Volvo Ocean Race: Being a Volvo Ocean Race Virtual Sailor

Approaching Lorient finish with the toll showing - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh

We can’t all be Franck Cammas or Chris Nicholsons and sail the high seas, but one can be in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Over 212,000 registrations for VORG show the appeal of going virtual. But beware; the hazards may not be 40 knot winds or six metre waves, but the addictive powers of virtual racing while one tries to live in a normal world.

My own sailor started his virtual sailing life with Oceanic Virtual Regattas back in 2004 and went round-the-world with the Barcelona World Race in 2011.

Cava and messages flow in - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh
So as number one supporter, and the Kiwi in the family, I was somewhat accustomed to being a computer sailor’s wife when the he undertook the VORG challenge. The first leg was pretty normal, a few encounters with the land mass of North Africa, several over-sleeps during weather changes, and some real work getting done, so a 95,907th placing seemed appropriate. But the sailor was learning and competition was mounting.

Navigation skills are to the fore in this sailing world and my racer, alias Tempest, was told that another navigator had produced a program after deciding there had to be another way to manage the endless calculations involved by the serious sailor. So taking Zezo on board during Leg 3 somewhere in the Malacca Strait and reduced navigational calculation times up to 90%.

This, along with a bit more dedication to the process, produced a 1491th placing: things were happening. It didn’t stop there with 879th, 176th, and 73rd placings in Legs 4 to 6.

Leg 7 out of Miami and Tempest was getting into a rhythm. It was getting serious. With no computer connection in the house, nights were spent amongst the spinnakers in our nearby sail loft. Not too different from the real stuff. His beard was growing and his hair was going in any direction with showers not a priority. That’s alright when you’re out on the Southern Ocean with everyone else in the same boat, but on land, not so great to be around.

By Leg 8 all lessons appeared to be learned. Even crossing the line in the top 20 in Lisbon to find that hitting land in too short a time after finishing wiped your boat out and kicked you back 40 odd places (although that bug was fixed). Still his second boat on the leg managed 34th place.

For Leg 8 Tempest determined the leg would be won in the up-wind stage so the boat had to get to the Sao Miguel gate in the Azores Islands first, something he managed with all his three boats. Sao Miguel to Lorient it was a run down-wind trying to cover the fleet through storm and raging winds. No broken rudders or record-setting speed runs but the boats can still loose speed by damaging sails and exhausting the crew if you don’t feed them (I like that touch).

(image: 'Med_5 Sweet reward with tempest leading the board2.jpg' not found)We do live in a techo age and virtual racing has allowed an incredible number of sailors and would be sailors around the globe to enjoy the challenge, after all not everyone can make a living sailing.

Mind you the dedicated virtual sailor is seriously challenged in this aspect and often has to hoodwink an employer into thinking they are still working or if it’s your own business to keep some work moving to pay the bills. One racer reported a business meeting during the time when the crucial tack was needed nearing Sao Miguel and his chances in the leg were lost.

The reports from those running in the top 10 overall, and chasing a brand new Volvo with wheels, show daily living has been turned on its head by the dedication that has had to be applied from day 1 to achieve the necessary consistency.

Tempest has been happy to get a seat at the final race in Galway and the prize giving: time to rub shoulders with the real sailors. As in any real race the camaraderie, the country pride, and the obsession with doing it are all there.

If you’re game it’s an option but be warned: for the experienced and inexperienced it’s an addictive pastime.

Sweet reward with Tempest leading the board - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh

Alarm coincides with arrival of the support crew - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh

Impressive placing improvement shows lessons are learnt - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh

Bed in the spinnakers and work piling up - Volvo Ocean Race
Lorraine MacIntosh