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Volvo Ocean Race 2008/9 - Boston stopover
(May 12, 2009) When the course of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/9 took the fleet from Rio de Janiero, Brasil to Boston, MA, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck took JetBlue to Boston as well. Here is his diary from the trip:
Thursday, May 7 - Check in
A sit down with Bouwe Bekking for breakfast, new Alicante (ESP) race headquarters press conference for brunch, and the expansive Ericsson Racing Team kitchen for lunch. Later, a twitter about the prototype Harken Laser blocks, a Sail America Board of Directors gathering, and a chat with Anna Tunnicliffe on how she may continue with women’s match racing and Laser Radial events all the way to the Olympic trials. While the store at PUMA City was busy, the longest lines were for the party section of the structure. By the end of the weekend, gear sales will be well into 6 digits, and cocktail sales will be equally significant
Friday, May 8 - Practice race
Media room in morning is mass gathering of noted yachting journos and shooters. Press conference provides skippers the chance to say the right things. Onboard Ericsson 4 for practice race were Stuart Streuli (Sailing World), James Boyd (The Daily Sail), a Reuter’s shooter, and yours truly. We’re instructed not to go down below, and to not expect to glean any design secrets. Stern area provided ample space for passengers (us), and was sufficiently safe when the slackness of the runners was gathered. Streuli greeted lone splash of the day with aplomb (and his camera was waterproof). Quiet confidence permeates the boat, with efficient teamwork between afterguard Torben Grael, Brad Jackson, Stuart Bannatyne, and Jules Salter.
Despite practice day pretense, it was all on for the two trial starts and single race. Forget what you may think about 70-foot sailing… these are Melges boats on steroids. Swing the wheel and the boat responds, jamming into tight start line gaps with 16 knot speeds. Want to tack tightly to cover… no problem. Torben begins the turn, reaches for the keel cant button, and the bow pulls thru the wind in a VO70 style roll tack. All seems normal until a port tacker takes your stern and the high closing speeds are recognized. Short sausage legs and mid leg gates offer little time to settle in. Those that don’t plan well ahead get quickly left behind.
At a post race PUMA gathering, Jerry Kirby noted how the 2007 season aboard Rambler helped prepare the team, and related the challenges of keeping his local hockey team competitive with many of the players on the race. A late night walk by the PUMA sail loft finds the Cat getting applied to a new kite, using masking tape, paintbrushes, rollers, and a can of black paint with toxicity levels only found in China. Food, drink, exhibits, and a local band keep the race village crowd at celebration levels.
Saturday, May 9 - In-Port race
The race village is packed. VO70s stern tied near the seawall - the crowd is 4 to 5 deep for a couple hundred feet to get a glimpse. Sailors reach rock star status as they walk through the village to the boats. Announcers and music elevate excitement levels. Dismal weather forecast does little to dampen enthusiasm. Hundreds of boats greet the fleet in the outer harbor to watch, while the race village streams live the multi-camera telecast. My privileged ride aboard the Ericsson team’s press RIB also carried their photographer and videographer - our access to the racing boats was epic. It was all about getting the shot.
Light winds of race one warranted the over-sized Code 0 headsail… so big that it must be fully furled to tack. While boats speeds were double the wind, tacking speeds were akin to twin hulled turns. Fog and better winds came in for the second race, traditional headsails returned, and the legs were lengthened to hit the 50 minute race target. Not all teams possessed closed course skills, where a decent start and solid boat handling nearly assured a top four finish. For race village followers, the crescendo was reached amid the rock concert welcoming of the fleet, and the awards celebration on stage. For the event photographers, I hoped their gear survived the spray of champagne in the shooter’s mosh pit.
My personal crescendo came later that night as the dinner guest of Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) Communications Director Marcus Hutchinson, as across the table from me was the 2005/6 VOR winner Mike Sanderson, and the 2008/9 Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux. In this genre of racing, these were the kings of the land, and the conversation was remarkable.
Sunday, May 10 - Pro-Am
Morning meeting had VOR CEO Knut Frostad explain the changes for the 2011/12 race, which all are to improve on efficiencies. Among the changes will be one or two fewer stopovers and an overall race length time reduction from nine to eight months. The eight or nine stopover cities will all be required to support an entry to ensure the excitement seen in Boston for the PUMA team. Among the 81 cities interested in hosting a stopover, five are from North America.
This was VIP race day onboard the VO70s and in full view of race village. With wind whipping in the mid-twenties, the format evolved to ensure the safety of boat and crew, with clear skies and cityscape providing a photog paradise. Leg six finally found closure later that evening at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, where the award ceremony was an invitation only affair - a personal thanks to the Westin manager that loaned me his suit jacket for the occasion.
As usual that night, I was over poured and under restrained, and enjoying the camaraderie of the event. At some point, most certainly slurring my thoughts, I cornered Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael to continue a discussion that I had with him many times during my Boston stopover. He has found himself in an awkward situation. He is a quiet man, yet he is the leader of the event, and race followers are eager to hear from him. While other skippers are frequently writing their thoughts, Torben has been noticeably absent. It is time for him to share, and I begged him one final time to do so. Time will tell.
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