If it ain’t broke don’t fix it – Sailing Anarchy’s take on the next Volvo Ocean Race

Written by SS from sailinganarchy.com.

With the dust settled after the 45,000 miles of intense racing, the teams dispersed and book deals already being negotiated (well at least one), where does The Ocean Race go from here?

2021, I hear you shout. Actually that has to be mid 2020 (just after the Japan Olympics) for the teams to have deals confirmed or at the very least, close to being signed if personnel are to be signed and training to begin for a start that would only be 12 months later.

In the last race the teams and therefore the sponsors had their name directly in front of 2.5 million visitors to the stopover cities and were able to promote themselves to the world. Goodness knows how many people hit the website and how many were glued to the tracker. I have to admit that some of those who I learned were “glued” really surprised me, not exactly what I would have called the usual suspects.

I wasn’t at all the stopovers but thought Gothenburg was busy until arrivals day in The Hague when a recorded 88,000 packed the village on the beach on arrivals day.

The race was high profile with the King of Holland and Crown Prince of Sweden handing out the trophies at the final prize-giving an example of this and along the way Prince and Princess Michael of Kent just happened to be in Guangzhou at the opening of the race village there. Kim Andersen was in Gothenburg and hitched a ride on one of the raceboats so a few of those and such as those lent their support to this 9 month event.

So going forward will we see any of the teams from the latest (and last) Volvo Ocean Race in future editions?

Xabi Fernandez has already said he wants to do it again, David Witt says he regrets doing it but so have many Volvo sailors said that in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Bowwe again – it would hardly be a Volvo without him. Charlie Enright said in a recent video he always aspired to be a Volvo Racer, be kind of an early retirement if he and Mark Towill didn’t have another crack at finding sponsorship, Dee? Well we saw what she could do with a bunch of newbies, if that doesn’t gain respect from some potential sponsors, I don’t know what would.

Chinese involvement?
In the last 4 editions we have seen the Chinese interest going from a joint entry with Ireland, through an old boat renamed to now a fully Chinese sponsored team. Dongfeng’s victory was the top headline on the Front Page of People’s Daily (readership 500m+) website. Don’t be surprised if we see Charles, Horace, Black and the others back and with a race record of 1,3,1 Charles Caudrelier must be pretty marketable right now.

Perhaps not back as Dongfeng as, with Volvo AB departing from the race, Dongfeng Auto are a direct competitor of Volvo Cars in the Chinese market but after the DFRT success both on the water and the return to sponsors there are many Chinese companies of the size AND marketing budget that would be able to afford, and benefit from, an entry in the race.

That the race is on a high regarding quality and marketability is beyond dispute.

In terms of numbers?
Many people have said the race is dying but the numbers have been steady, if perhaps a tad low for the last several editions of the race. However if it ever needed a defibrillator type jolt what has been delivered was just that.

Despite the cries from the uninformed a huge jump in numbers would bring its own challenges, for example stopovers would need more docking and haul out space, the pool of sailors capable to doing (or wanting to do) this race is not bottomless either and so on.

What of the boats?
This picture has change in the last couple of weeks with the foiling IMOCA 60 being joined by the Volvo 65 being used for a third time.

I don’t intend to get into a debate about the pros and cons of either as the challenges of a boat that can serve the two purposes of a singlehanded autopilot driven non-stop circumnavigation AND a fully crewed full on race with stops around the world is a challenge that the designers and teams will have to sort out for themselves and really only worth discussing when there is more flesh on the bone.

When I originally penned this piece not that long ago I asked the question “Would the 65’s go again?”  Well we now know that the answer is yes.

I always thought it made sense as their cost must surely be amortized as they were budgeted for 2 laps of the planet. It shows the strength of these boat that they are considered viable for a 3rd lap of the planet.

I understand VOR (and it is still VOR until October 1st) management reckoned a full ‘back to new’ refit would cost Euro 1.25m -1,5m. That is still a cheap 65 foot race boat (and these things are built like brick shithouses) which would significantly lower the bar for teams hunting down sponsorships compared to the price of a newly designed and built foiling Open 60s.

A team could probably ‘do the race’ for Euro10-12m, significantly less than the cost of a new build dual purpose IMOCA.

I suppose it would be up to the marketing departments of potential sponsors to weigh up the exposure benefits of super fast IMOCAS against a class that could be won in the last hour of the last leg of a 45,000 mile marathon.

One thing is certain the number of marketing budgets that could afford a VO65 campaign is likely to be somewhat larger than the number that would even be able to consider the IMOCA route.

Then the element of reliability with not one 65 in 15 circumnavigations – well 14.5 if you want to be pedantic (and no doubt some Anarchists would ☺) has suffered any hull problems without hitting something while most foiling IMOCAs have had issues along the way thus far. Pictures of a boat finishing a leg on the deck of a ship don’t bring much ROI.

With regard to Richard and Johan? I have to say that if anyone were to take over the reins of the event, on paper there is no better team to do so. With a successful track record within The Race, firstly as competitors and then as team managers, theirs is an in depth knowledge of the event that must surely be unrivalled. 2 winners, all their teams financially viable and well promoted and a passion for the event means that the Volvo Ocean Race, whatever its name is, the next lap of the planet has people at the top who understand the challenges and should have the experience to meet them.

Time will tell, and time is likely to be the biggest enemy.
Whenever the race starts in 2021 that is, in reality, less than 3 years away for the teams to be secured and ready. 3 Years in which sponsorships have to be wooed, funds secured, a boat designed and then built – or sourced and modified (if the IMOCA route is chosen),a team recruited and that team to learn how to sail an IMOCA fast with a full crew, familiarity with how a boat on foils behaves and the dynamics of preserving a crew’s energies in what will be the lightest crewed ‘Volvo’ ever.

A route to be decided, and for the naysayers YES that will likely involve China, a country that has had an entry in each of the last 4 editions and, from what I understand one of the few fully funded entries that started the latest race not needing to look for further funding as they lapped the globe.

Stopover ports to be investigated and signed up. Of course that will dictate the route to be decided (do they want to be in the Southern Ocean so late in the season again) and finally a definitive start date to be announced.

3 years is not long. I watch with interest.

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