The Ocean Race, formerly known as The Volvo Ocean Race, is the longest and toughest sailing race in the world. In eight to nine months participants will sail around the world in about 11 legs.
Doing this, they face tropical storms, enormous waves and enormous wind speeds. This makes The Ocean Race a dangerous challenge. The danger of a "man overboard"-situation continuously lurks.
Hans Bouscholte knows like no other what it's like to compete in the Ocean Race. He participated in the '97-'98 edition in the Whitbread Around the World Race. On board of the old "Volvo Ocean Racer" Boudragon, part of the foundation Holland Ocean Racing, he explains what life onboard is like.
Living on powder and water
In order to save water and weight, the food consumed is freeze-dried. Something that certainly shows from the 'kitchen' on board. In the middle of the cabin stands something which should impersonate a kitchen counter, with two gas burners and a sink. "Here you cook some water, add this sto one of these pouches with freeze-dried food, stir it a little, and that's what you'll be eating for sometimes almost a month", Hans explains.
"Actually, it's a little bit like astronaut's food. A powder which has been fully dehydrated, making it extremely lightweight. A team exists out of twelve crew. If you'd have to carry food for twelve persons, the entire yacht would be filled with food. That's why we pick freeze-dried food instead.
Sharing sleeping bags
During races, the team is divided. Six persons are on deck to sail the boat, while the other six are off duty and eating or resting. Every three to four hours, there's a change in watches.
On both the sides of the cabin, there are some sort of stretchers. "You climb in and pull yourself up like this. I don't have much space, but when there are large waves outside, I quite like not having that much space to be moved around", Hans tells us while demonstrating how the sleeping onboard works.
"We take six sleeping bags, so the sleeping bags are shared. In the beginning, you smell it. But after two days of racing, you won't be bothered anymore, everybody will smell the same by then."
The great exchange
The weight in the boat always has to be correctly organised in order to be able to sail as fast as possible. When the boat moves onto the other tack, all sleeping crew will have to reposition to the new ; 'high' side. If you're asleep before a tack, you'll have to change over to a bunk on the other side of the cabin.
"There are times in which you'll spend a day or maybe even two on the same tack. The switching won't be that bad. But when sailing upwind, There might be twenty to thirty tacks in your four hour off-shift. You'll have to change every time, and barely get sleep that way. That's the life. If you're lucky, life goes well. If you're in bad lcuk, you'll have to change directions a lot to be able to be the first to reach the port of destination.
"The crew has time to rest every three to four hours. But as a skipper or navigator your responsibility is ongoing. I found it very hard at the time to sleep when pressure became high. As a skipper, you also have very little time to sleep. We've seen a lot of times in which I was only to catch three 20-minute sleeps in a 24-hour period. By taking short powernaps, I could carry on for a couple of days to a week like that.
Privacy, what privacy?
Showering isn't a thing for the crew. But in the middle of the nose, without a door or a cabin, is a small toilet. "The men pee outside, but the ladies can always use the toilet".