The 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race might have ended two weeks ago but Telefonica and Camper are still active in the Real Club Náutico Palma carrying out social and media sailing sessions for the journalists and guests of the Copa del Rey. We had the chance of going onboard Camper on Friday afternoon and talking to her skipper, Chris Nicholson, about the round-the-world race and his future plans.
VSail.info: Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand finished second overall in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race. Are you satisfied with this result?
Chris Nicholson: We are but you also have to remember that when we started the race our aim was to win it. Still, I guess that sometimes goals have to change along the way. It was pretty evident halfway through the race, when we were in the lead in Leg 5 and broke the boat, that potentially the goals had to change. Midway through we were struggling to remain on the podium but once we hit Europe we were quite strong and doing well, consistently doing well. in the end, the answer it yes, we are very happy.
VSail.info: In hindsight is there you would have done differently? Is there an aspect or element of the campaign that would have given a better result had it been done differently?
Chris Nicholson: I think that when we look back and we look at the design of boats, we probably did a bet that was down on righting moment. Certainly, for the three-four legs it was quite biased towards boats with higher righting moment and we had some tough times where we were in good positions in legs and we just got ran down in a straight-line drag race.
VSail.info: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Grant Dalton said this boat was a dog but he definitely criticized the design and the designer. Do you agree with him?
Chris Nicholson: In certain aspects we struggled, for sure. There were certain points of sailing, jib reaching for example, where we would pay a heavy penalty but we were strong in others. Still, for a large portion of the race we weren’t strong. I just think the Juan Kouyoumdjian yachts were a little bit more all-round, all-round consistent speed. Groupama for example had some serious legs at times. It’s hard to single out anything, we feel we had some weak points and we still managed to finish second overall in the race. This isn’t bad at all and this is the second time Marcelino Botín has designed a boat that comes second in the race. I think this is a good track record.
VSail.info: When one refers to the Volvo Ocean Race boats, the most important aspect will be the dramatic change organizers have decided by establishing a one-design yacht for the next editions. What is your opinion on that, from a sailor’s point of view?
Chris Nicholson: As a sailor, I prefer one designs. I quite like the idea that when the boats are tied up at the dock and you look at the boat besides you, you know it’s identical and then the emphasis gets pushed more onto what happens on the water. These boats are very complex to design and build at the moment and not enough people have the skills for that and you can’t guarantee to a sponsor that you will be competitive when the start gun goes. With a one-design that can be guaranteed to the sponsor.
VSail.info: How can you ever guarantee you will be competitive, not only in sailing but in any other sport?
Chris Nicholson: You can guarantee that the boat will be competitive and you take a huge variable out of the race. At the moment, one of the biggest variables is starting in Alicante and not knowing if you have a boat that is capable of winning the race. People may like that, others may not but try saying to a sponsor a third of the way through the race your boat might not be fast enough to win. I don’t think that’s good for the sport and the sponsors. In a one-design boat you won’t have any excuse. You will either be telling your sponsor that you went the wrong way or that you got a nice shift and you won the race. This puts more emphasis on the sailors and in the current climate this is a good thing.
VSail.info: According to the way this change was presented, its main aim and objective is to lower costs, to make it cheaper for teams to enter. Do you think they will achieve this goal?
Chris Nicholson: I think we have to wait and see. In the first edition of this new boat I’m not sure the price will lower so much but certainly in the second edition there will be huge benefits. For instance, take our boat. Even if the race had continued with the sames boats, ours is practically worthless because it will be outdesigned for the next race. In a one-design race, once we finish, we can start immediately with a boat that could probably be just a small fraction slower. It can do the race again, it can be used as a proper training boat, it can be a proper tool for the sponsor and then we will see big cost-savings. I think that the initial cost-savings should be there but maybe not for some of the early teams. On the other hand, a sponsor that comes late in the race at least can be guaranteed to have a boat that is fast. The designers won’t be taken up, they can have a boat that is fast and the emphasis will again be on the crews. I think there might be some savings in the first edition of the new boat and certainly the aim of the project is to provide savings.
VSail.info: A view shared by a number of people intricately involved with offshore and ocean racing is that you, the sailors, will greatly benefit from this move. By taking out the design variable and putting a premium on seamanship and sailing skills, conventional wisdom wants that your salaries could double or triple. So, we lower costs with the new boat but on the other hand we double or triple payroll.
Chris Nicholson: If I’m selfish to think about it, it would be a nice thing to happen but I can’t see that, I simply can’t see it happening, in regards to payments. I think you’ll see the payments align fairly similar to what they have in the past. I don’t see it being the case. Remember, we have always spent a huge amount of money on design, so hopefully the saving might be somewhere in between. To be honest with you, I do think sailors should be paid more! It certainly is one of the hardest yacht races in the world and payments are nowhere near top line sports.
You don’t get anything for free in the sport and I think that it isn’t going to look as good in regards to the interest in innovation, design and new systems that are brought to the boat. For sure, this is a setback.
VSail.info: This is true. You strip the race from a major component, the technology, design and innovation.
Chris Nicholson: I totally agree with that but I think the benefits will outweigh that loss. The benefits of having the same boat, the benefit of a having a sponsor that knows they will get a fast boat even if they are late before the start, the benefit of having an increased number of entries, even a women’s team hopefully. I think these benefits outweigh the design innovation.
VSail.info: One issue Team Telefonica raised in their press conference after the end of the race was that they finished fourth even if it took them four days less than all the other teams to round the world. I find this a valid argument. Would you be in favor of having the Volvo Ocean Race in elapsed time rather than a number of equal points per leg, regardless of their length? A leg that lasts one-two days has the same weight as a leg that lasts two-three weeks.
Chris Nicholson: The aim of all sports worldwide is to keep it interesting to the public until the very last moment of the race. In this race we had four boats that could all win the race in the on the second last leg. I don’t think there is too much wrong with the current system and I think it would have been interesting to ask everybody’s opinion in Auckland for instance, what their view on the point system was. Telefonica was well ahead in that stage, in terms of points, and we had two very, very narrow losses against them but we paid a heavy points-penalty. I honestly don’t know what I would have said back then if you had asked me. Right now, I think the system works well and I would hate to see a race where in leg 1 someone just gets away on a weather system and wins by two days. It would be probably race over. I even think we could put more points towards the end. It gives teams the chance to improve and challenge for the lead.
VSail.info: Do you feel the In-Port races have too much weight on the overall score?
Chris Nicholson: It seems they gave a lot of weight to the In-Port races for an ocean race, if that’s what we are still selling ourselves as. If this is an ocean race, then 20% is a high number. Even if it counted for 1% we would still go out there and race hard. Take the case of the ProAm races. They don’t count for anything in regards to points but I can guarantee we still race very hard against each other. The In-Port races create more interest and are good for TV but I think they could weigh less and still look just as good.
VSail.info: Last but not least, what are your personal plans for the future? Are you interested in doing the Volvo Ocean Race with the new boats?
Chris Nicholson: I’m certainly interested in the one design. I have a history in the 49er and the one-design classes. I like the concept of even boats across the board. At times it adds pressure but it has the benefit of he emphasis being on the sailors. I’m happy with that and I’m still motivated to do the race. Just two weeks passed since the finish and even keener now than in the previous races to do it again. Having said that, I also require a bit of a rest right now. I might try the Barcelona World Race but I have my sight firmly set on the next Volvo Ocean Race.