VOR - Meet Team Vestas Wind’s skipper, Chris Nicholson. He’s an electrician by trade, a discreet, cool-headed guy, but that’s not all. Chris is an Olympic sailor with six World titles, has sailed the Volvo Ocean Race four times before, and this time he’s back to win it.
But there is little time. No time to brainstorm, no fancy trials. Three weeks after announcing their participation, Team Vestas Wind have already launched their boat, passed their safety course, and are now sailing to Alicante. The race starts on October 4.
It gives them less than two months, seven short weeks, to get ready for a nine-month maritime odyssey, to create a team, to be physically fit and technically capable, to learn to sail the boat fast. Seven weeks – it ain’t much. Some of their rivals, like Team SCA, announced their campaign two years ago.
“We know we are short on time,” says Chris Nicholson. The Aussie skipper answers the phone from the middle of the Bay of Biscay. The wind has just picked up; he sounds calm. He always does anyway.
His team is in a rush, but panicking won’t help.
Chris – call him Nico – knows what he is in for. He has done the race four times before, once as Camper’s skipper in 2011-12. He, and his guys, know what the priorities are.
“Last night was our first overnight at sea,” he says. “The galley and everything works fine, so that’s one thing ticked off. We’ve done several sail changes already, without problem. We’re not the quickest yet but we’re building up to the right level.
“There is no real shortcut; we have to stick to the normal learning curve.”
In typical Nico style, he makes an express Volvo Ocean Race preparation sound easy. An electrician by trade, an Olympic sailor and a discreet, cool-headed guy, he adds: “I don’t have the luxury of time. I guess there is some risk involved, but I’ve got to make calls and trust that they are correct.”
So he made a big call this week – he announced his race crew. The eight guys who are going around the world with him. Better get that group right… because they are going to spend a lot of time together.
“I’m trying to make sure people have the right teamwork attitude in regards to what it takes to do this race. We’ve had to make sure we picked the right people from the very start.
“But you’ve got to remember that the Volvo is quite a different thing, it affects people. It’s obviously a very tough race and people react differently to that.”
So he picked guys he sailed with before – whether it’s Rob Salthouse and Tony Rae, two robust Kiwis who did the Volvo with him last time around, or his navigator Wouter Verbraak, the Argentinian Maciel Cichetti, fellow Aussie Tom Johnson, and the two young Danes Nicolai Sehested and Peter Wibroe. And Onboard Reporter Brian Carlin, a chatty fellow from Ireland creating all sorts of media content like the ice bucket challenge. Check it out by going to youtube.
“I’ve been around the world with Trae and Salty before,” says Nico. “They’ve got all the attributes you want to do the race. And the younger guys have a terrific attitude; they bring all their youthfulness and their skills to the table.
“I’m happy because, for the three weeks we’ve been working together, everyone has been working long hours, without any complaint or anything.
“I know it’s early days, but this team feels very, very strong.”
Now it’s all about mixing it up. Making sure that with their different experiences, these people picked by Nico and his loyal shore manager Neil Cox – it’s their third race together – bond together.
“We will live together, eat together, work together, sweat together,” writes Brian. “All with the collective goal to free our campaign from the wheels of infancy. We will bond. We will do what’s most natural to us all, hit the waves to see what this Volvo Ocean 65 is made of.”
That’s exactly what they are doing as they are sailing from the UK to Spain, planning to cover the 2,000 nautical miles of the compulsory race qualification before arriving in Alicante. Nico wants to do “some heavy air reaching” to test the boat and the men. With 30 knots forecasted off the French coast tonight, his wishes are about to become a reality.
“Where the rest of the fleet has spent months to work out which sail, which ballast tank, which daggerboard, stack and outrigger position works best, we have about ten days to figure it all out,” says Wouter in an email from the boat.
“Daunting? Certainly, but every 1000-mile journey starts with the first little step, so that is what we are doing. Step by step through each sail. Test, change the configuration, test again. Have a chat about what we learned, next wind angle, repeat.”
In a way, this is bringing the team back to the essentials of ocean racing – sail, sail, and sail some more. It doesn’t matter whether they have time to polish the details or not. What matters is ahead of them – on that start line, on October 4.