Get ready for Volvo’s high speed chase in Salthill bay

In-port racing for the Volvo Ocean fleet is a addition to this year’s race, adding a new dimension for both the yachts and the spectators.

“ The course is windward-leeward, with a mid-course gate through which the teams must pass, and marks at each end around which the crews must sail.

Spectators will see the yachts zig-zagging (tacking ) up the course as we beat into the wind, using the blade sails to power our way up wind, and at the top mark we will hoist our spinnakers, hopefully within about five seconds, and run with the wind down the wind, again sailing angles.

Tacking is time consuming, so the less tacks you have to make, the quicker you are. It’s hard because you have seven boats at the start line, and one of those might block you so you have no choice but to tack. You are forced into situations very quickly and it’s very important to get a good start.

Offshore, running with the wind is a point of sailing with which the Dragon has been quite competitive, but inshore it’s a firefight. We are sailing the boats under-manned with 12 people when usually inshore we would sail with 17 guys on board.

As a result it’s very exciting sailing and very snappy. All 12 crew will stay in their set positions all the way around the track which is unlike offshore sailing, and every manoeuvre has to happen. If you get it wrong, it can be disastrous for in-port racing.

The marks will depend on the wind direction on the day, and they are set a minute before the 10m pre-start gong. All boats will get a 10m warning, a five minute warning, and a one-minute sound signal, and at zero all the boats will aim to be on the line in the best possible position to take advantage - and hopefully we will be one of those starts.

“That’s part of my job as bowman to help the helmsman get to the start on time. It’s quite nervewracking, with boats dipping each other, rounding each other very closely at high speeds, and there is potential for carnage. Everyone is pushing hard out there as they are desperate for points.

Depending on the wind, each race is expected to take about one and a half hours. The crew will have an allowance of 10 sails, but the Dragon usually tries to take less to reduce weight.

What you see on the beach is one thing, like sails going up and down, but those spinnakers are 560 square metres and they must go into a little hole in the foredeck and there are two guys down there trying to pack them to ensure they are ready for the top mark again - that’s like packing two tennis courts into a bag. They must be packed properly to ensure they go up the right way round or it’s disaster.

The personnel on deck include a bowman, Ian Walker on helm, and alongside him will be the tactician who calls the shots. There will be one trimming the main sail, another trimming the headsails, and they will be talking to the guys who are grinding [hoisting and adjusting sails]in the middle of the boat - they literally don’t stop for two hours.

The only times spectators will know who is leading is around the marks, through the gates, or when two boats cross each other coming from different directions. At the bottom mark crews can round in any direction, while dropping their spinnakers and resetting their headsails. That is time when crews can make mistakes. If you drop a sail in the water, all of sudden you trawling like a fishing boat, and you are dead.

It’s not just exciting for us, but it’s a perfect opportunity for the public to get up close to one of these boats which have proven to be one of the fastest in the world.

It should be quite a spectacular sight.”


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