Leg Zero not only takes care of the official qualifying for the Volvo Ocean Race – it’s also the first chance to see the teams in a competitive shakedown against each other.
No points will be carried forward to the race itself, but the overall Leg Zero winner still gets a confidence boost – and here, round-the-world Vendée Globe sailor Conrad Colman fills us in on how it might play out.
Leg Zero breakdown
Don’t go looking for the logic, but Leg Zero is actually made up of four separate races. The seven teams taking part – team AkzoNobel, Dongfeng Race Team, MAPFRE, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Team Brunel – will face the following schedule:
August 2 – Around the Island Race
A 50-mile coastal race in early August for some of the best sailors in the world who are preparing to tackle the world’s longest racetrack in sport? Okay, let’s be honest – we’re not going to learn a lot here. There’s nothing much at stake and in terms of racing, it’s tempting to say there’s nothing to see here… But then again, sandbanks, rocks and tides will make these 50 miles pretty challenging – and would you want to finish last out of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet?
August 6 start – The Famous Fastnet
Now we’re talking. The Rolex Fastnet Race boasts the biggest offshore racing fleet in the sailing world and traditionally, it can go one of two ways. Either a late summer depression will rip across the Atlantic Ocean and chew through the fleet, as happened in the infamous 1979 edition, or boats will be forced to pick their way along the English coast, searching for any puff of wind while being pushed in circles by the tides.
The series of bays and headlands along the southern coast of England make the first part of the course like sailing along the edge of a saw, where each point sticking down into the English Channel concentrates and accelerates the tide. This will give a welcome push to those that make it through on time, and punish those forced to fight against the flow. In the tight Volvo Ocean 65 fleet, rounding a headland just 10 minutes after a competitor might cost you an hour at the finish!
Look out for strange routes on the tracker by the Land’s End point as strong tides turn around this headland and there’s a huge obstacle in the way. Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) act like salty motorways for commercial shipping, and because they guide hundreds of massive steel ships, they are off limits for competitors.
These off-limits TSS zones will appear later in the Volvo Ocean Race route, most notably in the Strait of Gibraltar, around Hong Kong and off the coast of Newport, RI. This American highway upended the leaderboard in the last race after MAPFRE, Team SCA and Dongfeng all entered the zone illegally and were penalised. Now is a good time for the teams to get to grips with these TSS zones to avoid problems later when the points are at stake.
August 10 start – St Malo Rocks
After back to back stopovers in Lorient in 2011-12 and 2014-15, the Volvo Ocean Race will visit another French city that’s crazy about ocean racing, St Malo. It’s best known for a solo transatlantic race every four years called the Route du Rhum (confirming the theory that sailors are obsessed with the sea, salt and rum).
Volvo Ocean Race boats have deep keels and are normally safe offshore in the deep ocean but in 2008-09 Bouwe Bekking skimmed the bottom in Taiwan and dramatically slammed into a submerged rock just off Gothenburg. A former pirate’s paradise, St Malo is also protected by a fearsome set of reefs and needless to say, it could be pretty stressful with freshly painted keels and a circumnavigation just around the corner!