Volvo skippers in relaxed mood with 24 hours to go

ALICANTE, Spain, Oct 10 – For six guys and one women about to take on the world’s toughest offshore challenge in just over 24 hours, the skippers of the 12th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race were in amazingly relaxed mood today.

A press conference packed by international media to bursting point probed all seven for signs of nerves and apprehension before the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile challenge but were rewarded only with smiles and messages of confidence.

Not that the sailors were taking anything for granted ahead of the treacherous first leg from Alicante to Cape Town which sets off at 1400 CEST tomorrow – memories of 2011 are too fresh for that.

Ian Walker’s recollections are particularly vivid after his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing challenge came to shuddering halt just hours into the previous race when a first-night Mediterranean storm left his mast in a sorry, broken heap.

This time, he has the comfort of knowing he has at least the same boat as the rest of his six rivals, the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65, which has been designed for durability with the breakages of the previous edition in 2011-12 still very much in mind of the organisers.

“We have spent the last six months trying very hard to break it without success,” Walker told the news conference. “Now we’ll have to make sure we don’t. But it’s up to us to try to judge how hard to push and when the new boat may or may not break.”

The sailors ran through all the threats they face in this 6,487-nautical mile opening leg – possible storms and very difficult sailing conditions through the Mediterranean, tricky tactical choices entering the Atlantic, the go-slow Doldrums and then a final week of high-speed surfing towards Cape Town.

“I’ve done it twice – once I nearly made it back to Alicante in time for the first-night on-shore party there and the other I nursed it home after an encounter with a whale off the Brazilian coast.”

Sam Davies of Team SCA at least has a secret weapon to stay safe.

Sailing has been in her blood since girlhood – her parents live on a houseboat and her grandfather served in the British Navy during World War II in a submarine.

“My grandfather had a St Christopher’s medallion which he told me kept him safe all the way through the war,” Davies told the conference. “He gave it to me and I’m wearing it right now.”

Team Alvimedica Ready to Race

The calm before the storm. The final precious minutes and hours ashore, shared with friends and family before Team Alvimedica and six other brave teams head out from Alicante on Saturday for the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. Next stop: Cape Town.

These are nervous moments for any sailor about to embark on a 39,000-mile marathon around the planet, but perhaps more so for Charlie Enright, Team Alvimedica’s skipper. Most sailors work their way up to the skipper’s role, having served as a crewman or a watch captain in previous races. Not for the 30-year-old Enright, however, who will depart Alicante not only as a first-time skipper but first-time participant in the race.

This morning at a packed press conference, each of the skippers was asked what superstitions and what lucky charms they would be taking with them.

Enright responded: “We have more trinkets in the nav station than we know what to do with. Having not done this before, we'll take all the help we can get! We have a medallion from the woman who christened our boat, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the former U.S. Surgeon General and one of the leaders in American healthcare. Ken Read had his late mother's initials on board Puma Racing. He said they always helped him around the world, so he gave those to us and we have those on board the boat. We have to have these things on board with us!”

Of course along with the superstition, great science is being applied to Team Alvimedica’s approach to this mightiest of sporting challenges. In past editions of the race, the first 24 hours of the competition has thrown all kinds of curve balls at the fleet, with catastrophic breakages striking some boats just hours out of the start. With a light-wind forecast, the risk of damage seems less this time, and the greater risk could be to get left behind by the fleet if you fall into a windless hole.

While Enright and most of the crew were busy taking some lucky guests out on the Pro-Am races this afternoon, navigator Will Oxley was busy with his weather team, plotting out different scenarios for the first week or more of the leg down to Cape Town. “It could be tricky get out of the Med, and pretty tricky once we get out into the Atlantic,” said Oxley. “Which side of the Canaries do you go? That will be one of the key decisions on the first leg. It was last time, and will be again, from what we can see.”
At 49 years old, Oxley is the older voice on this young team, with hundreds of thousands of sea miles under his boots. Like all the sailing crew, he has been subjected to an extensive set of medical tests to establish the crew’s baseline health and fitness at the start. “Apparently I’m OK, in good shape,” he said. “Don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t though! It will be interesting to see what the tests say about us at the end of the race, because this race really takes it out of you, physically and mentally. I reckon it takes at least six months to recover.”

As the CEO of medical devices company Alvimedica, Dr. Cem Bozkurt has a personal and professional interest in ensuring his sailors complete the race in the best shape possible. “The sailors are not just people we are sponsoring to go around the world, they have become our friends, part of the family.” Tomorrow Bozkurt steps on board Team Alvimedica to participate with his friends and comrades in the first hour of the race. But even if he wanted to, he’s not permitted to stay on board until Cape Town. Bozkurt is in the ‘Jump Seat’, which means that when his hour is up, he has to jump off the back of the boat into the water, to be taken back to shore by a powerboat waiting nearby. It’s the ride of a lifetime, a special moment few will ever get to experience.

For Team Alvimedica it has an extra significance, as Bozkurt explained: “I am doing the first ‘Jump Seat’ in Alicante, but at every other departure we will put the ‘Jump Seat’ up for auction to the highest bidder. The charity auction will benefit a local organization supporting cardiac programs and heart health at each of the stops in the Volvo Ocean Race.” To launch this program, Alvimedica is donating 10,000 Euro to the Spanish national children’s heart foundation, Menudos Corazones. Information as to how to bid on the Jump Seat will be available on teamalvimedica.com. 

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