The Route

When you first see the proposed new Volvo Ocean Race route, you tend to feel that Francis Chichester and Alec Rose would turn in their knightly graves at the idea of a round the world race, with no real Southern Ocean leg. Sir Alec once said that "the ultimate test of man and ship is to round Cape Horn", but it seems he didn't expect the words to be taken quite literally. One feels he was talking, not so much of the actual rounding, but of the long, long battle with the elements, with roaring winds, mountainous seas and icebergs, which culminated in the escape around the Horn.

So is the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race going to be a "lesser" event? No, but it is going to be different. There's nothing new in that though; for a start, compare the first Whitbread, when people sailed on boats with fridges, deep freezes, tape decks, books, veritable wine cellars and real bedding, with the privations that a crew of today suffers! On the other hand, it's a wonder those early sailors got a chance to cook all that food, read the books and listen to music, not to mention putting away a fair amount of wine, given that they had to do their own weather routing and navigation, with minimal aids, compared to today.

The big difference, between the changes that have taken place, since those early Whitbreads, and this route change, is that those were gradual and this latest change is sudden and, initially, seems an almost shocking break with tradition.

It is a break with tradition, but - from the sailors' point of view - it will be a new challenge. I have yet to meet a round the world sailor who did not find very light winds far harder to cope with than big winds and there could be an abundance of the light stuff in and around China. They will also have to cope with searing temperatures and high humidity, perhaps even harder to endure than freezing weather, that can be alleviated by the right clothing. So, make no mistake, from a sailors point of view, this will be just as big a test of endurance.

What of those who follow the Volvo Ocean Race? Many yachting afficionados are horrifed at the change, yet many of those same people are the very ones who get excited by new 24 hour records and demand faster and faster yachts. That means there has to be more and more investment by sponsors and those sponsors need to see a return on that investment. From a sponsors point of view, a race that gets them known in the Middle East, India and the vast Chinese market place has to be a big draw.

This new Volvo Ocean Race section kicks off with an interview with Puma skipper Ken Read; it will grow!

"The ultimate test of ship and man is to round Cape Horn."
It is a break with tradition, a new test.