VOR DOCK TALK #13 – Thursday, shortly after midnight. A mast light appears on the horizon, in the dark night off the Spanish coast. Little by little, Dongfeng’s red boat gets closer, and the sailors take the sails down. Shore crew and race staff greet them on the dock. They jump onshore and reality hits.
It’s happening. There are four other Volvo Ocean 65s in the Alicante marina and the race village is being built around them. The first In-Port Race is in exactly a month, on October 4.
It’s 1.00am and the team has been sailing non-stop since they left the French harbour of Lorient last Friday, but Charles Caudrelier and his guys look around with excited, avid eyes.
“The game is starting,” says the skipper, happy to see six months of training finally paying off. “Everyone was looking forward to coming to Alicante and for many of the boys onboard it is their first time.”
“Alicante is a very special place for us” – Antonio Cuervas-Mons, Team España
The Spanish entry arrived in the start port in time for lunch on Wednesday, only a couple of hours before Dongfeng.
The team, a noisy, friendly mix of Spanish and French sailors, will soon announce their sponsor and confirm their remaining race crew.
But before that, Antonio – known as Ñeti – has a clear, and very Spanish sense of priorities.
“We will prepare the boat for Leg 0* next week… and catch up with all our friends from Alicante!”
“It makes it feel more and more real” – Charlie Enright, Team Alvimedica
Charlie is the skipper; his mate Mark Towill is the team co-founder. They arrived in Alicante on Monday night, having sailed this final delivery with college friends – a taste of vacation before things get serious, only on massive carbon 65 footers.
And when it comes to friendship, the American boys are on the same page, as you can see from our two-minute chat with them.
Charlie: “Arriving here puts it into perspective… ”
Mark: “…Especially seeing the other teams. We are staying until Leg 0 and then the sailing team will have a short break. The boat will go out of the water…”
Charlie: “Yes, we’re going to maximise our time on the water in Alicante…”
Mark: “… As much as possible…”
Charlie: “…Mostly in-port sailing.”
Mark: “Yeah. Now back to the sweat box.”
See the bond yet?
“Everybody is on the same boat” – Ian Walker, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Ian is a thinker, sure, but he probably meant this in a literal sense. All boats are the same in this 12th edition of the race, they are all one-design Volvo Ocean 65s built to the same plans and by the same boatyards. And few things could make the British sailor happier
“Doesn’t matter whether you’re a young team, a female team or the most experienced team in the race. Everybody is going to have their chance,” he states.
Ian’s talents go way beyond philosophy though. With his Emirati crew Adil Khalid, he gave a class in geography, geometry, physical education and fitness to the pupils at the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, their shore crew sailed the boat to Alicante last Friday. These guys are now checking the Azzam boat carefully, pampering it to the extreme. The sailing team arrives in town next week.
“It is quite exciting, yes” – Timo Hagoort, Team Brunel
And that’s one good Dutch understatement for you. The Brunel boys were the first to arrive in Alicante last week. While the sailors are taking a break, the shore crew is working on the boat with the experts from The Boatyard, the centre of shared maintenance.
“It’s quite strange because we were sailing all the time, and from now on it will be a lot of maintenance,” says Timo, the team’s first reserve. “I’ll learn a lot onshore too, but it’s a little bit weird, a little scary for me. It’s just that I like to sail a lot.”
“Leaving the UK makes the start of the race dangerously close” – Libby Greenhalgh, Team SCA
The girls left last Saturday and just passed the south of Portugal. They are expected some time on Saturday morning in Alicante.
“We are taking this opportunity to have our lovely coaches (Brad and Joca) along for the ride to maximize our training,” writes Libby from the boat’s navigation station.
“How they are coping as two boys on a boat of 11 girls, time will tell. But they do hang out in the galley making their food and hot drinks like an old married couple!” This isn’t just a seven-day sail from the UK to Spain, this isn’t only one more training session. It’s also one last opportunity for the team to reflect on the challenge ahead.
Libby: “The race is coming around fast and furious. But the speed with which it has come round suggests that the speed with which it is going to finish will be like lightning. So eyes open and take it all in!”
“We threw ourselves a bit of a party this afternoon” – Brian Carlin, Team Vestas Wind
No loud music or heavy drinking involved though – Vestas’ party was all about strong wind and awesome, fast, Volvo Ocean Race sailing in 25 knots across the Bay of Biscay.
“Robert “Salty” Salthouse was a man who looked as if he just remembered what it was like to ride that bike again,” writes Brian, the boat’s reporter. “The same look gave me the answer to the question, “why this race?” This is why we party. This is why we participate. We are humans, thrill seekers, ocean lovers, adventurers.”
The last team to enter the race, they are planning to cover 2,000 nm on their way to Alicante to qualify – it’s compulsory. Chris Nicholson and his crew should be in Alicante early next week.
“Next the northwest corner of Spain,” writes Brian. And then he adds: “PS: I’m not sea-sick YET!”
* Leg 0: this trial race starts on Friday, September 12 from Alicante and back, and the route is 360 nautical miles long. It’s a final test before the real thing, a qualification race and an opportunity to test the safety and tracking systems of the teams and boats.