A quick history lesson
Formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, this 40-year-old yacht race around the world, is broken into around 11 legs, with in-port races and challenges at the various stopover cities. Volvo took over the event 12 years ago and renamed it: The Volvo Ocean Race.
Man, machine and the elements - an adventurer’s dream. While learning more about this epic race and the daily struggles the sailors had to endure on board, I was drawn to it. I admire the dedication, especially when I heard how long they spend out at sea. Nine months! I had to gasp. Imagine spending the better part of a year on a race boat, a mere 20 metres in length? That’s the equivalent of around five cars, sharing this space with at least eight other people.
If you’re beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable in your skin – I don’t blame you, but it gets worse. There are no showers on this 20-metre yacht, which takes some 36 000 man hours to build and costs approximately 25 million Euros - good for two Volvo Ocean Races (12.5 million Euros per campaign).
“And the lavatory?” I asked our guide as he turns and points to what can only be described as a small round bowl, about the size of a cooking pot at best. If you‘re looking for a shower, you won’t have any luck and the racers have to wait until they reach one of the 11 ports on their almost 72 000km journey, to experience a warm shower.
So bathing is limited to rain water, the occasional dip in the ocean or wet wipes. While conversing with one of the sailors, he explained they usually get a maximum of four wet wipes a day, which was met with shock by many of the listeners. “Four wet wipes a day to clean your entire body?” a woman said to her husband as they walked away in awe.
Against the elements
The living conditions alone are things many can’t fathom. Now throw into the mix unforgiving elements like huge swells, waves of up to 12 metres and 70 knots of wind (around 130km/h). Described as trying to sleep on a rollercoaster bopping up and down, swaying your body (which is constantly in motion), you’re expected to sleep on a net roughly resembling a small hammock.
Each sailor sleeps in four-hour cycles, as nature and the weather - ranging from thunderstorms to extreme heat - make each day a struggle so there constantly needs to be hands on deck.
Visiting five continents, there’s no fresh food on board and the crew lives off freeze-dried rations during the race. They have a limited amount of clothing for the different weather conditions. It’s not unlikely to stay in the same set of clothing for weeks-on-end, which, as we were told, is always damp, as is their other set of clothing. It’s like constantly changing into recently washed clothes, without the luxury of having them dry and clean-smelling.
Competitor’s mind set
While most of us may cringe and break under these circumstances, each crew member speaks passionately about their times and experiences on the boat. Listening to the fondness in their voices and seeing the sparkle in their eyes, you just know, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. The captains talk affectionately about each crew member, and as the voices crackle, you can see the tears are being held back.
The sense of camaraderie within each crew is strong. All seven teams are there to support one another as and when the need arises. I don’t know what drives these amazing human beings who place themselves in such trying conditions. The fact that they return to participate, time and time again, is inspiring.
I admire their fighting spirit and their love for the challenging adventure. Their passion and driving force is beyond words and I wish we could all find the same desire as these sailors have, in everything we do.
It is indeed humbling and I wish them all a safe and trouble-free adventure.