January 19, 2007 The next running of the world’s most demanding offshore adventure, the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race (the former Whitbread Round the World Race), features 11 ocean legs, eight inshore races and shorter stopovers in a route which takes in the hitherto uncharted territories of Asia, India and the Middle East. The race will start in the port of Alicante, Spain in the autumn of 2008. There are also changes to crew numbers and one of the most intriguing moves was the introduction of a new position of on-board media specialist – every boat in the race will carry full-time media liaison to improve the quality of interviews and imagery and to facilitate quicker and better editing of the vast quantity of footage. On-board audio and video of the last race helped raise the profile of the event but with the immediacy of new media at the race organiser’s disposal, the new moves are expected to further broaden the appeal of the race. The new rules are also designed to facilitate an all-female crew in the event.
Glenn Bourke, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, explains these key elements of the 2008-09 Notice of Race.
Q: What is the thinking behind the introduction of a designated media crew member for 2008-09?
A: Our TV programming from the last race made for some compelling viewing, but for us to take that to the next level we decided that we needed to include a media specialist on board.
It's difficult to film, put probing questions to a crew member, and take photographs when all hell's breaking loose, but this is exactly where the story gets interesting for the viewer. And you certainly can't do it when the person responsible for the media output is an integral member of the sailing team. So the media person allows the core crew to focus on what they do best - sailing the boat.
We will always have skippers filing their daily e-mails to the outside world, and followers of the race will always want to hear what the guys racing on board have to say on camera. With the media person at the controls of the camera and microphone we believe the output will be more insightful. The on-board material from the last race was exceptional: dramatic and humorous in equal measure, and often in the heat of battle. This time we want to up the ante, and, by virtue of the technology we have at our disposal, broaden the appeal of the race.
Q: How will you make sure that the media crew member does not participate in sailing the boat?
A: During the declaration procedure at the end of each leg, the crews are asked whether they have complied with the rules. If they sign the documentation to confirm that they have complied with a rule which forbids the media person from sailing the boat, and we have reasonable grounds for doubting them, then they risk the race committee proving a case against them.
We can use footage from on-board cameras which we can switch on remotely if required. It's a heavy risk to run, so I don't assume anyone will cheat in this instance.
Q: What has been the reaction from the sailors to this innovation?
A: As always you get a mixed bag of reactions and feedback. As long as you get about 70 percent of the people you canvass to agree in principle, it's worth pursuing. At least 70 percent of the people we consulted said 'yes, we would be happy with a media person', particularly the sailors who will now be able to concentrate solely on sailing the boat. It actually gives the crews an extra half a pair of hands because previously the crews were doing all the media work in their off watch periods or limited spare time.
Q: What impact will it have on broadcast output?
A: From our television producers' perspective it is fundamental. Their need is for a better standard of footage. They need it to be edited when it arrives at race headquarters rather than have to cull the best pieces of footage from hours and hours of inconsequential material. A lot of that editing can now be done on the boat. In terms of documenting the race in celluloid, it's a very important next step for us.
Q: What is your thinking behind introducing the age limit for at least three crew members now needing to be under the age of 30?
A: We had a fantastic experience with the ABN AMRO TWO team in the last race. Not only did they prove themselves to be accomplished sailors by breaking the monohull 24-hour record, but they added youthful exuberance and vibrancy to the event. The 'kids', as they were known, built up a fan base all of their own, such was the enjoyment they brought to their sailing. Certainly at arrivals, departures and prize giving awards nights, they kept us all fresh and amused and they were a major plus for the event. We can also do our bit to unearth a new generation of round the world sailors with the introduction of this rule.
Q: How about an all-female crew now that that the crew numbers for such an entry have been increased to 13 (+ 1 media crew member)?
A: Increasing the crew numbers has strengthened the likelihood of a female crew entering the race. The three extra sets of hands will help a lot in manoeuvres and sail changes and the extra weight makes the boat more manageable. Not having had an all-female crew in the last race, it would certainly be an exciting addition for 2008-09, just as the ABN AMRO youth crew was. There are a couple of potential teams out there already looking at it.
Q: Do you expect the 2008-09 race to be tougher than its predecessor?
A: It will be an even greater sporting challenge than the 2005-06 race. We will still have in-port races and point-scoring gates, but we have introduced shorter port stopovers and the fleet will encounter a myriad of wind conditions with the new route.
It's a complex sporting test. Having shorter stopovers introduces another level of urgency into the whole program. In some cases, there might not be the chance to make the boat absolutely pristine during a stopover for the next leg. Shore crews will have to rationalize their job lists and focus on major work issues to have the boat ready for in-port racing and leg re-starts. Once on the water, the navigators will have plenty on their plates.
Q: What is the latest on port destinations and entries?
A: We are working hard with a number of the 'new' ports to include boats from those regions - adopting the model which was so successful for movistar and the region of Galicia in 2005-06. The new markets in Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East have huge potential. How many boats will come from these ports is yet to be determined, but I am optimistic that there will be a few. I am content with our progress at this stage.
We had an early announcement from Ericsson and Peter de Ridder's Mean Machine and we can expect some announcements fairly soon from Spain. There is a tremendous amount of work going on behind the scenes and the signs are very positive even though we've sliced a year off the race cycle.
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