ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOCK
“The music is loud, tons of people speak to you, and the presenter is talking. All of a sudden, you cast off and the noise fades away. In two minutes, there is no more music, no more people.”
“That’s it. It’s us.”
Today was the start of Leg 0, a practice race from Alicante to Majorca and back, a rehearsal before the real deal starts in October – and I’m chatting with Dongfeng Race Team’s Onboard Reporter, Yann Riou.
There was noise, there was music, and there were goodbyes.
I’ve worked for this race for a while, I’ve seen a lot of Volvo boats leave the dock, and it always moves me. I’ve always wondered what it feels to leave the blast and the excitement of the land behind. Emotional families, proud shore teams, fervent fans – it’s a lot of pressure, a lot to do, a lot to leave.
So today I went to sea with Dongfeng, to see what it feels like to be on the other side of the dock.
The six French and the three Chinese waved at their shore crew, who clapped and whistled. Pascal Bidégorry, the navigator, joked with Martin Strömberg, the Swede left on shore by a hand injury.
“Be strong,” Pascal says. He laughs, but there is something else in his voice. It’s not nice leaving a team mate behind, or a friend, or your family.
It’s a strange thing, to be the one leaving. A lot goes through your mind – is everything settled back there, did I take the right bag, do I have the right gear, is there enough food? Friends wave at you, people shout your name. You’re feeling proud, but a little stressed. You think of what waits for you out there.
I can only imagine the real feeling, when you’re a real sailor, when it will be the start of the Leg 1 to Cape Town, 6,487 nautical miles away, some 20 long days away. I asked Charles Caudrelier, the skipper of the red boat, a winner of the Volvo last time out, how it affects him.
“The moment you throw the rope, something switches in your mind. It is more than a symbol – you change mode.”
“Before the start, you always wonder if you forgot something. Once you leave, you’re in the thick of it and old habits take over.”
Once at sea, there is no more escape. It’s the nine of them – 12 for the all-female team SCA – on a boat, for weeks on end.
“The link with the land is broken, and you have to do with what you have onboard,” says Yann. “The practical aspects are dealt with, and you’re left with just your emotions. It’s about the people you leave behind, and the people with you onboard.”
We are inside the boat, sat at the media desk. It’s dark, cramped and uncomfortable. He opens his laptop and a picture of his baby girl appears.
“Leaving is heavy. It was heavy last time around, when I did the race with Groupama, but it will be so much more difficult this time because I’m leaving my daughter on the dock. I imagine that it will be sad… or emotional.”
“I don’t know yet, I haven’t experienced that.”
Families, friends, relatives – those are the reasons that make it tough to throw the rope, and the things that always bring the sailors back to the dock.
“You don’t always want to leave,” says Charles. “Your family is there and the stress kicks in. The last minutes on land aren’t that nice.
“But the moment you leave, you disconnect. And that’s actually quite relaxing.”
Because, once you’ve prepared for the race, once you’ve said goodbye, once you’ve detached yourself from the land and its roots, the call of the sea, and the race, takes over.
“The first day is such a busy day,” Yann explains before going back on deck under the blazing sun. “For the sailors or for me, this stress is an escape. We focus on the racing so we leave the tough emotions behind.”
Wrote this text for the Volvo Ocean Race’s website last Friday. Merci Dongfeng !