ALICANTE Spain (Reuters) -- - Offshore sailing’s toughest professional crewed test, the Volvo Ocean Race, sets sail on Saturday for nearly 39,000 miles and nine months of competition with women in the fleet for the first time in more than a decade.
There have been no female entries in the race since the 2001-02 event but the advent of a new one-design boat that puts less emphasis on physical prowess and more on pure seamanship has led to a well-prepared all-women team getting on board.
Team SCA is Swedish-backed but boasts an international crew after a search to find the best 11 offshore female sailors in the world. Many, like British skipper Sam Davies, have round-the-world sailing races behind them but the gap in experience on their male rivals in the special challenges of the Volvo race has been tough to bridge.
They have, however, had several more months' preparation time on the rest of the seven-strong fleet after declaring their entry in 2012, two months after the finish of the 11th edition, won by French boat Groupama.
"It’s been a long hard road and a year ago I would say that we weren’t ready – now I think we are," Davies told a news conference this week. The new Volvo Ocean 65 boat has not only been designed to help welcome back women to the race.
Each one of the seven challengers’ boats has come off a production line in the UK with every detail identical, down to the sail grinders and tiny wash basin.
It promises to be a game-changer for the event since all teams can now share the same shore crew and spare parts, cutting costs by around a half. It has also ensured that the focus has been returned firmly to the seamanship of the sailors on board rather than boat designers.
"There’s no excuses any more," said Race CEO Knut Frostad. "Each team has exactly the same boat to work with, it’s all down to the skills of the crews on board. We expect a very close race on this level playing field."
The race is one of the longest professional sports events in the world, lasting nine months with short stopovers in 11 ports across four continents. The boats will cover 38,739 nautical miles before arriving in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27, 2015. The first leg to Cape Town sets sail at 1200 GMT on Saturday from the Race's HQ in Alicante, Southern Spain. It is expected to take around three weeks to complete. Boats from China (Dongfeng Race Team), Denmark (Team Vestas Wind), Spain (Mapfre), Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing), The Netherlands (Team Brunel), Sweden (Team SCA) and Turkey (Team Alvimedica) are competing.
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)