Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

“It’s no se­cret we are in this race to win it,” says Tow­ill, “and this time we’ve deemed it that more peo­ple is bet­ter than less.”

In the pre­vi­ous edi­tion of the Volvo Ocean Race, Mark Tow­ill and Char­lie En­right’s squad on board Alvimed­ica were billed as the “young guns” of the fleet, a stale char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that they even­tu­ally left in a slith­er­ing wake as they rounded Cape Horn first after a bru­tal and blis­ter­ing Southern Ocean leg. They weren’t the rook­ies any­more, nor will they be this time as Ves­tas 11th Hour Racing.

“It’s no se­cret we are in this race to win it,” says Tow­ill, “and this time we’ve deemed it that more peo­ple is bet­ter than less.”

The most no­table dif­fer­ence is that En­right and Tow­ill have sur­rounded them­selves with a multi­na­tional team stacked with more race ex­pe­ri­ence, says Tow­ill. Among them are true vet­er­ans of the race as well as a few free agents from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s win­ning cam­paign — no­tably nav­i­ga­tor Si­mon Fisher and helms­man Phil Harmer. Add to this dec­o­rated cast the likes of two-time win­ner Tony Mut­ter, re­turn­ing for his sixth lap. Damian Fox­all, the con­sum­mate Ir­ish sea­man and one-time win­ner brings an un­de­ni­able level of ex­pe­ri­ence to the boat.

“With guys like him and Tony, you can re­ally see it, their ap­proach and their de­meanor with ev­ery­thing,” says Tow­ill. “It’s what we need to be sur­rounded by. Char­lie and I still have a lot more to take in, so we’ve sur­rounded our­selves with peo­ple bet­ter than us.”

Re­tain­ing homie bow­man and boat cap­tain Nick Dana (sup­ported by bow­man Tom John­son) and adding two Olympic-cal­iber fe­males in Han­nah Di­a­mond and Jena Mai Hanse, says Tow­ill, gives him a deep and di­verse ros­ter to man­age from leg to leg, given the ex­pected con­di­tions of each.

“Our fo­cus has been on stack­ing the boat with great driv­ers — just like ev­ery­one else,” says Tow­ill. “The boats are one-de­sign, the dif­fer­ences are mar­ginal, so it will ba­si­cally come down to who can make the boat go fast and go in the right di­rec­tion.”

By the con­clu­sion of the pre­vi­ous race, dif­fer­ences in boatspeed be­tween the top teams were small, and given noth­ing has dra­mat­i­cally changed with the boats or the sail plans, this ver­sion will be “a game of inches,” Tow­ill be­lieves.

To the team’s ben­e­fit, Fisher brings with him a trove of per­for­mance data from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Over the course of two trans-at­lantic cross­ings in spring 2017, they con­tin­ued to mine into the Volvo Ocean 65’s speed po­ten­tial. “We have their po­lars and ours, and we’ve been cross­ing notes on trim­ming tech­niques and all that stuff,” says Tow­ill. “They were the faster boat by far when jib reach­ing, so we’ve picked up a few things there. In the last race, we had a leg up on the fleet in some of the heavy-air run­ning, so all told, I think we are in a bet­ter place now.”

One im­por­tant les­son for En­right and Tow­ill from the pre­vi­ous race was the im­pact of ro­ta­tions and the need to plug in ex­pe­ri­ence at key points, es­pe­cially the Southern Ocean, when they brought on board vet­eran helms­man Stu­art Ban­natyne to show them how to push and when to hold back. “Our ap­proach was dif­fer­ent then,” says Tow­ill. “It was to have the same team and grow to­gether as a group, but Dongfeng and Abu Dhabi were do­ing plenty of ro­tat­ing. There’s a ben­e­fit and cost to that, which we couldn’t af­ford at the time, but we’ll be see­ing ro­ta­tions across the fleet, and we’ll be look­ing to do them do­ing it as well.”

They have more peo­ple on the ros­ter than they have spots on the boat, how­ever, and they hope to bring one more fe­male to the team, which Tow­ill says will ben­e­fit the team in the long run. “Why not have an ex­tra set of hands grind­ing the sheet on?” he asks, es­pe­cially when the ex­tra gear that comes along can be stacked and added to the right­ing mo­ment. Over hun­dreds of miles, that ex­tra lever­age just might make the dif­fer­ence.

Team di­rec­tor Mark Tow­ill will push his team’s per­for­mance and his spon­sor’s mes­sages of sus­tain­abil­ity and ocean preser­va­tion. P H O T O : W I L L S U T O / V O LV O OCEAN RACE

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