Formula Ocean

29th Mar 2009 7:00 am

A race around the world on nothing but wind power isn’t as easy as you think it is.

A 37,000 nautical mile, 270-day race in a Volvo Open 70 class race boat. Occasionally you don’t see land for 35 days at a stretch, and sailors won’t eat anything other than frozen dried food because the other options on the menu are salt, seawater and seaweed. You can lose 10kg over one leg of the race, forget about family, friends and that cold beer on a Sunday because once you are on one of these boats, it’s non-stop, it’s no- holds barred and the winner takes it all. The sailing won’t stop even in the worst weather (usually encountered in the Southern Ocean where waves sometimes top 100 feet and winds reach 110kph). It won’t stop even at night, where it’s so dark, you can’t see the tip of your nose. It’s so dark, you may crack your hull if you run into a whale.

Welcome to the Volvo Ocean Race. It takes place once every three years. This year, it came to India for the first time in its 37-year history. The boats docked in Kochi in December 2008. There are 10 legs to the race, the boats are currently on the longest leg — Qingdao, China to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which is 12,300 nautical miles as the gulls fly. This year, eight teams took part. Puma racing, Ericsson 3, Ericsson 4, Telefonica Black, Telefonica Blue, the Green Dragon, Team Russia and Delta Lloyd — all Volvo Open 70s.

The Volvo Open 70 is a class of racing yachts designed and built to race in the Volvo Ocean race series. They’re 70-foot long, have a main mast that is 31 metres high (that’s three double-decker buses stacked one on top of the other) and a special hydraulically operated keel (it weighs anywhere between 6.0-7.5 tonnes). A 11-man crew, 10 sailors, and one media person who captures the action onboard. The boats are made largely of carbon fibre and the sails are made of Kevlar and have a top speed of 45 knots (70kph), which makes them some of the fastest non-motorised watercrafts on the planet. Onboard luxuries include a toilet, a tiny kitchenette, five bunks and five tiny fans for crew. Three fresh water converters make drinking water.

To even dream of taking part in the race, you need to have at least a trillion years of sailing experience behind you. Olympic medals and a few America’s Cup wins will look good on your resume. You also need to have a strong will to live and the ability to literally chase the winds to the end of the earth. Needless to say, it’s tough to get in.

As a consolation, you could go get yourself a special Volvo XC90 Ocean race edition with seven seats and two air conditioners. You could also follow the race on the excellent 3D race viewer at www.volvooceanrace.org.

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