most nights, after finishing up at the docks, they have been meeting with a college instructor from Alicante to practise their English skills. The most impressive practitioner has been Yang “Wolf” Jiru, who has a bit of an advantage. He plays rugby in China with a crew that is mostly composed of Westerners.

Marathon company

The Volvo race is an extreme sport and spending most of the next nine months at sea qualifies as a marathon by any standard. But while Charlie Enright was steering Alvimedica to a win in the in-port race last weekend, his wife, Meris, was running a half-marathon race in Alicante. She finished ninth in a field of 150 women, the skipper said.

Swapping crews

The champion boat, Groupama, is not entered in this year’s race, but a couple of crewmen are: Charles Caudrelier, below, is skipper of the Dongfeng boat and Phil Harmer is a trimmer and helmsman on Azzam.

Acceptance

Adil Khalid, the Emirati helmsman of Azzam, feels he has come far since first joining the crew for the 2011/12 race and is better prepared this time around. “I am learning all the time. Last time I was one of the inexperienced members and, maybe, at times, the senior members were a little concerned about giving me certain responsibilities,” he said. “Now it’s different. I can do everything. I can hoist the sails, take helm. This gives your colleagues confidence in your abilities. You’re saying to them ‘yes, I can do everything’.”

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