Ian Walker: The Volvo Ocean Race Forecast
1. As the reigning champion of the Volvo Ocean Race, how do you feel about keeping your feet on dry land this time round?
I loved my eight years of VOR racing, but bizarrely, I've not really missed offshore sailing one bit since the end of the last race. It is a huge commitment that needs every bit of your mental and physical energy. I'm enjoying channelling my energy into my family and new challenges; having said that I'm sure I'll miss the excitement of the race when it is underway.
2. With one month to go, what will the priorities of the sailors and teams be in these final few weeks?
Many of the teams are so late; I'm sure they must be running at 1000 miles an hour. For the last race, we were very organised, and we managed to take rest in the last month knowing that being well rested could pay off in the long run. I'm guessing very few teams are in that position this time, maybe one or two teams. The others will be prioritising onshore preparations such as navigation prep, optimising food, spares, clothing and safety gear over desperately needed training time on the water. On the water, the priority should be to sort out watch systems, polars, sail crossovers, boat loading and basic boat handling skills like tacking, gybing and sail changes. Don’t forget there are also a lot of media, safety, sponsor and measurement obligations to fulfil – especially for the skippers!
3. This edition has seen a late rush of entries in comparison to previous years. How will this have affected their preparations?
Without a doubt, starting late compromises your performance - I do not feel you can be properly prepared with less than four months training. Last minute teams will have to prioritise their time and resources very carefully. One problem they will all face as the race unfolds is fatigue, due to starting the race tired.
4. The leg zero qualification races have meant the teams have gone head to head in an official capacity. What do you make of the form of the teams and which crew signings stand out to you so far?
It is impossible to make comparisons without knowing what sails teams are using. From what I have seen, the teams that have trained the longest seem to have an edge, as you would expect. They will be chased hard by teams that can rely on experience from the last race. As far as signings go, I would be trying to get as much experience of VO65s and the race as you can.
5. Leg One sees the fleet sprint to Lisbon before then setting off on Leg Two to Cape Town. What will be the key challenges for the teams to address? And what will their tactical strategy be based around for these two legs?
That is a huge question! Leg 1 is a short leg, and I always found it the hardest, as you cannot settle into a rhythm. Anything can happen in the Mediterranean and the Straits of Gibraltar: it is always a tough test tactically and sometimes technically if it is windy too. It could end up with a punishing beat up to Lisbon if the normal Northerly is blowing down the Portuguese coast. Finishing in Lisbon is not easy either – although it is a little easier from the South. Leg 2 is the best leg of the race. It has everything from trade winds to the doldrums and the Southern Ocean. It is a very tactical leg, but you need to be fast downwind on this one!
6. Sailors are likely to see a variety of conditions as they travel through the tropics into the Southern Ocean. What will be kit bag clothing essentials?
Well in the tropics you need protection from the sun, so UV-resistant clothing and hats are important - especially with my hairdo! It is also critical you look after your skin, due to salt rashes, so the right base layers and keeping clean is important. As you head South, it obviously gets colder and windier, so layering up and using the best waterproof outer layer is key. Safety kit can save your life, but warm hands and feet will make the biggest difference to enjoying your watch!
7. There are some teams that have been sailing together for months and others that are still finalising their crew line-up. What impact will this have on performance and how much can we take from the results of the first two legs?
In the last race, many of the teams had similar training times (Abu Dhabi was the fifth boat to launch), but we had the most focused training. We saw the consequences of Vestas’ late start, and how Mapfre improved during the race. I think that the stronger teams will have a considerable edge and will retain that edge for most of the contest, as they are better resourced and have more experience. The caveat could be that the less prepared teams may feel the need to take a more tactical risk - this can pay off from time to time. Ultimately boat speed and sound decision-making win races, and that comes from preparation, time on the water, training, coaching and learning fast.
8. Finally, what are your predictions for the overall standings? Who stands out as favourites for the podium?
I think Dongfeng and Mapfre have prepared the best and will be the top two in that order. I'm torn about who may receive third place between my two old navigators, Jules Salter (Akzo Nobel) and Si Fi (Vestas), and the wily old dog Bouwe on Brunel. Vestas have done very little training, and I’m not yet sure who is sailing with Bouwe, so I will say Akzo Nobel. Fortunately for everyone else, I'm normally wrong at sports punditry! I'd like to wish everyone good luck and a safe passage: it is an incredible privilege to be part of this great race. I'm looking forward to following it all the way!