Volvo Ocean Race - What it takes to win sailing’s toughest challenge

Volvo Ocean race Trophy
Of the 60+ sailors competing in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, only ten know first-hand what it takes to win sailing’s toughest challenge. Mike Sanderson and Rob Greenhalgh won the 2005-06 race together with ABN Amro One -- and here they talk about just how tough it is to make it over the line in first place.

As the fleet take on the penultimate leg of the race with just 23 points splitting top four crewmates about their experiences and predictions.

Sanderson, now skipper with Team Sanya, believes with four boats still able to win overall so late in the race, the frontrunners are in unknown territory.

'It’s hard to imagine what the guys who are in with a shot now are going through,' he said.

'When we won the race it was something we just chipped away at from the start.

'We built a lead from the first night of the race really, so it was a very different situation.'

Sanderson said old adage of taking one day at a time and not focusing on the overall points tally had been widely adopted so far, but as the race winds up towards the Galway finish, he said the leading pack would be feeling the pressure to perform.

'If you think of it as another regatta, many of us have been in a position where you have to go out and perform on the last day of the event. What they will tell you is to treat it as just another day, just another race,' he said.

'But there’s no doubt the stress levels are high, the nerves are on edge,' Sanderson added. 'At the end of the day, one of these four teams is going to have on their CVs that they won the Volvo Ocean Race.'

ABN AMRO ONE powers along during the 2005-06 race
Oskar Kihlborg/Volvo Ocean Race
Greenhalgh, a watch captain on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in this edition, agreed that the chance to secure a Volvo Ocean Race title would ratchet up the tension with just four scoring opportunities left.

'It’s big, and anyone who says they aren’t nervous about it is lying,' he said. 'They’re into a real cutthroat battle where every point is going to count.

'They’ve got to go out and focus as hard as they can.'

Sanderson said that despite having battled tooth and nail for seven months through more than 36,000 nautical miles of extreme ocean racing, there would be no let up from any of the top teams with so much riding on the last two offshore legs and two in-port races.

'The fact of the matter is that these teams are operating already at their very best potential,' he said.

'There’s nothing more they can really give. You can’t do any more than you’re already doing, you’re already giving 120 per cent.

'Just because they’re under more pressure it doesn’t really up the stakes. These guys can’t sail any harder. They’re sailing as hard as they can already, and getting as little sleep as they think they can get away with.'

Despite all this, Sanderson and Greenhalgh both agree that the mental stress, back breaking work, sleep deprivation, time away from their families and unrelenting pressure to perform day and night will be quickly forgotten by whoever lifts the Volvo Ocean Race trophy above their heads this July.

'Winning was fantastic,' Greenhalgh declared. 'Whoever wins this edition is going to seriously enjoy it.'

Sanderson, who in his own victory speech famously likened the achievement to scaling Everest or winning an Olympic gold medal, says the Volvo Ocean Race will always be a consuming passion for those who take it on.

'There’s no doubt that it’s your world,' he said. 'It’s the thing you’ve been working towards for three years.

'Winning will mean everything.'

Volvo Ocean Race website