ALICANTE, Spain, Oct 9 – While tens of thousands of race village visitors to the Volvo Ocean Race enjoyed the unseasonably hot weather without a care in the world on Thursday, 66 sailors were left to contemplate nearly 39,000 miles and nine months of sailing’s toughest offshore crewed racing which starts in just 48 hours.
The last two days before the 12th edition is a time for families, preparation and trying to calm nerves before an event that takes every last shred of concentration, emotion and energy from its participants.
For many, especially Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker, the beginning of Leg 1 to Cape Town can only bring back bad memories after his challenge was scuppered within hours of departure from Alicante in 2011 when the rig of his Volvo Open 70 was snapped during a coastal Mediterranean storm.
This time the forecast is more benign – medium light winds – and the seven-strong fleet are sailing in a new one-design boat, the Volvo Ocean 65, which is built for durability.
However, as another experienced sailor, Team Brunel navigator Andrew Cape, made clear, the hours beforehand are continuing to drag.
“I want the race to get going, and I want to get into the race, but we can't go now, there's not even any food onboard, so Saturday's the day,” he said.
Everyone has a personal bag of their own items to take on board.
“In the old days we used to have a list that said how many underpants, how many shoes etc. But now we just get what we're given. People take photos of family, some laminate them and pin them up. Some people take some weird stuff – people take music players so they can relax. I've never seen a book on board.”
Nobody will be more keyed up than the two Chinese sailors on board Dongfeng Race Team, Jiru Yang (Wolf) and Jin Hao Chen (Horace), whose offshore sailing experience remains minimal.
Their crewmate Martin Strömberg, a winner onboard Groupama in 2011-12 last time, was feeding off their energy – Wolf was even in tears at a news conference earlier this week speaking of his pride in taking part and helping to fly the flag of 1.3 billion people.
“The Chinese guys are very excited, and it gives me a bit of a boost as well, because it's nice to see them excited about getting out and sailing, it's cool to see,” said Strömberg.
So how will the big Swede be preparing himself for Saturday’s Leg 1 lift-off come 1400 local time in Alicante?
“I have my family here so we'll probably go out for a nice meal in the evening – early to bed. Get ready for the leg start. We've been here for a month, it's been very nice, but now real life starts – and we'll all get a rude awakening, I think, when we get out on the ocean.”