It’s dark when I wake up in Alicane, with heavy, blue-grey storm clouds twisting upwards through the Mediterranean sky. Somewhere, 10,000 feet above this small Spanish city the gods are fighting over weather patterns; there’s a dash of clear blue sky here and a seam of storm clouds there, a maelstrom of wind, cloud, rain and energy hashed up atmosphere. In my view, it’s the perfect condition for sailing.
Out on Team Abu Dhabi’s VO 70 though, the weather conditions take a turn. Stale, soft wind starts to blow in from the southwest and our head sail softens. So the officials delay race start for another twenty minutes. In the mean time, our skipper Ian Walker spends time prepping his crew and exploring the winds around the race waters. And we wait.
It’s the day before the official launch to the Volvo Ocean Race and I’m out on a practice run with Team Abu Dhabi, who have invited me to come out and explore their operation before the kickoff. Alicante, a modest city two hours southwest of Valencia is both the opening port for the race as well as home base for the media operations and the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race museum. Over the next nine months, six teams will sail from here around the horn of Africa up into Abu Dhabi, around India, into China, across the perilous southern ocean and then into the Americas before reaching European shores once more.
Many among the management compare the event to the Everest of sailing but it’s more than that. It’s years of boat building, design, planning and execution. It’s the logistics of hop scotching tons of freight and support staff among ten ports across the planet, alternating ports to keep up with the boats. It’s holding onto your guts amidships when the swells of the southern ocean are trying like hell to pull them out of you.
There’s a grave determination among the eleven men on this ship as we cross the starting line and dig into the first leg of our race. Each spinnaker will be cast and folded hundreds of times in the next nine months, each sailor pushed to his limits. In Alicante, the weather is warm and the men are still strong and cheerful. Our world – this ocean will soon have its way with them.
[Editor’s note: Team Gadling joined the Volvo Ocean race at the request and expense of Team Abu Dhabi. Media support made the ships sail no faster nor the writers get any wetter while on assignment.]