Photo Gallery: On board Team Abu Dhabi’s VO70 at the Volvo Ocean Race

In the few days that I’ve been back from Alicante it’s been difficult for me to explain the sheer magnitude of a VO70 ocean racer to my peers. These sailboats are unlike your average Sunfish or J-105. They are massive, precision engineered creatures, optimized for weight, balance and speed. They are moving cities, with 11 men onboard, bunks, cooking and wash facilities. They’re also information superstations with a handful of remote controlled cameras, a satellite uplink and enough CAT-5 cable to impress any technophile.

At Team Abu Dhabi’s invitation we brought a team out to Alicante, Spain in late October to get a unique snapshot of the team and the race from the beginning. Days before the official launch we were out on the chilly Mediterranean waters on a practice run armed with only a handful of sailing experiences under our belt and a Canon SLR. The below gallery is what we captured.

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Sailing on the deck of a VO70 is like riding on the back of a dragon, mythical, awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. As the ships tack and jibe back and forth near the starting line it’s eerily quiet save for the occasional shout from the skipper or the stress-groans from the carbon-fiber hull. To see this much mass and power moving in such grace is a humbling experience. To see the ships race is unforgettable.Ships leave Alicante and head towards Cape Town on the 5th of November. You can catch up with the fleet at nine other ports around the planet through the summer of next year. The full schedule is at volvooceanrace.org.

[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.]

Volvo Ocean Race kicks off from Alicante, Spain

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.]

Volvo Ocean Race set to sail extreme waters

Volvo Ocean RacePutting sailing prowess and human ability to an exceptional test, the nine-month long Volvo Ocean Race is held every three years and set to take off this October. Called the most important and extreme offshore race in the world, those who take part know this is no pleasure cruise.

“What makes the Volvo Ocean Race so special is that it’s so extreme,” New Zealander Mike Sanderson, 34, told USAToday. “You’re going through the Southern Ocean plowing through waves and around icebergs and there’s snow. Then eight days later you’re coming up the coast of Brazil, and it’s 90 degrees down below and you’re sweltering hot and you can’t cool down.”

The 39,000 nautical mile race starts in Alicante, Spain in October 2011 and concludes in Galway, Ireland, during early July 2012, and will go through some of the world’s most treacherous seas via Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, Auckland, around Cape Horn to Itajaí, Miami, Lisbon, and Lorient.

“The sailing you do in the Volvo Ocean Race is unparalleled,” said Australian Justin Clougher, 39, bowman for Pirates of the Caribbean during the 2008-09 race, his second.

Sailing teams of 11 professional crew that include sailors with medical training, sail makers, engineers and members of the media will race day and night, sometimes for more than 20 days at a time on some legs of the adventure. Experiencing extremes in temperatures and living off of only freeze dried food, the race is designed to test the skill and endurance of all on board.

According to the current schedule, the race will make its only North American stop in Miami, Florida about a year from now on May 18, 2012. Gadling was on hand for the 2008-09 race as well as the 2005-06 run and will provide complete coverage of the world’s premier global race and one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.

This year, the Volvo Ocean Race invites you to keep up with all the current news and information with a variety of social-friendly tools at the OceanRaceGame that feature all relevant information about the race, the game and the players.

Flickr photo by MauritisV