When Alicante woke up to the Volvo Ocean Race

Different time zones and tough and varied conditions are some of the highlights of the nine-month long Volvo Ocean Race. Though the sailors often find it difficult to overcome these challenges, the excitement surrounding the event is unmatched.

The teams prepare for the flag-off of the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante.

As the aircraft touched down at the Alicante-Elche International airport, a bright afternoon welcomed us. Though dazzlingly sunny, it was breezy and a bit cold. The pilot of the aircraft had announced that the temperature would be around 12-17 degrees in the next few days, and the tourists should make the most of the ‘romantic’ Spanish weather.

Some 200-odd tourists, travelling to Alicante from Amsterdam, were all smiles, as the announcement was made. After all, that is what the small but quaint and scenic Spanish town is known for— its warmth and beauty. However, as one walked out of the airport and headed for the town, all that he could see were yachts and catamarans at the nearby port. And at several points there were banners that read: ‘Let the race begin…’.

Read: High tech on the high seas

The 13th edition of the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race was about to commence, and the excitement among the sailors was hard to miss. The port area at the Mediterranean coast was bustling with enthusiasm, and all that one could find was the sailors trying to get things in order before the flag-off on October 22.

Alicante bustles with excitement as people gather to witness the flag-off of the Volvo Ocean Race.

 

As heavy winds blew, the sailors from various teams— a total of seven teams are participating in this edition of the race — were busy giving the finishing touches to their yachts.

“You must be thinking how it is possible to prepare for a race so easily. But we have been preparing for it for the last two and a half years,” said the Chief Digital Officer of Volvo Ocean Race, Jordi Neves, with a smile.

Having been associated with the race for long, Neves has seen the event come a long way. When it started in 1973, the race was just another ‘adventure cruise’, with none of the sailors too serious about it. But slowly, the event spread its wings and turned into a global event.

“It all started here. Earlier, you could not even think of expanding so much, but now, it is a reality,” said Neves. As he spoke, a large crew was out in the sea, ensuring that all the pit points were properly marked. “You have to be very careful with it,” the Chief Digital Officer was quick to add.

The race, which draws the attention of sailors from across the globe, is held once every three years. The organisers, however, plan to conduct it once every two years now. “That’s the whole idea. Reducing the time gap would make the race more interesting,” said Neves.

The nine-month long race will take in 12 cities across the globe, covering 45,000 nautical miles, which works out to 83,000 kilometres on land. The event is highlighted by different time zones and tough and varied conditions. Though the sailors often find it difficult to overcome these challenges, the excitement surrounding the race is unmatched. And it was evident as one walked into the race village. Sporting a festive look, the entire village was abuzz with sailors and tourists roaming around the arena. The village has team shops, souvenir outlets and cosy sea-facing pubs. Walking around brought one closer to many interesting sights.

As the sailors were busy with their preparations, an African dance troupe was entertaining the guests at one corner of the village. “That’s the beauty of the place. Even if you are not into sports, you would not find even one dull moment,” said Georgio, a student from Madrid who came to Alicante for the race.

 

THE TEAMS AND SKIPPERS

Team AkzoNobel (The Netherlands): Brad Jackson

Dongfeng Race Team (China): Charles Caudrelier

Mapfre (Spain): Xabi Fernandez

Vestas 11th Hour Racing (Denmark/USA): Charlie Enright

Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (Hong Kong): David Witt.

Turn The Tide On Plastic (Portugal): Dee Caffari

Team Brunel (The Netherlands): Bouwe Bekking

The ports of call

The Volvo Ocean Race that began in Alicante on October 22 will end in The Hague on June 30, next year. The event, which covers 45,000 nautical miles (83,000 kilometres on land), will touch the following cities: Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajai, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg and The Hague.

 

And not just him, even the team skippers had a similar tale to tell. On a sunny morning, as they got ready for the skippers’ meet, the seven captains admitted that it was the warmth that made them fall in love with the Spanish port city. “It is always good to be back here. The race is tough though,” one of the skippers, Dee Caffari, said.

Interestingly, Dee Caffari is the only woman sailor to lead a team in the race. With the organisers introducing a rule change, the teams have been asked to accommodate women sailors in every team. According to Dee Caffari, this has increased the excitement among the women sailors. “This is a good move. The number would only increase,” she said, as she walked towards the fan zone.

On a normal day, the race village witnesses more than 20,000 footfalls; the number just doubles up on special days. And on such days, the entire city gets ready for a jamboree. That is how it has been for years.

“You won’t find any accommodation during the race days. The entire city is chock-a-block,” one of the hotel managers said. And this year, he added, the attendance has been more than during the previous editions.

This was evident, as one walked on the beach or through the city’s shopping boulevard. Even late in the night, the pubs were packed with most of the guests carrying the Ocean Race backpacks. “The crowd support is huge. You would find guests from all parts of the world. It is only growing,” said one of the support staff of the Dong Feng Race Team.

Perhaps, that is what keeps the race alive and kicking. Far away from the major cities, the tourists and the sailors have found a comfort zone in a small Spanish port city that is game for some real adventure sport. The mornings look fabulous with the rising sun casting its light on the seashore. It is when the sailors sail off into the deep blue sea. For them, life is a romantic adventure.

So it is for the whole of Alicante!

(The writer was in Alicante, Spain, on an invitation from HCL Technologies)