Thursday, April 5, 2012

Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is an amazing event and I have been lucky in being able to see part of it up close.  Living in Abu Dhabi, which is the home port of Azzam and the site of the second stop over, I was able to access things which I probably could not have done elsewhere.

Even before the race started our local sailing club was able to take part in the planning of the stop over.  We met with the South African company in charge of the event and helped them with some local things. 

I talked with one of their video specialists and told him I had been very disappointed in the video coverage of past sailing events, which seemed to be limited to pictures of bow waves, sunsets and popping champagne corks, with very little to help anyone understand what was happening. (Shirley Robertson’s shows on CNN are an exception and much better).  He said it would be different and explained about the MCMs aboard, some of whom would be video professionals rather than top sailors, and how their sole job (aside from cooking and helping on non-sailing duties) would be media. Nick Dana on Azzam,  Amory Ross on Puma, Diego Fructuoso on Telefonica and Yann Riou on Groupama are all accomplished sailors, but Hamish Hooper on Camper and Andres Soriano on Sanya both have media backgrounds. In any case, he was right – it really is different and it is a treat. 

I particularly like the Livestream coverage of the inport races with the very knowledgeable commentators (Mike Sanderson did some of the commentary in Abu Dhabi since Sanya was out of action) and the animation or whatever you call the system that shows the distances between boats and the marks is fabulous.

And seeing all the behind the scenes efforts in the Volvo Village is amazing. We were able to wander around in the village practically at will and get a sense of the daily rhythm of the shore crew.  At the arrival ceremony where each of the teams goes past – the crowds were very small and I easily had a front row position from which I got to shout encouragement to each skipper. 

During the inport race I was on a boat taking a TV cameraman around the course and we got up close and personal with the boats, seeing the crew work, hearing the groaning of the canting keels and seeing Prince Andrew on Azzam.

I was especially lucky to be at a small dinner before the race that included Ian Walker.  What a job those skippers have – the world-class sailing skills are only the beginning. They have to build a team, deal with the team in a pressure cooker situation for weeks at a time, keep an eye on corporate sponsors, entertain VIPs with diplomacy, etc.   As Mark Twain observed in Innocents Abroad, “a long sea-voyage not only brings out all the mean traits one has, and exaggerates them, but raises up others which he never suspected he possessed, and even creates new ones.”  And he was referring to a voyage on a luxury liner.

I asked Ian at dinner if the life of a professional sailor at his level means he enjoys the sport less than he used to and he admitted that having to pay the mortgage makes a difference and does change things. 

I follow the race daily and am constantly amazed at what those guys go through and the beating both the boats and the crew take.  Good luck to all!

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