Why I Don’t Need to Do The Volvo Ocean Race

With the Volvo Ocean Race going on at the moment I think it is only right that I mention that I have some experience of what the sailors in the race are going through. In fact, I have a lot of experience, and I know exactly what they are going through.

And it is not nearly as arduous as they make out.

You see, I've done exactly the kind of racing that they are doing.

That's right. I took part, on no less than three occasions, in the Wraysbury Lake 6 Hour Race.

I don't mention this to impress you. I am an incredibly modest and self-deprecating. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm the most wonderfully modest and self-deprecating person you could hope to meet.

That said, if you wish to admire me for my achievement then feel free to indulge yourself.

I'll admit there were some small differences between the Wraysbury Lake Six Hour Race and the Volvo Ocean Race. Ours was sailed on a gravel pit, lasted a quarter of a day, had rescue boats on hand, hot, home cooked meals, and our parents were there to keep an eye on us.

But the similarities are obvious. Both are long races. You can run aground on a gravel pit if you're not careful. At times you wonder why you bothered to take part in the event. You get wet. I would go on with the similarities, but I can't think of any more. I think I've made my point, though - the two races are essentially spun from the same cloth.

The Wraysbury Lake Six Hour Race was a team event, where the winner was the team that completed the most laps in six hours of racing. The first year we did it a team of four of us won a prize (we may even have won the race, but, to be honest, I can't actually remember). And the prize we won was a rudder and tiller. Man, did I love that rudder and tiller. It was a thing of beauty - finished to perfection. And being good teenage kids, we agreed to share the blade, taking a few months each before passing it on.

Rudder and Tiller

It looked a bit like this. Except it was for an Optimist. And shaped differently.

One of our team was a particularly good sailor - without question the best of the four of us. The end of his Optimist career coincided with his turn with the rudder, and he used it in his last ever regatta - the prestigious Datchet Water Optimist Open. This open was the last of the season and (to my mind anyway) was the unofficial Optimist Inland Championship, until an official Inland Championship was introduced in 1990 at Rutland. Most sailors that did the circuit made an effort to go as it was the last chance for many to race an Optimist competitively.

In short, it was a big deal.

125 boats turned up for this regatta - the last Optimist event my friend would sail. He was leading the first race comfortably when, at the top of the second beat, disaster struck. Somehow the tiller snapped completely away from the rudder. He was out of the race, and our beloved blade was no more. We got in for lunch, before the other two races were to be sailed back-to-back, and my friend borrowed another rudder to sail the last two races.

I can say with some degree of certainty that had that been me, at that age, I would have been well and truly ruffled. But my friend was made of sterner stuff. He went out that afternoon and won the second race, came third in the last race and, discarding his DNF, won the event. I remember being amazed because I wouldn't have seen it as possible to win an event of that nature after a first race disaster like that. It was a lesson in how to handle adversity.

I can only suspect that such character was forged in the furnace of the Wraysbury Lake Six Hour Race.

2 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Need to Do The Volvo Ocean Race

  1. Quite right. When I was a sailing instructor for Opti kids we always ended the season with a grueling Round the Island race – going round this remote island way way way down the far other end of the lake. It’s so long and grueling that often many kids didn’t make it all the way round, one kid actually abandoned the race and went home half way round, and we had tears one year at the finish when the kid who thought he was the class superstar didn’t win.

    I am pretty certain that because of their experiences in this race, none of my former students will ever feel the need to do the Volvo Ocean Race.

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