Slippery when wet

19 Dec

I saw on the Volvo Ocean Race website that Annie Lush, one of two women racing aboard Team Brunel, was injured when she and Peter Burling (remember him?) were washed into the aft guardrails by an errant wave. Burling was fine but Annie was in very real pain. “It felt like one of the wires had done something inside,” she said. “I had a big pain in my right hand side and couldn’t really move my right leg and I really needed to get off deck because we needed to gybe for the ice gate.” She continued, “I tried to crawl but in the end the guys had to drag me along the deck and then carry me downstairs.”

OK it’s a gripping account but there are two things wrong with this. Sadly, first there is going to be the usual backlash against women on boats. There will be Zac from Muskogie, Michigan decrying the day women were ever let into the Volvo Ocean Race, a place for men only. There will be those saying that women are not tough enough for this kind of sailing and there will be those defending women on boats. Ok fine, that’s bound to happen but I think that the second thing wrong with this is a much more important story. There is no need for the boats to be designed the way they are. These are crap boats and wrong for this race and we will be lucky if there are not many more injuries like this before the race is over.

So I have opened myself up to a lot of hate mail and I don’t care. Personally I am sick and tired of seeing icy cold green water cascading down the deck into the crew hanging on for dear life back aft. It was fun the first few times but seriously. Enough. It’s not necessary. The slogan for the Volvo Ocean Race was, and I think still is but I am not sure, “Life at the Extreme” but the extreme is caused by racing around the world in the wrong boats. It’s totally unnecessary. 
My point exactly

The day I lost interest in the Volvo was when a full crew of crack sailors, the very best in the world pushed as hard as they could and managed a new world record, a 24-hour run of 540 miles. Impressive. That was until British sailor Alex Thomson, all alone of a boat five feet shorter clocked 535.34 miles. Do you get my point? Innovation was (and for now still is) not a part of the Volvo Ocean Race’s vocabulary. The race is heralded as the premier offshore ocean race; I think not.

Here is how things can quickly go wrong. Many will remember the Chay Blyth’s Global Challenge race. It was billed as the toughest sporting event on the planet and it was. It was a race around the world against the prevailing winds. A long, long *^%*# beat upwind in the Southern Ocean. Many amateur sailors paid a lot of money to be a part of the event and I agree; that’s a tough race and I, personally, would not have been up to the task. But here’s what happened. Dee Caffari, currently the skipper of ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’ in the Volvo Ocean Race, skippered a boat in the 2004 race. She was young, attractive and very, very competent. When the race was over she managed to get sponsorship from the insurance company Aviva to charter one of the Global Challenge boats and to take on the challenge of sailing around the world, solo, nonstop against the prevailing winds. On May 18, 2006 after 178 days at sea she closed the loop and in doing so sounded the death knell of the Global Challenge. I mean how tough could the race really be when a pretty 33 year old woman managed to do the whole thing, all by herself, and didn’t even stop along the way?

The Volvo Ocean Race needs to remain relevant. It is an awesome idea, an around the world yacht race, how cool?  But there has to be innovation. I am not sure where things stand with the new design put forth by Mark Turner, ex CEO of the event, but I am hoping beyond hope that something is done. The current VOR 65’s are slab sided, plumb bowed and boring. Yes we all know that sailing can be a wet sport but there is no need for it to be that wet; and dangerous.

See Annie Lush tell what happened here.

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Marc

    in the early days of flying, an open cockpit was the norm. It didn’t take long after the fatigue, frostbite and loss of pilots and aircraft for the design evolution to provide enclosed cockpits, heated flying suits etc.

    So I was happy to see Alex Thomson slide the doghouse back over the cockpit, drop the “greenhouse” to enclose the whole stern area, then go on to knock out some of the fastest monohull sailing ever, solo or crewed, with spectacular images coming off the boat, in comparative comfort and safety.

    These Volvo boats leave me cold, open deck, no spray or green water deflectors, and due to the sailplan a propensity to bury the bows and submarine through wave sets, is this the state of the art in naval architecture?

    Having been offshore in some horrible weather in “wet boats”, the 4am watch providing sheer misery in amounts that I ended up saying…’no more”, watching these Volvo boats is an exercise in masochism.

    They do have my complete respect in their choice, but it has become an extreme endurance event, probably one of the toughest there is, but does it improve the breed of yacht we take offshore?

    For me its Volvo – Nil, Vendee – 10

    Brian, thanks for your thought provoking articles from the viewpoint of your experience….keep em coming

  2. Trevor Morris

    I thought the VOR was the right vessel (sic) to renew the public interest in traditional sailing, now that the America’s cup has morphed from sailing to oversized kiteboarding. But I wonder if the people behind the VOR decided on a boat that is a mismatch design for the conditions so that the action is more extreme and therefore makes better entertainment?

  3. Vernon Brickey

    Gabart sailed a 100 foot trimaran. Left when he thought he had the perfect weather window
    and didn’t have scheduled stops and courses to follow (eg. Ice gates). Apples and oranges.
    These boat were an effort to save the Volvo race and keep costs down. Seems to have worked.

  4. Rachel

    As a female sailor, I take no umbrage to men who want to keep us from their teams. We can be great on a good day and a pain in the ass on others, just as men can. To say that we don’t have the stamina, endurance, and strength to participate in this grueling trot around the world, is disingenuous because many men could not endure it, either.

    As for the boats, the first time I saw one I thought, one-design on steroids. It’s a hard way to go around the world.

    Mr. Gabart showed us how sailing around the world can be done faster and safer than from the deck of a Volvo 60.

  5. Barefoot

    Agree completely can’t think that bieng Firehoused with ice cold salt water for days on end is much fun. It should not be too difficult to design bows and decks to divert green water away from crews. Just look at the Class 40’s short handed designs for more innovative design.

  6. John Gregory

    Ever since the Whitbread 60’s were loosed on the world, the boats have increasingly become sail-powered submarines. We lost 15 sailors in the ’79 Fastnet in boats that were more seaworthy than these…

  7. Dave

    Geographically challenged? Muskogee is in Oklahoma. Don’t know where Muskogie is. Muskegon is in Michigan.

  8. SJFodor

    Further to your point about relevance, Gabart left within one day as the start of Volvo leg 2 from further north. Before the first Volvo boats got to Capetown, he was already south of Cape Leewin. He also managed 851 miles in 24 hours.

    Gabart; Ouessant – Cape Leewin 18d 15 hrs (plus or minus)
    Leg 2 Lisbon to Cape Town, Mapfre 19d 01h 10m 33s

    Please don’t let the fact some hate mail will come keep you from producing thought provoking and interesting articles.

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