VOLVO OCEAN RACE: Head for the race village at each stopover in the Volvo Ocean Race to get a feel for the action and what it is like to sail around the world
by Julia Brandon
Thanks to the new uniform design of the Volvo Ocean 65 boat there are no longer any trade secrets between teams competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. Traditionally, the area where the boats come out of the water – the boatyard – was hallowed ground, totally inaccessible to the public and predominantly a technical area where repairs and maintenance took place.
For the 2014/15 race, however, big changes have been made. The boatyard is now a central shared facility, so teams no longer require their own large pit crews of around 29 people and instead carry a shore crew of between generally four and six. More importantly, the public can now get up close and personal to both the boats and the teams, says head of host port operations Peter Ansell.
“Our aim is to make it more engaging for the public,” he says. “Sailing in the past has suffered from an elitist image and that element is not at all what we want to portray. We want to show that sailing, and particularly the Volvo Ocean Race, is about people who set off around the world, live in close quarters and pit themselves against the elements. It’s not just about boats.”
ON THE ROAD
The changes to the race itself have also precipitated change to the race village, a monumental feat of logistics. Repeatedly shipped from port to port in the most environmentally soundest way possible throughout the entire Volvo Ocean Race, the race village equipment is broken down into two loads that travel to alternate ports: while one village is in full swing, the second load is leapfrogging to the next stopover destination on the itinerary.
From the start of the race village team taking over a site at the host port to opening to the public, there are just 10 days to build everything, connect up the electricity and water for working showers and WCs, not to mention getting the catering and entertainment ready for the visitors.
As well as the boatyard, the race village hosts the pavilion – an exhibition area for teams and sponsors – and the activities area, a combination of attractions provided by the Volvo Ocean Race and the stopover ports themselves.
“You start off with 110 containers at the port, and you need to get them from the port to the event site, then empty them and build all the pavilions, tent sites and structures before putting the empty boxes away and removing the containers from the site,” says Ansell. “The race village is then open for the length of the stopover – around 11 to 19 days – before all the trucks, cranes and containers come back and pack up. There is a huge amount of equipment and work in a very short space of time.”
And with just four days allocated to packing up and moving on, it is fast-paced and skilled work for the 100-strong group who travel with the village. “It’s not just a few tents – it has become incredibly sophisticated,” says Ansell proudly. “Volvo itself has a fantastic pavilion which provides a large part of the show. I have the great privilege of being able to arrive on an empty site – and it could be in a field or in a vibrant city centre such as Auckland – and watch it transformed into this incredible race village.”
Two years in the making, it takes an exceptionally experienced team to conceive and deliver a project of this magnitude. Alongside his colleague Stef van‘t Zand, head of host ports, the pair have many years of logistical, creative, commercial and operational experience between them, having met when they both worked on teams for the 1997/98 Whitbread
Round the World Race before Volvo took over sponsorship. While van’t Zand heads up the creative vision, Ansell brings 20 years of logistics, including the Camel Trophy – an adventure expedition that takes place in far-flung areas of the world – three years in Formula One, offshore power boating and, more recently, three years with the America’s Cup.
“Team and organisational experience are very advantageous. It’s easy as an event organizer to have one focus on delivering that event for your partners, but I think it is vital to be able to view it as a team, and to understand how the team approaches an event, and what it wants to get out of it,” explains Ansell. “One person couldn’t do this on their own. You’re very much reliant on a good team and, as corny as it may seem, that is one of the reasons why I enjoy it. We are working with like-minded people who are faced with really difficult decisions but together we make it work – and that is the buzz.”
The 2014/15 race village includes a wide variety of entertainment and attractions for visitors to get their teeth into. The in-port races, which take place at all of the 10 stopovers, are always as close as possible to land so that spectators can watch the battle unfold between the boats as the various teams try for valuable points. The Volvo Ocean 65 Cross Section compares life aboard with daily life at home and provides visitors with an opportunity to explore a full-size replica of the boat the sailors call home for nine months. The 40 Knots Experience sees visitors given rides on dedicated rigs to experience a 40-knot acceleration. Many more exciting attractions, evening entertainment and live music all contribute to making each race village less of a pit stop and more of a sailing extravaganza.
“We’ve always had race villages but they’ve grown in sophistication,” says Ansell. “That’s partly because budgets, technology and aspirations have changed, and also the understanding of how much our partners and ourselves can get out of this by having a really good presence in each of the ports. We very much embrace our destination ports, it’s their stopover as much as ours, and each stay is characterized by the local flavor, which makes them wonderfully individual in a subtle cultural way.”