by North Sails 16 May 09:00 PDT
What's been the highlight of this edition of the race so far?
Well, first of all, I think before we get into any highlights, we have to talk briefly about the tragedy that happened in the Southern Ocean with the loss of John Fisher. I can say that it is the greatest fear of any sailor in the race to hear the words "Man overboard" and I can't fathom what that team went through with that whole situation. It makes everything we're talking about just a little less important. Let's put it that way.
With that said, the closeness of the racing and the ability for these teams to push these boats hard, especially in windy running conditions, has been incredible. I think the on the water footage with drones has completely changed the race and really has the potential to change the sport. To see the views that we did in the Southern Ocean from the drones - I don't think anybody ever expected to see anything like that. Many of us have lived it, but it looks a little scarier when you're seeing it from a drone!
What's been the biggest surprise so far in this race?
I think the consistency of Dongfeng Racing Team so far has been nothing short of spectacular (of course leading up to the final 10 miles of the Newport Leg when it changed a lot!). Could they go all the way and win the race without ever actually winning a leg? Time will only tell, but it's been pretty amazing so far.
Do you miss not sailing in the Volvo?
There are times I miss it - I miss the camaraderie. I miss the boats. I miss the development that we had with the Volvo 70s, pushing the limits in different ways from what is happening with these one design boats. But I can say, at the age of 55 (or whatever I am!) I think my final Volvo as a sailor is probably behind me, and I'm having fun being a spectator and second guessing everything that everybody does on the water like they used to do to us all the time.
How do you see the final part of this race unfolding? Do you think it will end up being a procession, or do you think there'll be a lot of potential changes and opportunities for teams who aren't up at the top?
Well, if I remember correctly, the Transatlantic leg is double points, so there's still a lot to be had there. The last few miles of the Newport leg shows that there is no such thing as a procession. That kind of thing still keeps several of the teams in the game. Clearly, Brunel has found the gear that they were searching for desperately at the beginning of the race. I don't think you count any of the top three or four teams out at this stage as they're all sailing really well, and the speeds seem to be getting more even by the day.
How are the sails performing?
I think this is the greatest test that North 3Di products can go through, which is why it's so important for us to be a part of this race. Just watching the fury that these boats are being sailed at is incredible, and the sails are taking it. I'd say five years ago, 10 years ago, nobody would've thought sails could last through what they're being pushed at right now. 3Di is passing with flying colors.
It was unfortunate the Mapfre mainsail broke at Cape Horn, but that is really the only major break to date - everything comes with consequences and this breakage was the result of a series of events and some extreme weather. The fact is that the sail lasted for 10 days of horrendous conditions after the mast track broke and they had to take several of the luff slides off the sail, including batten end slides, so they could reef the sail around the broken track. As they were heading up on the wind around the Horn with a ton of cunningham on the sail finally paid the price. I think, in retrospect, that sail actually lasted way longer than anybody ever would've thought it would've under those conditions. And the fix and then thousands of miles of sailing after the fix also shows that the sails are unbelievably tough.
Have there been any things that have surprised you about the sails in this edition, including the sails that they've used the most, when teams have changed out sails, and any sails that you thought would be used more than they have been?
There have been a couple changes in this race, first of all, the tweaks to the rules and the sail sizing in the front of the boat has led to triple head sailing, that is an incredibly common occurrence it seems. What that has also then done is put up enough sail area to make the boats go fast enough VMG sailing that the apparent wind stays far enough forward and the actual downwind sail, the A3, isn't being used very much, because the boats are going fast enough with this triple head rig using the huge Masthead Code 0's. They're really using a masthead genoa / code zero as the downwind sail as well as the light air up wind sail. It's kind of thrown an amazing wrench into what people considered to be the sail plan and the sail usage chart before the race started
Then, finally, the masthead blade (J0), which is the new sail for this edition, was really meant to fill a wind range upwind that was basically lacking in the last race - the kind of nine to 13 knots range. The fact is, they haven't had a whole lot of upwind work in this race so far with the new route. That masthead blade has become an incredible 120 degree wind angle blast reaching sail. Really twisty high aspect sail, supposedly very, very fast. There's always lots of development and lots of opportunity for the people who figure things out quicker than everybody else and that sail has really led to some interesting development.
Does the Newport stopover have special significance for you?
Well, the Newport stopover has special significance for me because, yes, it's my hometown, but secondly, it's very sad that, in my two editions of the race, we didn't stop in Newport. That would've been really fun.
Newport opens its arms wide to the Volvo race and really show off the area well. For the only North American stopover, it really should be something to behold. Hopefully we get the same weather as we got during the last edition when it came to town because that weather just turned out fantastically for not only all the spectators but for the boats themselves.
So we need a little luck with the weather, but all in all Newport will show its best. I guarantee that.
Any thoughts on the future of the race?
Well, the future of the race is interesting. Obviously, there were some leadership changes within the Race made right at the beginning of this edition. With any leadership change comes question marks, so I really look forward to sitting down with the current Volvo leadership (and hopefully the sponsors too) and seeing how we can help to ensure this great race carries on. There's a lot of us that have a lot of time invested not just in the sailing part of this but in the race itself. There is no doubt that it's a race that you grow to love, and we need this race to continue because it's really still considered the premier offshore race with stops, and we need it for the sport of sailing and for the development that happens because of it.