The Toughest Sailing Race on Earth
October 10, 2014 10:17 PM   Subscribe

The 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race begins today, leaving Alicante, Spain headed for Cape Town, South Africa. The longest and most dangerous sporting event in the world, the epic sailing regatta covers 38,739 nautical miles and will take nearly 9 months to complete, covering the toughest conditions on earth, including the dreaded Southern Ocean.

This year's race shares almost nothing in common from the original Whitbread in 1973, save for one thing; there is no prize for winning.

Formerly called the Whitbread Race, a lot has changed since the inaugural 1973 regatta , where skippers took any yacht available to sea and 3 sailors were swept overboard to their deaths. The current edition takes advantage in the latest in safety and in yacht design and construction with the 65 foot one-design, carbon fiber VOR 65.

This edition's VOR includes 7 teams, including the all-female SCA team, the first ever Chinese entrant, Dong Feng Racing, and Alvimedica, a team of sailors all 30 years old or younger.

The VOR has a rich and storied past. Its most famous team was organized by Simon LeBon of Duran Duran who sailed the yacht Drum during the 1985 Whitbread Race, headed by Skip Novak.

If you're new to the race and looking for condensed action footage, last edition's documentary series captures the excitement and suffering of this nearly year-long event.

Links to follow this edition's action, all year long:

posted by braksandwich (18 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
And I wonder if the RAN will have to execute incredibly dangerous and expensive rescues at the far ends of the earth like they seem to have had to do many times. Thanks, multi-millionaire sailors!
posted by wilful at 10:43 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, braksandwich, congrats on your first post, as a member of of so many years!
posted by wilful at 10:44 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do what I can
posted by braksandwich at 11:22 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

The 'most dangerous' claim intrigued me so I looked up the stats. It looks like there have been 5 deaths since 1973 but there have even been some single sailing events with more deaths. In other sport the Dakar rally averages 2 racer deaths per year plus spectators. The 1955 Le Mans disaster is enough to push that race's average up pretty badly.
posted by biffa at 11:48 PM on October 10, 2014

I'm actually a little disappointed that these are regular sailboats. Based on the name of the contest, I was hoping that this would be an example that Yugos really can go anywhere.
posted by happyroach at 12:42 AM on October 11, 2014

That leg around the Horn at the beginning of southern hemisphere fall is just brutal. In the video linked in the post, one boat doesn't make it a day out of port before having to turn back. Another is down two crew to injury in the first 24 hours. That's before they even get to the really dangerous waters closer to the cape.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:51 AM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's pretty awesome that they standardized around a single boat.

Having just survived a long summer in the middle of a desert, I've been day dreaming a lot about sailing lately. I just read A Voyage for Madmen, the story of the first round the world solo nonstop boat race. Now THAT is intense stuff, especially given that it took place in the late 60s, long before GPS and whatnot.
posted by ph00dz at 6:30 AM on October 11, 2014

The Cape Horn passage is the worst in the world. Look up Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties.
posted by eriko at 6:57 AM on October 11, 2014

Great post, I love this event and wind up dreaming about jacking it all in to buy a boat.
posted by arcticseal at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2014

At least going around the Horn, they are going with the prevailing winds. Which presents its own hazards, but (I have never been there but have read a lot about it) apparently fewer vessels are lost, going in that direction.
posted by Danf at 9:41 AM on October 11, 2014

There should be a replica dutch 74 that shoots full broadsides at them as they round the horn.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:28 AM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'd go out with these crews in any weather short of a major hurricane and feel totally safe. They chase the big winds to be competitive, and that's just insane. But if ever offered a berth I'd jump at the chance, what a ride!
posted by sammyo at 11:30 AM on October 11, 2014

There should be a replica dutch 74 that shoots full broadsides at them as they round the horn.

I'm trying to figure where these ships mount their brass nines.
posted by stargell at 11:34 AM on October 11, 2014

How well these boats are engineered is amazing. The engineers have to address material science in hull and mast and sail and balance and keel pin and water ballast and wave stress.

It is great engineering.

I raced boats for five years and it is really taxing even when you can go home and take a warm shower after an afternoon race or two with another three coming up. Just balancing yourself is tough and sleeping in a berth in a boat going twenty-five knots, well, these people are fucking tough.
posted by vapidave at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2014

I understand that there are those who consider the Vendee Globe (single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world) to be the ultimate in ocean racing. Not trying to start an argument; just interested in hearing some knowledgeable perspectives.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2014

ph00dz: "That's pretty awesome that they standardized around a single boat."

I've often thought auto racing should do this. Make it solely about driver skill.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2014

Came across a good blog: Henry Bomby. Describing why what choices were made and etc.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:56 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Going through the Doldrums with Team Brunel.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:57 AM on October 24, 2014

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