There is exactly one year to go before the start of the Volvo Ocean Race on 4 October 2014 in Alicante. It's going to be a groundbreaking edition in more ways than one, as the race's CEO Knut Frostad explains.
'Building a whole fleet was always going to be a challenge when developing a new class, but we have seven boats in construction now' - Knut Frostad
For the first time in the 40-year history of the Whitbread/Volvo, the race will be contested in a one-design boat. The first of the high-performance Volvo Ocean 65s is now out there sailing while race organisers are working on bringing a full fleet to the start line in Alicante on October 4, 2014.
'Time goes insanely fast in this race,' Frostad said. 'This is the world’s longest sport competition and a nine-month race gives you a strange perspective of time.
'With a year to go, I feel that we’re really focused on the right things. We closed up the ports quicker this time than we did in the last race, which was great. And except for Newport, we’ve selected ports, which have hosted the race before. Newport is very much a sailing place already and, as for all the other stopovers, we don’t need to do a lot of education there. We’re now focusing on the teams and making everything more cost efficient for the teams.'
Two teams have been announced so far. Team SCA will be the first all-women's team to compete in the race since 2001-02. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is back for another tilt at victory and will once again feature Britain's twice Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker as skipper. More projects are to be announced in the coming weeks and months.
'We are very confident that we'll have a larger fleet than in the last edition,' says Frostad. 'Last time, we had six teams, one of them racing in a second-hand boat, but we are already committed to building at least seven of the brand new Volvo Ocean 65s for 2014-15 – and there could yet be even more. That's a sign of just how high our confidence levels are, even in this difficult economic climate.
'Right now we are in dialogue with all the serious teams that want to be in the next race and that's a large number of projects. It's a fact that teams don't really have to announce their participation as early as before, as they don't have to design and build their own boats, but even so, I expect to be able to make a number of announcements in the next few months.'
A four-times Volvo Ocean Race competitor himself, Norwegian Frostad believes in the transition to one-design and the benefits it will bring across the race.
'The Volvo Ocean 65 is an enormous step forward for us,' he says. 'I truly believe that people are going to be blown away by this new boat when they see it. This is the first time in our 40-year history that the Volvo Ocean Race has had a one-design class and the effect of introducing it is profound.
'Firstly, it means much more cost-efficiency for teams. Not only are the boats, the sails and the rigs all one-design, but so are the on-shore services and we'll be hearing a lot more about The Boatyard, the new project that is going to bring the people and the boats closer to each other than ever, while meaning teams will be pooling spare parts and services.
'Then again, the fact that we have a race between identical boats means what decides the race is going to be how well each of the teams sail, rather than who has managed to come up with the fastest design. I'm really looking forward to seeing the one-design concept made real. It's a huge change.
'One other essential thing is that we have been able to build the new class around the needs of digital media in the 21st century. This time, instead of retro-fitting cameras to the boat, we have been able to start with the cameras, microphones and media desks and design the Volvo Ocean 65 around all that, in what will be a major boost to the Onboard Reporter programme.
'This time, we've been able to choose the best position to put all the equipment. So for the first time we'll be able to capture close-up interviews with the sailors with clear sound and excellent vision in the cockpit of the boats, even when sailing at high speeds. Overall, it should mean we get closer than ever to the sailors and give fans a much clearer understanding of what it means to race one of these boats in the toughest conditions known to man.'