"Combining Behavioural Models With

Race Modelling Programs

To Derive A Winning Sailor-Yacht Combination"

This is the title of my M.Sc. thesis.  What it means is that I want to look at not just how fast a boat can go in different conditions of wind and sea, but how fast it probably will go, depending on how skilled, motivated, tired or cold the crew are - or on any of the other factors that can influence, directly or indirectly, the way the crew can carry out the physical and intellectual tasks needed to race the boat.   

Round-the-world races are often sailed by a fleet of identical boats.  If we just took the results of a Velocity Prediction Program (VPP), the boats - subject to identical forces - should all finish at the same time.  In fact, as we could see in the BT Global Challenge, for example, there is a significant difference between the times of the first and last boats. But while race teams spend a lot of time and money on perfecting the design of the boat, there hasn't been much emphasis on the other important component of the racing entity - the crew.

Real boats will never experience exactly the same conditions.  Every crew will assess and achieve a different approximation to the optimum sail configuration for a given apparent wind speed and angle.  They will make different decisions as to the need for changing sail or course.  They will be more or less likely to make mistakes.   Every crew will assess and achieve a different approximation to the optimum route, perhaps based on different information regarding expected conditions.

The way the boat is handled, the way decisions are arrived at, will depend on the crew - on their knowledge, experience and fitness, their physical and psychological state.  What I want to do is explore some of these factors, building a model of the evolving state of a crew through the duration of a race and the impact of that state on yacht performance.   


If you have experience of ocean racing, I would be very grateful if you could follow the link to my questionnaire.

It will only take a few minutes and I hope will one day contribute to the way boats are designed and raced.

Comments on this page?  Contact me


Introduction                    Project Brief                    Definitions, Scope and Objectives                    Some Relevant Literature  

Previous Studies             Some Ocean Races



Considerable efforts are extended in ocean racing to allow increasingly small gains in boat performance, while crew performance is comparatively neglected.  While sports psychology is utilised in many team sports – alongside physical training - in a quest for improved performance, there is little literature relating to psychology in sailing.  There are team attributes generally held to be desirable in any team environment from businesses to football teams– such as leadership, morale, motivation – but to what extent?  And what other factors might play a part?

Velocity Prediction Programs, Yacht Simulators and Race Modelling Programs contribute to the way a boat is designed and the way a race is conducted.  But the physical and mental state of the crew may have some effect on the actual, rather than possible, performance of the boat – and both physical and mental state can be expected to change during the course of a race.  Using a Race Modelling Program (RMP), a skipper might choose to take a particular course because of the advantages of predicted winds along that course.  Integrating a behavioural model with the RMP, however, might indicate that taking that course might cause a degradation of crew performance cancelling out any potential gains.

It is the intention here to explore the area of psychological effects on ocean yacht racing performance:  what factors might be relevant and to what extent, how these might be positively or negatively affected - for example by the environment or by training.

The Project Brief

Project No. 42


Prof. R.A. Shenoi, Dr. S.R.Turnock, Dr. T McMorris (UCC)




Combining Behavioural Models with VPPs to Derive a Winning Sailor-Yacht Combination

Considerable progress has been made with regard to developing VPP for yacht racing purposes. There has been much progress in sensors and their use in helping assess and improve yacht performance. While these tools and techniques can be further refined and computations speeded up, there is also an opportunity to assess the performance of the sailor. 

This project offers the possibility to study human psychology and its transposition within the racing scene. Behavioural sciences are underpinning many sports such as football and cricket; colleagues at Chichester such as Dr. McMorris are encouraging us to examine the potential for the use of such tools in sailing as well. The purpose of this project will be to try and develop a mathematical model possibly based on Game Theory, used for gambling, or the Nash theory used in business decision making and incorporate that in the context of a VPP. Ideally, the project outcome should attempt at applying this to a ‘real’ situation.

Other studies with the same title have concentrated on racing in the context of a comparatively short, defined course in sheltered waters and psychology as it relates to decision-making, I am looking at long ocean races and the psychological and physical factors which might affect performance.  Because of the emphasis on long ocean races, where weather routing is relevant, the title has been changed to refer to Race Modelling Programs rather than Velocity Prediction Programs.  The aim is to show how a "behavioural model" for the crew might be integrated into a race modelling program.

 Definitions, Scope and Objective

A velocity prediction program (VPP) uses boat parameters such as length, sail area, displacement and prismatic coefficient to calculate a series of true speeds and heel angles for a range of wind speeds and heading angles.  The first of these programs was developed at MIT in the early 1970s.  Since then VPPs have been developed as the basis of handicapping systems as well as being used by designers for performance analysis. 

VPPs are growing in sophistication, allowing for a wide range of hull forms and sail plans.  Early VPPs just looked at a steady state condition, but a lot of  work is being carried out to extend velocity prediction into the realms of, for example, waves and tacking.  Since this is no longer a steady state, and since some researchers (eg Tierney) define a VPP as balancing forces and moments in a steady state, we'll call something that models the accelerations produced by unbalanced forces and moments a yacht simulator (YS).

VPPs and yacht simulators can't predict the result of an ocean race, but once velocity can be reliably estimated in the range of conditions it is possible to combine VPP data with historical weather data in a race modelling program (RMP)

But there are some factors that can influence performance which aren't related to boat characteristics, or their interaction with conditions of wind and sea.  Pre-race training aims to define and clarify crew roles and to optimise crew skill, experience, cohesion, morale, motivation and physical fitness, all of which can be expected to contribute to performance.  Skilled, trained, fit, fresh crew will outperform  unskilled, untrained, unfit tired crews.  But by how much?  Other physical and mental factors in the state of the crew may also be significant in how efficiently manoeuvres are carried out, how decisions are made (and what risks might be acceptable) and how conditions (such as wind speed and sea state) are monitored. There's been a lot of research on the effect of fatigue on performance and the degree of crew fatigue is in turn influenced by external factors.  The relative level of noise and the relative motion of two boats on slightly different headings, or with slightly different characteristics, could make significant differences to the crew, which in turn might be expected to influence their relative performance.  Extreme conditions – and the intense activity of a race - increase the risk of damage to the boat and injury to the crew, with potentially life-threatening consequences, as well as possible retirement from the race.

Psychological, as well as physical factors may be relevant.   Leadership, for example, is seen as a desirable ability, but how much does it contribute to performance?  Work, largely in other fields of activity, has indicated some links between stress and performance and between mood and performance. It's reasonable to expect that other psychological factors might also have an affect.  But which ones are important?  How much of an affect do they have?  And the important question for a racing crew - what can we do to influence them? 

 This project will try to combine a behavioural model with a Race Modelling Program. A behavioural model can be defined as "A model which takes into account the vagaries of human nature rather than depending on the concept of economic man."  (Answers.com), but the definition I'll use here is "a model of the various attributes which make up a person, or group of people, allowing simulation of their response to a given environment".  

Given the physical and mental state of the crew at any time, it is desirable to be able to modify the RMP output according to the ability of the crew to approach the optimal configuration for the boat at that apparent wind speed and angle.  Where the effects of the environment on the crew state are cumulative, it is desirable for a RMP to be able to accumulate those effects over the projected course of the race.  Thus the boat's polar diagram (see figure, left) - and the ability of the crew to operate the boat in a safe and effective manner - might change significantly over the course of a race, depending on the route chosen.  This might result in a proposed route being discarded, despite being the shortest route with best wind conditions, because the route exposes crew to conditions which will significantly affect their ability to optimally race the boat.

 In the same way that an existing RMP integrates weather effects over the course of the race, an RMP with combined behavioural model might integrate the overall effects of behavioural attributes over the course of the race - although these effects might be reflected as a set of probabilities, rather than just a numerical boat speed.

We can imagine, as the ultimate target of work in this direction, a Complete Race Environment Simulator.  This might include a VPP, YS and RMP as well as components considering the boat structure, crew physical factors and crew psychological factors.  It is hoped that the current work will make some contribution to the human factors, but that eventually all aspects of this hypothetical simulator might be developed, so that improvements in the complete racing entity – yacht and crew – can take place along all axes of a multidimensional space, making racing both faster and safer. 

Some Relevant Literature

 Claughton, Wellicome and Shenoi (ed)., Sailing Yacht Design, Chapter 7, Addison Wesley Longman 1998

There is considerable literature on the development and operation of VPPs, including, for example,  the early work by Kerwin.  This chapter by Claughton is particularly useful as a guide to the development of a VPP.  It contains a brief history of the VPP, its aims and various uses and the methodology and structure of Velocity Prediction Programs.  Claughton points out that VPPs available at the time of writing consider only the balance of force and moment about the X-axis and that the critical factor in determining the usefulness of a VPP is the force model. 

 The chapter discusses the hydrodynamic force model, considering wave resistance, appendage viscous resistance, canoe body viscous drag, heel drag and induced drag.  The effect of keel geometry is discussed, righting moment and its possible variation with forward speed, added resistance in waves and the use of tank testing to support VPP calculations.  The aerodynamic force model is also discussed – lift, viscous drag and induced drag from the sails, drag from masts and rigging (“windage”), the definition of different combinations of sails, or “sailsets” and the use of wind tunnel testing.  The chapter concludes with a discussion of the means of presentation of VPP results. 

 Fernandez, Valls, Garcia-Espinoza, Stochastic Optimisation of IACC Yacht Performance, International Symposium on Yacht Design and Production, Madrid, 2004 (link)

This paper discusses the use of RMPs for route planning and in the design stage. The paper treats weather as a stochastic process.  The race area is broken down into a grid, with the boat travelling on straight-line paths within each grid element, subject to the weather conditions within that element and only changing course on grid boundaries.  When considering the modelling of yacht behaviour, the authors break down the determining factors into environmental factors and controllable factors, but assume the latter will be set so as to maximise the speed of the yacht – whereas in the current paper we investigate psychological factors which might impair the ability of the crew to do this.  The authors, in fact, seem ignore the effect of the crew on race outcome.

 Kavanagh, Stress and Performance:  A Review of the Literature and its Applicability to the Military (pp15-27), RAND Corporation

Stress is one of the factors expected to be identified in the behavioural model.  This work gives a useful view of the subject.  While concentrating on the causes and effects of stress in the context of military operations, this paper draws on, and is relevant to, more general manifestations of stress.  The cited chapter looks first at theoretical predictions of the relationship between stress and performance before examining how stress might affect particular aspects of performance, such as individual and group decision-making, individual perception and cognition, communication – factors which are relevant to an ocean racing environment. 

 Kavanagh points to work indicating that stress has significant impact on these factors.  That under conditions of stress, for example, “individuals may fail to consider the full range of alternatives available”, that “peripheral stimuli are likely to be screened out and ignored”.  Kavanagh discusses various – very divergent -models of the relationship between stress and performance, concluding that “the inverted-U hypothesis is still the most intuitively appealing” – in other words that a certain level of stress actually improves performance, but above that level, performance degrades. On the group level, some research indicates that, under stress, “authority tends to become more concentrated and hierarchy more pronounced”.

 The chapter includes a table summarising the effects of stressors on functioning, and the paper has a comprehensive bibliography pointing to further research.

Mellalieu, Mood Matters:  But How Much?, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology volume 15  issue 2, April 2003

This paper is one of many discussing the effect of mood on athletic performance.  Mellalieu, as do others, highlights the lack of consensus of researchers in this field.  There is nevertheless a body of research that indicates some relationship between mood and performance.

   Mellalieu notes the “long established importance of the achievement of psychological readiness for athletic performance” but claims that (until the year 2000) “few studies have directly investigated the influence of the overall psychological state upon athletic performance.”  He refers to an article by Lane and Terry on the nature of mood, wherein the authors suggest a framework for the investigation of the links between mood and sports performance, distinguishing mood from “emotion” and “affect”.  The author questions Lane and Terry’s emphasis on mood at the expense of such factors as cognition and emotion.  He also discusses models of stress as applied to athletic competition, with the inclusion of a mood dimension.

He concludes that mood may not have the effect on performance suggested by Lane and Terry, he suggests that the effect of mood is more over the athlete’s training and performance career. 

J. Lowther, A. Lane, Relationships Between Mood, Cohesion and Satisfaction with Performance among Soccer Players, Athletic Insight, The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, Volume 4, issue 3 (link)

The authors refer to a “vast amount of anecdotal evidence” linking mood with performance  (While the title refers to “satisfaction with performance”, there are many references in the text to “relationships between cohesion, mood and performance”). 

 The 18-item Group Environment Questionnaire, which assesses four dimensions of cohesion, was used to assess perceptions of team cohesion for a University soccer team over the course of a season, while mood was assessed using the Brunel Mood Scale, where the moods anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension and vigour are assessed (fatigue here is presumably mental fatigue, but to the current author it still seems counter-intuitive to class this as an emotion).

The authors concluded that mood had a significant effect on performance (vigour having a positive correlation and depression a negative correlation) and that improved cohesion will lead to improved mood, while acknowledging the limitations of the means of data collection (using the team coach) and the size and single-sex nature of the sample considered.

There is considerable literature both on the development of the VPP, YS and RMP on the one hand, and on possibly relevant psychological factors on the other.  Work has been done in the context of a number of sporting activities, largely on a qualitative basis, on the effects of psychological state on performance.  Work in the area of sailing, such as it is, concentrates largely on e.g. Olympic sailing events – with the exception of non-academic publications (e.g. reference 36).  In terms of quantitative studies applicable to the development of a module to be combined with a RMP, no relevant work was identified.

Comparison to Previous Studies (http://www.soton.ac.uk/ses/docs/FSIposters2007/Scarponi_Matteo.pdf)

Work by Scarponi, Shenoi, Turnock and Conti (see link) focussed on racing round marked courses.  In these races, tactical decisions are about the interaction between competing boats, their relative positions with respect to current and possible future wind direction and to such things as marker buoys and the start/finish line.    Time advantages of the order of seconds can be significant, the execution and timing of tacking manoeuvres critical to race success.  In an ocean race – apart from at the start of a leg – there is little interaction between boats.  Time lost in tacking manoeuvres is not a significant consideration for long-distance racing in terms of time lost while going about, but tacking could be significant in terms of crew fatigue and the risks associated with working on deck in severe conditions.

Some of the factors involved in the sailor-yacht interaction relevant to a relatively short race in sheltered water, with all competing yachts normally in close proximity, are less relevant to the case of the ocean race, while other factors not considered in the earlier work will be important.

In long ocean races things like endurance are more significant.  In conditions when an America’s Cup heat would be postponed, ocean racing crews will still be struggling to get the best speed out of their boat - so that the ability of the program to predict performance in non-steady-state conditions can be much more significant.  There is also a high risk of equipment failure.

Crews will be different in other ways than level of experience (motivation, morale, physical strength and stamina, etc.) and those differences will change over the course of an ocean race – as will experience.  A novice crew will, for example, gain a lot of experience over the many months of a round-the-world race.

The earlier study concentrated on decision-making in the context of a race, examining the difference in decision-making between expert and novice crews.   A simulation was developed allowing decisions on tacking, a variable threshold for easing sheets in strong winds, the possibility of sub-optimal sail trimming, and a steering module with two modes.

Quick decision-making, important in short races, is less relevant in ocean racing, where tactical sailing will be more between a boat and the weather systems than between two boats, and the position of other competitors – usually not in sight of each other – might only be relevant when assessing the possible risks and benefits of a particular strategy.

Decision-making is, of course, still very important – but the ability of an ocean racing crew to make optimal decisions may not just depend on experience, but on a number of physical and psychological factors. The timescale of the decision to be made is likely to be different.  Rather than a decision based on an estimated risk-benefit over the following few minutes or seconds, the decisions of the trans-ocean racer are likely to show benefits over days or weeks.

This study will attempt to examine not only decision-making, but all the skills needed to race a boat across oceans and how these skills are affected by physical and psychological factors which vary throughout the course of a race.


The type of Ocean Race I'm interested in:  

1          Bermuda Ocean Race

From the race website at www.bermudaoceanrace.com:

“A race designed for racing and cruising yachts to provide an exciting, affordable, and winnable blue water race to beautiful Bermuda. 

The Eastport Yacht Club and the St. George's Dinghy and Sports Club are pleased to announce the 16th Biennial Bermuda Ocean Race (BOR) from Annapolis, Maryland to St. George's  Bermuda, Friday, June 13, 2008.

The first Bermuda Ocean Race was established in 1979 with seven yachts that competed informally. The organizers determined there was sufficient interest for this type of race and it became an accepted biennial event starting in 1980. Since then the fleet has grown and now attracts both racing and cruising boats. The fleet is limited to 50 entries. This allows the committee and host clubs to be responsive to the needs of each entrant--a major objective of the race organizers.

The race has been structured to provide a combination of inshore and offshore racing previously not available. Divisions are established to insure fair matching for both cruising and racing boats.  A major objective is to enhance the art of navigation for more sailors. This includes piloting through the 125 miles of Chesapeake Bay coastal waters and navigation of the 628 mile offshore leg. The BOR provides these challenges within a framework designed for safe offshore sailing. It enables many sailors to fulfill a lifelong ambition: a blue water passage to an island of coral with white sandy beaches and hospitable people.


2          Fastnet race

From the website for the 2005 race (http://fastnet.rorc.org)

The biennial Rolex Fastnet Race is considered one of the world's classic ocean races, the 608-mile course a test for skippers and crews with its tricky tidal currents and changeable weather conditions. The race, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, with the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Western Yacht Club, Plymouth will start on Sunday 7th August, off Cowes, Isle of Wight.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club's classic event will attract in the region of 250 yachts in 2005. The course will take the large fleet South West down the Solent, past the Needles and out into the English Channel. The headlands along the South Coast of England - Anvil Point, Portland Bill, Start Point, The Lizard, Lands End - must each be weathered on the way to open ocean and the leg North West to the Fastnet Rock with it's mythical lighthouse. The return leg to Plymouth, via Bishop Rock Lighthouse on the South side of the Scilly Isles, is just as demanding, as fatigue and competition take their toll.

Like no other race the Rolex Fastnet Race attracts every type of sailor and boat from just about every sailing country in the world. Sailing schools, corporate institutions, family owned and crewed cruiser-racers, dedicated amateurs, club sailors along with the hardened champions from the Grand Prix circuits, are all attracted to compete in the best known offshore race in the world. All come to enjoy the challenge of one of the trickiest and most demanding sporting events that an individual or a team can aspire to today.


3          Sydney-Hobart Race

  This race starts on Boxing Day in Sydney Harbour.  From the official race website(rolexsydneyhobart.com):

“The 628 nautical mile course is often described as the most gruelling long ocean race in the world, a challenge to everyone who takes part.

From the spectacular start in Sydney Harbour, the fleet sails out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait (which divides the mainland from the island State of Tasmania), then down the east coast of Tasmania.  At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to the historic port city of Hobart.


During the race, many boats are within sight of each other and crews listen closely to the information from the regular radio position schedules.

As they sail south, a yacht's crew is still on a high from that exciting start from Sydney Harbour.  They have lots of energy and some have had too much Christmas cheer.

Bass Strait ( nicknamed the "paddock") has a dangerous personality.  It can be dead calm or spectacularly grand.  The water is relatively shallow and the winds can be strong, these two elements often coming to create a steep and difficult sea for yachts.

The third leg after the "paddock" - down the east coast of Tasmania takes the fleet past coastal holiday resorts and fishing ports with towering mountains in the background.  Approaching Tasman Island,  the coastline comprises massive cliffs, sometimes shrouded in fog. 

The winds are often fickle and can vary in strength and direction within a few miles.  Sailing becomes very tactical.

After "turning right" at Tasman Island, sailors often think the race is near completed, but unfortunately for some it is still 40 miles of hard sailing to go.  Yachts can be left behind in the maze of currents and wind frustrations.  Even when they round the Iron Pot, a tiny island that was once a whaling station,  there is still a further 11 miles up the broad reaches of the Derwent River to the finish line off Hobart's historic Battery Point, with Mount Wellington towering over the city.”


4          Global Challenge

 Sailed east-to-west around the world with amateur crews on identical boats.  In the 1996/7 event these were 67 ft Bermudan Cutters racing over six stages with a crew of 14. Today the boats and crew are larger.  From the "Global Challenge" website for the 2008 race (http://www.newnet.co.uk/global-challenge):

"Inspired by his 'impossible voyage' in 1971 when he became the first solo yachtsman to sail non-stop 'the wrong way' around the World, Sir Chay Blyth launched the Global challenge with the aim of opening up round the World yacht racing to anyone brave enough to seize the opportunity.

In the face of much scepticism, the first race, sponsored by British Steel, departed from Southampton in 1992 to a huge send off. After proving itself to be a unprecedented success, it has since been followed in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with three more hugely successful races, followed by thousands of people around the world. Global Challenge is now one of the most famous races in the world, firmly embedded in the yachting calendar as more and more people seek the adventure of a lifetime.

With the characteristics required of the crew volunteers mirroring those commonly recognised as being vital to a flourishing business, the Global Challenge has attracted wide spread interest and support from amongst the business community.

Imagine being numb with cold. Imagine biting 70mph winds that sting your face as you lumber about the deck roller-coasting its way over 50-foot waves. Imagine hanging on for your life as a wall of freezing water crashes on top of you. Imagine doing this for five weeks at a time. Welcome to Global Challenge, the world’s toughest yacht race.

In Autumn 2008, 12 identical 72ft ocean racing yachts will sail from the UK, ready not just to survive those conditions, but to race through them. Each yacht will be crewed by 17 ordinary men and women led by a professional skipper. Most will want to be in the team that wins the Princess Royal Trophy but every single crew member will be setting out to push themselves to the limit and to have the adventure of their lives.

It’s tough because they race ‘the wrong way’ around the world - against the prevailing winds and currents. Conditions will range from the calms and energy-sapping heat of the doldrums to the icebergs, storms and monumental seas of the southern oceans."

  5          Velux Five Oceans

A single-handed race round the world, previously known as the BOC Challenge and Around Alone. 

From the race website (www.velux5oceans.com):

"For those brave individuals who dare undertake it, racing a yacht alone around the world is one of the toughest, most risky disciplines within any sport.  This pastime is frequently described as the maritime equivalent of scaling Mount Everest.  In fact, while more than 15,000 people are estimated to have scaled Everest, only 163 people have sailed the world single-handed, around one-third the number who have been into space.

Whereas on previous occasions 40-60 ft long boats have competed, the race is now exclusively for the Grand Prix IMOCA Open 60 and Open 50 classes and counts for maximum points in their annual IMOCA championship.  To reduce the duration of the race, there are fewer stopovers.  Whereas past races have started and finished in the US, with stops in Cape Town, Australia/New Zealand and South America (plus an extra one in the UK 4 years ago), this time the start and finish port for the race has moved to Bilbao, on Spain’s northern coast, and there are just 2 stops – in Perth, Western Australia and Norfolk, Virginia on the east coast of the USA.  The first two legs in particular are now both in excess of 12000 miles, turning the VELUX 5 OCEANS into more of a hard-core marathon than previous races.

60ft yachts are normally raced by a crew of 10-15.  Sailing one on one’s own is the ultimate test for the individual sailor, requiring them to be master of a long list of vital skills:  They must be adept at the sailing side – steering, trimming the sails, understanding when sail changes need to be made, etc.  They must be able to navigate, read and interpolate weather forecasts.  They must be self-sufficient, able to fix any item that might break during this gruelling ordeal, from split sails to broken water-makers, recalcitrant generators, etc.  They must be able to manage themselves, to ensure that even on occasions when it is all going wrong or the weather is terrible, they are still able to feed themselves and sleep.

During the VELUX 5 OCEANS the skippers will cross the Equator, passing through the sweltering hot winds of the Tropics on two occasions as they sail down the Atlantic on one leg and back up it on leg two, But within days of this they will be clad in multiple layers of thick thermal wear enduring the freezing and potentially storm force winds battering them in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic.

The skippers will find themselves thousands of miles from land, every bit as isolated as being on the side of a mountain.  Yachtsmen and mountaineers are both subject to constant danger but in the sailors’ case it is the risk of collision with icebergs or submerged objects, being washed overboard, to the potentially boat-breaking onslaught of steep 100ft high waves and hurricane force winds in the Southern Ocean.  For VELUX 5 OCEANS competitors sailing around the world, the danger is ever-present and lasts for more than 100 days, making it one of the world’s longest professional sporting events.  But by no means is it just a case of survival.  Throughout these challenging conditions they are also in a race.  

The single-handed side of the VELUX 5 OCEANS cannot be underestimated.  Sixty feet of high-powered racing boat is a handful to sail.  The mainsail alone weighs more than the skipper and hoisting it up a 28m tall mast is a strenuous calorie-burning affair.  Every time the wind increases, decreases or changes direction, so the skippers must carry out a sail change on their own to keep the boat sailing to its optimum.  Hauling a large foresail through a small hatch has been likened to dragging around a wet double mattress.

The solitude the skippers experience during the race is impressive.  Ask yourself when you last spent a single day with no human contact – then multiply this by 100!  When you are doing well there is no one there to share the good times and when you are doing badly there is no one there to re-motivate you.  For skippers handling this side of the VELUX 5 OCEANS is every bit as hard as the physical endurance side of the event. 

Alone on board, the boat is left sailing along steered by the autopilot when the skipper is sleeping.  But when the skipper is asleep, their boat will never sail at maximum efficiency and particularly when conditions require them to tend the boat regularly or something vital has broken and needs fixing sleep deprivation can become a very real issue.  When all is going according to plan skippers mid-ocean might get six hours of sleep each day, but when conditions are bad or gear has started to break then a skipper might be lucky to get one or two hours or any sleep at all.  The effect of severe sleep deprivation is initially disorientation and poor judgement ultimately leading to hallucinations such as believing other crew are on board.  These delusions and disorientation can leave skippers bemused and battling mentally and physically with simply carrying on. 

6          VOLVO Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round-the-world Race)

From the race website (www.volvooceanrace.org):

“Competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s premier round the world race, will cover almost 5,000 nautical miles of the globe’s most treacherous seas over a period of more than eight months.

The Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 will start in the Spanish port of Alicante in the autumn of 2008.

The 2005-06 race reached a television audience of over 1.8 billion ranking it among the leading international sporting events. The race attracts in-depth coverage from the world’s media and uses ground-breaking technology on board each yacht to relay all the action around the world.

The Volvo Ocean Race yachts, the Volvo Open 70s, are crewed by professional yachtsmen and women. The boat design is regulated and built for speed whilst safety remains a key concern. The first 31,250 nautical-mile race first took place over 30 years ago (as the Whitbread Round the World Race), testing the crews against some of the most ferocious elements that man can encounter. The 2008-09 race will be the 10th edition of the event.”


7          Clipper Race 

From the website for the 2005/6 race (www.clipperroundtheworld.com):  

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston took up the idea of crewing ocean racing yachts with amateur crews in a race around the world in 1995. The scheme had an interesting gestation period with various players coming and going but finally all was resolved and the race christened 'Clipper'. The aim was simple; with an increased emphasis on adventure travel and the desire for people to break away from the shackles of their comfort zone, Sir Robin was convinced there was a new market to get people ocean racing. His initial analogy was the success of the wide spectrum of people now climbing Everest by having a full professional back up. Surely ocean racing, once the preserve of the privileged or the professional, was no different? It was time to confront these old established principles with some fresh thinking.

The choice of boat came quickly with the discovery that Colvic Craft in Essex had the plug for the Camper and Nicholson Bluewater 58, which was a prestigious cruising yacht designed by the well known American designer David Pedrick. The yard had made 14 of these yachts and the designer agreed on modifications to make a production run of racing yachts based on this hull but with a new deck plug and enlarged rig.

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof of the success of the first Clipper race was on the start line on 16 October 1996 when eight shiny white boats set off into the distance. As one of the eight skippers, I remember this day being one of deep reflection. The farewells were fresh in our minds as we beat against the strong south westerly wind. Most of us were feeling ill and we were far from convinced about the wisdom of decisions to take part in 'the adventure of our lives'. Despite the constant noise of crashing through the steep seas one could sense the silence of the day - similar memories of Day One are common to every crew member, whichever race they take part in.

The Race Routes

The routes for the first four Clipper races were similar but each race had its own variations. Clipper 96 started in Plymouth and then went to Madeira, Fort Lauderdale, Panama, Galapagos, Hawaii, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seychelles, Durban, Cape Town, Salvador (Brazil), the Azores and back to Plymouth.

Race start day on 27 October 2002 is a day none of us will ever forget. For 48 hours we had been tracking the deepest of depressions into the SW approaches and then up the Irish Sea. Early on race day the coastguards at Holyhead recorded wind speeds in excess of 100 mph while in Liverpool the enclosed waters of Albert Dock looked like a boiling cauldron as the storm hit. Display stands took off and banners went flying. Instead of pictures of boats sailing in front of the famous Liverpool waterfront, TV cameras focussed on people being blown down the docks and others clutching the railings. Much to the relief of everyone the start was delayed 24 hours but, despite the next day being a Monday, some 40,000 spectators still came down to see the delayed start.


The New Route

Having run four successful races based much on the same route why change this formula for the Clipper 05-06 Race? Before answering the question one must look at the basic building blocks of what drives the race programme. First there is the fundamental aim of the race and what it is striving to achieve. This then has to be superimposed onto two frameworks. The first is what is possible and sensible with the physical considerations of weather, the climate and the port facilities etc. The other, which is equally important, is to tie in all the commercial factors that make the race viable.

The nature of the Clipper races is to provide the best possible racing, which inevitably means a high degree of downwind sailing. Apart from being the most exciting point of sailing, boats that sail downwind well get their due desserts and often pull out a small lead which in turn can turn into a much bigger one. Most importantly sailing down wind relies on the skill of many more crew members than just the helmsman and this in turn generates a strong sense of purpose and fulfilment within the whole team.


There are several planning windows on the weather front, the main ones being the timings connected with the various hurricane or tropical storm seasons. Hurricanes are not like grouse and do not have set dates when the season starts; it is all to do with probabilities and percentages. The main planning window is to be well clear of the Caribbean by July, if not earlier. This actually determines the start date some nine months earlier and means an Autumn start from Northern Europe which fits in neatly with a southern hemisphere summer in the Southern Ocean. Time waits for no one and to achieve a prudent exit from the Caribbean the sweep through China and Japan is, if you are an optimist, in their 'early Spring' - we don't do pessimism (ie: late winter).

I always believed the hardest part of the old course to both sail and manage was the transit of the South China Sea in March and April. This was between the monsoon seasons and so the winds became very light and unpredictable creating a large geographic spread of the yachts with the potential to seriously disrupt the race schedule. The current Clipper crews may find beating against the NE Monsoon hard work and uncomfortable, but they will only need to talk to their predecessors to know that this is a far better option than being gently cooked while being stuck in a sea of treacle.

In contrast the lure of a sleigh ride down the giant waves in the Southern Ocean has great appeal in the new course but will this be the most difficult and challenging leg? My belief is that the race across the North Pacific will be the most exciting and possibly the hardest leg of the course. Having been involved for all four of the Clipper Races, I have also come to expect the unexpected and I am sure that Clipper 05-06 will pull some good surprises out of the bag throughout its course.

We expect Clipper 07-08 to run a similar course to the 05-06 race, but there will inevitably be some changes. New sponsoring cities will emerge that will need to be involved and we will learn and build on the experience we gain. The basic philosophy however will remain the same and the underlying principle of respecting the well established planning rules will not change. Do the theories about the changing patterns of the world's weather make such planning unreliable? Whether or not this is the case there are always storms and hurricanes outside the given times just as there will always be freak waves. At best route planning is a compromise and the only thing for sure is that nothing is certain and there are no guarantees!

Changes on the boats

The new Dubois 68s are naturally a quantum leap ahead on the Clipper 60s but it is worth looking at the progressive changes in the original boats since 1996. One of these is the advance over the last nine years in electronics. In the 96 race we carried 240 paper charts and a large bookcase of marine publications. In 1998 the UK Hydrographic Office became a sponsorship partner and the boats sailed with ARCS electronic charts. Over the next 3 races these moved from being a novelty to becoming the norm and are now taken for granted the same way as word processors have replaced typewriters. The number of paper charts have been reduced by two thirds and their main uses tend to be for back up and training. Volumes of tides tables and lists of lights have been replaced by a couple of CDs and other boat reference manuals and the hull drawings are now held in digital format.

Foul weather clothing, still affectionately referred to as oilskins or 'oilies', are a major factor in the success of the race and an area where we have seen great progress. Because these have to be used in all climates, including the tropics, it is not an option to dress crews up as though they are about to set off in a winter wartime convoy to Murmask. They have to be reasonably lightweight and also durable enough to have about 12 months continued wear, far in excess of what such clothing is normally called on to do.

Crew Training

Interestingly two areas that have changed very little are the principles on which the training is based and also the formula for mixing each crew with a proportion of Round the Worlders (RTWers) and Leggers.

Having the training split into three separate parts, which I suspect in modern parlance should now be called 'modules', has stood the test of time. Apart from the logical progression on the skill side, mixing the individuals on a random basis in the initial training has always paid dividends as it generates a fleet wide camaraderie that becomes so important during the race.

The formula for the composition of the crews, with between a third and a half being RTWers and the others a mixture of people doing one or more legs, has also proved itself. The value of new blood joining a boat can be an enormous tonic in a marathon race like Clipper and far outweighs the short-term disadvantages of any disruption of these changes.

8            Transat          


Created in 1960 by Sir Francis Chichester and Blondie Hasler, and often known until 2004 as the OSTAR, the oldest solo race in history has created the greatest sailing legends over the last four decades – Tabarly, Colas, Birch, Poupon, Peyron, Joyon, Desjoyeaux, and MacArthur to name but a few. For 2008, The Artemis Transat brings together the IMOCA Open 60 and the Class40 monohulls in Plymouth.





9    Azores and Back (AZAB)

10    Transpac