Volvo boats Stealthplay option lets them disappear

Volvo Ocean Race village on the morning of in-port race day in Alicante, Spain

Until the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race, which became the Volvo Ocean Race from 2001-02 onwards, the fleet sailed over the horizon and had little or no contact with the rest of the world or the boats they were sailing against.

Now it is different, with data-packed position reports issued to the fleet and the world every three hours, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. But today that changes again, as StealthPlay is introduced, giving each boat competing in the 10th edition of the race, the chance to hide once more, although not for an entire leg.

The idea behind StealthPlay is to allow a team to make a tactical break from the fleet without the rest of competitors knowing what they are doing and where they are on the race track. Once a team opts to use StealthPlay their position will not be visible to the rest of the fleet, or the public, and they will ‘disappear’ for 12 hours, adding a new thrilling tactical dimension to the race.

If, having analyzed their own position and those of their competitors from a position report, a team decides to activate StealthPlay, they must call Race Headquarters within 30 minutes of the position report being released. The play will last for the next 12 hours and boat’s position will not be shown on the three scheduled reports normally released within that period. The boat will become visible again at the next position report after that period.

StealthPlay is an option and is not mandatory, and it can only be called on the longer offshore legs. It will be in action for the first time on leg one from Alicante to Cape Town - starting this Saturday - and then on leg two (Cape Town to Cochin), leg five (Qingdao to Rio), leg six (Rio to Baltimore) and leg seven (Baltimore to Galway). If it is not used on one leg, it cannot be accumulated for use on a following leg.

When a boat in play passes a scoring gate and there are seven gates around the course, her rounding time and points scored will be made public. Her position will also be made public when the team is within 50 nautical miles of the finish.

Race Headquarters in the UK will continue to monitor each boat’s progress every 15 minutes for safety reasons, but this information is never made public. Position reporting times will be every three hours at 10:00, 13:00, 16:00, 19:00, 22:00, 01:00, 04:00, 07:00 throughout the duration of each offshore leg of the race.

The Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 is the 10th running of this ocean marathon. Leg One from Alicante to Cape Town will start on 11 October.