The Volvo Ocean Race 2017‑18 seems to have been a long time coming! Since the last race, in which I crossed the finish line with Team SCA, I have been head down/bum up trying to make myself as ‘employable’ as possible to a male or mixed team as the rules changed regarding female sailors. Personally, I had already done two races on all‑female teams and wanted a change.
I skippered one of the VOR 65s up to Sweden and spent five months corporate sailing with Volvo employees. We got dizzy doing laps of the shipping lanes in Gothenburg as we took a total of 4600 guests for a spin and logged 4000nm in the channels alone!
I then worked at the VOR Boatyard in Lisbon, where we completed a full‑on refit of the whole fleet, which pretty much entailed taking every screw and fitting off the boats, servicing, renewing, re‑ assembling, painting and commissioning. It was an invaluable operation for any skipper and an amazing team to work with.
Getting onto a team was the hardest part of the last three years for me. I heard all the excuses … too small, too experienced for pay grade, didn’t need additional technical knowledge, not under 30, wrong nationality (I know – who doesn’t want an Australian on their boat!), not wanting to partake in a social experiment … the list goes on.
Then Turn the Tide on Plastic came along, a team partly funded by the Mirpuri Foundation, selected by Volvo Ocean Race to lead the charge on their sustainability message. When the skipper, Dee Caffari, asked me to join the team, I jumped. Not just for the chance of a third lap, but it’s such a worthy message we’re carrying and we are a 50/50 mixed‑gender team, which I had always wanted to try.
So a week later, off came the boatyard gear and on went my Boat Captain hat. We were up against it from the start, needing to get to Leg Zero in time to qualify for the race itself. It was no easy feat as we needed six of our 10 crew to be under 30, so intense trialling commenced amid also getting the boat race‑ready.
We needed to find other experienced sailors, put a shore and management team together and all the rest that has to go on behind the scenes. With time running out, the trials were quite brutal as it was just Dee and myself with 10 to 12 sailors of varying experience and ability putting ourselves through our paces offshore from Lisbon.
Some crew had never even been out of sight of land, let alone sailing at night on a semi‑ submarine doing 25 knots down big waves. It was quite stressful, but we formed a core group and then used Leg Zero for further trialling to fill gaps in the team, keeping in mind that we were lined up against experienced teams that had been training for quite some time. And all of them were champing at the bit to take first blood.
At least I had a fellow Aussie aboard, with Lucas Chapman being our first under‑30 crewman to be confirmed for the race.
LET THE RACE BEGIN
Leg Zero was a non‑point‑scoring qualifying event that was split into four parts. We initially joined the fleet in the Cowes Week Round the Island Race, which at least set the scene for forthcoming harsh Southern Ocean conditions. We’re talking 35‑plus knot winds, pouring rain and some pretty epic heli footage to look back on at the end. We learned a few key things – like how to stay on the boat – and even left a couple of boats in our wake.
The next challenge was the Rolex Fastnet Race. It was basically a massive windward leeward, with some more invaluable lessons learned, including some quite amusing ones centred on life onboard a minimalist race boat.
The return from the rock was pretty full‑on as the Irish Sea was full of squalls, with icy cold wind and rain. We had to play the clouds and the shifts they brought carefully and, while we made some great calls and manoeuvres, we also made a few mistakes that cost us a couple of places. We lost out to the fleet in the end, but the fact that the whole fleet finished within 36 minutes in a 630nm race was a massive confidence boost and a sign of what is to come.
The next day we were off again for Stage 3, which took us to St Malo via the Needles. In contrast to the first two stages, it was all light winds and spring tides. A shutdown at Prawle Point meant we were left battling it out and trying to get moving with just Scallywag for company as the rest of the fleet got away. We eventually fought our way clear and finished well ahead of them into St Malo.
For the final leg, the fleet made its way out of St Malo in fierce tides and a light breeze as we raced towards Lisbon. As we raced across Biscay, we found ourselves leading the fleet at times. Being out front, regardless of how long you remain there, is a real confidence booster and showed the more inexperienced crew members that being truly competitive is possible. It also enabled us to come away from Leg Zero knowing what we needed to work on and having a plan of action for our training.
Team Turn the Tide on Plastic is in pretty good shape and we genuinely feel that, with a lot of hard work and determination over the next two months, we can put on a show.
– Liz Wardley