I recently joined the crew of Telefonica Black in the RORC Myth of Malham race. With skipper Lance and the crew, we raced the 230nM from Cowes to the Eddystone lighthouse and back to the Solent on the Volvo 70 Ocean Race Yacht.
Although I have grown up dinghy sailing at my local club and with my university team in Fireflies and Lasers, I never imagined it was possible to have the opportunity to jump on board a yacht like Telefonica Black and experience exactly what they did in the Volvo Ocean Race series without years of experience and training. However, I was wrong. My whole experience gives me the confidence to jump from dinghies to yachts.
This is how it went…
The day before the race started, we assembled as a crew in 12 in Portsmouth for a day of training. Over the course of a few hours both on the dock and at sea we got to grips with the boat and its complex systems. Feeling as ready as I’ll ever be, we then motored over to Cowes for the start of the race that Volvo Ocean Race legend beautifully describes as a short long race!
Over 100 boats lined up on the start line and on the canon, we began our 230nM adventure taking us along the south coast of England. Along the way we encountered dramatic sunsets and sunrise, pods of dolphins weaving under the boat with their trails lit up with the bioluminescent and the natural silence of the open sea. During the time on the boat, we were each able to experience every aspect of sailing and living onboard making for a unique hands-on experience like no other.
If you have any previous perceptions of yacht sailing and the luxuries that come with it, the Volvo 70 certainly adds a spin on that to give you a very real glimpse into the world of ocean racing. Life below deck is cosy, to say the least, with mesh bunks and a galley equipped with an ensuite toilet slotted between the mast and a carbon fibre divider. To add to that, the constant heel of the boat certainly makes for an interesting challenge navigating your way through the cabin crawling between spaces while being bashed about by the waves. But astonishingly, with all of that it was relatively easy to find comfort aboard. With the unexpectedly soothing sound of the rushing sea, creaking ropes, and flapping sails I was rocked to sleep within minutes at the end of each four-hour shift – the tiredness also most likely played a part too.
The stripped-back cooking facilities, consisting of a gas stove, meant that it was freeze-dried food on the menu. While simple, I found that eating with your legs hanging over the side looking out into the sea definitely rivalled most restaurants, plus, it turns out that freeze-dried food can actually be quite nice. Conditions on board were certainly interesting, but I think this undoubtedly made for a much more memorable and real sailing experience. 36hrs after we crossed the start line in Cowes, we crossed it once again to finish. We were knackered, the whole crew make it to the one bar still open in Cowes for a quick celebratory pint before last orders – and if it wasn’t for a large wind hole just off Poole, we’d have made it back in time for fish and chips – maybe even a late lunch?!
The special part of being aboard Telefonica was the involvement you have within the team. You’re not simply there as ballast or to stick to one designated position, but instead to play an integral role in every aspect of the sailing. It’s not often you get to helm a 70ft performance yacht in a race setting, but throughout the whole race, the helm was rotated allowing each of us to take full control several times in all conditions thrown at us. For such a large boat with an incredible amount of power behind it, I felt it wasn’t too dissimilar to helming a smaller dinghy, just maybe a little more exciting and a lot faster. The sensation of cruising at 14 knots upwind riding with the waves was unparalleled, and already I’m wanting to do it all over again. Each position on the boat was as interesting as the next, from getting an intense arm work out on the grinders and battling with the sails as we reefed them onto the decks to trimming the jib and mainsail. There was no expectation for us to perform and do everything right every time, we were all there simply to learn and have a lot of fun on the way while experiencing the Volvo 70.
Anyone – regardless of sailing experience or background – can enjoy the thrill of sailing a 70-foot race yacht in the open sea, which makes the world of top-end sailing much more accessible than I previously thought. In the end, I can safely say my time on Telefonica Black gave me a complete introduction to the world of yachting and the opportunities available for not only dinghy sailors like myself, but anyone, to get involved in this exciting adventurous part of sailing. I came away from the trip with an unforgettable experience, but also with a new passion and curiosity about the world of ocean racing which I will definitely now be pursuing in the future.