It hardly seems possible that we only have one In-Port race left before the end of the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race. For Abu Dhabi it has been a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. On reflection Azzam (‘determination’ in Arabic) was the perfect name for our boat. The team have shown a never say die attitude after the disappointment of a mast breakage on leg 1, structural failure on leg 5 but perhaps even worse the realisation that our boat was off the pace. Lacking speed in a race like this undermines everything you do and if you are not a strong team it can undermine the very substance of your team. I think we can take great pride in how we have stuck together and how our results have improved in the latter stages of the race.
Winning the transatlantic leg to Lisbon was nothing short of a miracle and will stand as our greatest achievement in the race. Raising the profile of sailing in Abu Dhabi and inspiring a new generation of young sailors will be the team’s legacy. We now have a new look to the next Volvo Ocean Race with Knut Frostad’s plans for one design, identical, organiser supplied boats. If people thought this race was close, the next one will be even closer. Until now the Volvo Ocean Race has been primarily about the design and build of the boat, whereas the focus will shift to the sailors, management and teamwork. This more than anything else would draw me back to sail a third race.
This will mean more demands on the sailors with people pushing the boats and people even harder. I think it could take a whole new approach as to how to win the race. For sure the bigger budget teams that start early and hire the best people may have an advantage but this time it may not necessarily be a race winning advantage. It has been fantastic to see Groupama’s team work together to raise their game and take the race win but it would be even more refreshing next time to see an even younger, new generation of offshore sailors, perhaps from the Olympic Classes match that achievement.
With a new one design boat maybe they have a chance that would not have been there before. One thing is for sure and that is without major changes to limit the budgets this fantastic race would have died. For that reason alone it is hard for anyone else to disagree with the changes. The Volvo Ocean Race remains one of the ultimate sporting endurance challenges. Right now I feel like I need a decent rest to recharge the batteries before I decide what lies ahead. After three Olympic Games, two America’s Cups and two Volvo Ocean Races I am beginning to feel like the old guard rather than the new. I cannot praise Groupama and all of their team enough for their performance in this race. They are very worthy winners – Bravo Franck!