SAILING: Ocean Race success all about the preparation
More than half of the work in a Volvo Ocean Race campaign is done before the boats are launched, and you've clocked up two-thirds of the effort by the time you start. So says Volvo Race CEO Knut Frostad.
And the crews are like frontline troops on active service.
There might be a dozen people beavering away in the background ashore to keep each crewman and his boat in full race trim.
An economy drive put an embargo on teams having more than one boat, cutting out tuning races.
Thus the only clear-cut indication of potential came in the Fastnet Race in August, when three Volvo 70s went along -- the new Groupama (Franck Cammas), Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker), and the veteran revamped Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson), a late sponsorship by the southern Chinese city (it will be a stopover) with Irish support.
All seven boats had to take part in a qualifying race of 700 miles three weeks ago but, with emergency drills, it wasn't really a race at all.
Today, the show is finally on the road at Alicante.
There's a short points race off a city which is en fete, the fleet in port including many veteran boats and campaigners from previous Volvo races (and Whitbreads before that), including the gallant if overweight Golden Dragon which launched Walker on his Volvo career.
Walker's Abu Dhabi did best in the Fastnet, leading the Volvo threesome by four minutes from Goupama.
But he was quick to deflate excess hopes -- he reckoned Groupama was quicker on reaches. Walker's crew includes Justin Slattery of Wexford, while Groupama has Damian Foxall of Kerry, but there's now no Irish representation in the Sanya personnel.
Team Sanya has been through turmoil -- after the Fastnet, they admitted the new boats had the edge on them in speed, so they'll be looking for a bit of luck. But it seems to have deserted them.
Sanderson was struck down with appendicitis a month ago, and will be just about fit for the start of the offshore stage on November 5.
And the Irish media crew member, Frankie Leonard of Galway, was so chronically seasick on the 2,000-mile qualifier that he stood down -- when they start tomorrow's race, the media crewman will be Andres Soriano of New York and the Philippines.
He's a junior member of the family which owns Alegre, the Mills 68 which carried some of Ireland's hopes in this week's Rolex Middle Sea Race out of Malta.
But as with the Fastnet Race, Alegre was bested by 72ft Ran (Nikklas Zennstrom).
This time round, though, smaller boats prevailed, and the overall winner was the J/122 Artie (Lee Satariano & Christian Ripard), the first Maltese winner since 2002.
But we were nearly there. The Corby 36 Rockall (Chris Opielok of Germany, originally Roy Dickson's Rosie in Howth) came within an ace of snatching the lead from Artie, but sat becalmed for half an hour in the approaches to the finish line.
Artie won by that half-hour, with Rockall second, her crew including Brian Mathews of Dun Laoghaire and David Kenefick of Cork.
Kenefick's brother, George, meanwhile, has been skippering the Irish team in the Student World Championships in south Brittany, and they were lying fifth overall with four races still to sail, the French squad having got their act together to lead from defenders England.