Volvo Ocean Race organizers cancel plan to race off the coast of Somalia

Rob Almeida
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August 18, 2011

[youtube width=”600″ height=”506″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO073dcrcy4

Go figure…

I can’t imagine the decision to cancel a sailboat race between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi would have been a tough call considering the dire warning by the International Sailing Federation, the publicity of recent acts of piracy along the race course, and this year’s murder of 4 American sailors on board S/Y Quest… but apparently it was.

A brief background…

The Volvo Ocean Race is an around-the-world yacht race followed by millions of people worldwide, and sailed by experienced professionals on board the fastest mono-hulled offshore yachts ever designed.  These 70-foot sailboats have hit speeds of up to 39 knots in the Southern Ocean and hold the 24 hour distance record of 562.96 nautical miles.  Racing these offshore machines for months at a time requires an extraordinary amount of skill, endurance, and mental toughness.   Since the early 1970s, this race has been the ultimate test of seamanship.

In recent years, the conditions have changed…

The huge seas and endless storms of the southern ocean still present the same fundamental challenges, however massive corporate sponsorship and global intrigue has altered the race route to include ports in warmer climates.  This year’s race includes the city of Abu Dhabi, the first-ever middle eastern Volvo Ocean Race stopover, and sponsor of Team Abu Dhabi.

On 29 October, 7 teams will start from Alicante, Spain on a 39,000 nautical mile trip around the planet.  Until this morning, the race route included a leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, a track that would have led these teams directly offshore Somalia and the western Indian Ocean.  Discussing today’s decision to alter the race course, Knut Frostad, a two-time Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) skipper and the current VOR Chief Executive stated, “this has been an incredibly difficult decision…We have consulted leading naval and commercial intelligence experts and their advice could not have been clearer: ‘Do not risk it.'”

According to the VOR press release, “The boats will now race from Cape Town to an undisclosed ‘safe haven’ port, be transported closer to Abu Dhabi, and then complete the leg from there. The process will be reversed for the third leg before the race continues on to Sanya.”

This should not have been a difficult decision.  The decision to not sail past Somalia is painfully obvious, and leads me to believe that the reason this was a “difficult decision” is because a great deal of sponsorship money was involved.  The spirit of this yacht race is seamanship and pushing the sport of sailing past the edge of what was once thought impossible.  It’s about teamwork, technology, and mitigating risk while motivating one another to keep pushing hard under terribly uncomfortable conditions.  If something had gone horribly wrong off the coast of Somalia, it could have come with tragic consequences while at the same time destroying the reputation of this historic race.

Piracy is a crap shoot.  You may be able to sail your boat from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi with no problems, but then again, you may not.  Taking risks like that would have been irresponsible and not in the spirit of offshore yacht racing, and certainly not in the spirit of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Thank you for making the right call, and we look forward to following the race…

Puma Ocean Racing Volvo Ocean Race

Image by Dan Armstrong, Puma Ocean Racing

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