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New Volvo round-world race yacht is 'Big Brother' with sails

Source: Reuters - Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:03 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* High-tech, carbon-fibre boats are also media platforms

* Round-world race considered "Mount Everest" of sailing

* Race CEO says uniform design brings down costs

By Michael Roddy

HYTHE, England, April 14 (Reuters) - Despite embarking on a 40,000-mile adventure across some of the world's most deserted seas and oceans, there will be no hiding place for the crews of the Volvo Ocean Race, as for the first time every second of their adventure will be beamed to TV screens around the globe.

In a nod to both economics and the public's insatiable demand to be entertained, the new carbon-fibre Volvo Ocean 65 class yachts, built for the 12th edition of the race starting in October, are floating media centres.

Or - as the head of Volvo racing put it - think of these 65- foot (20-m) boats as "Big Brother" houses with sails.

"They are all the same but very high tech and I think the fact that we have built them around television is exciting," Race CEO Knut Frostad told Reuters. He spoke on Friday at an event for the launching of the latest boat built for a race sometimes described as the "Mount Everest of sailing".

"We have incorporated microphones and television cameras all over the boat and we have a media person on board but that's the great thing because it makes it interesting to follow," he said

All five of the boats, built at Green Marine in Hythe, England, across the water from Southampton, will be fitted with five fixed camera points and two uplinks, including a satellite transmitter made by Inmarsat, the same British company that has helped locate the approximate location of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

"We will hear everything they say, see everything they do... it is 'Big Brother' but the only difference is this is real and 'Big Brother' is not," Frostad said, noting that the last edition of the race, which kicked off three years ago, was broadcast in 111 countries.

The race, which will visit 11 cities, will have its first all-woman crew and will be the longest course ever sailed for the Volvo event, formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race,

The race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 4 and will stop in Recife, Brazil; Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; Sanya, China; Auckland, New Zealand; Itajai, Brazil; Newport, Rhode Island; Lisbon, Portugal and Lorient, France. There also is a short stop in the Netherlands and the race will finish up in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27, 2015.

The full race distance will be 39,895 nautical miles (45,910 miles or 73,885 km). The previous longest edition, won by French skipper Franck Cammas in 2012, was 39,270 nautical miles.

BELOW DECKS

Below decks on the latest of the new class to hit the water, a boat built for Turkish medical products company Alvimedica, skipper Charlie Enright, 29, from Bristol, Rhode Island, thought a joystick which controls a camera embedded in the spanner halfway up the mast, allowing the camera to be aimed up and down the deck, was one of the niftiest new features.

"I think it's good, otherwise there's no way for anyone to know what's going on out here," Enright said while toggling the joystick to show what the camera could do. As for potential invasion of the crew's privacy, he saw no problem.

"If someone puts a camera in your face that's different," he said.

He and fellow American Mark Towill, 25, of Hawaii, are assembling what is expected to be largely an American crew for the Turkish company's boat, and they want it to be the youngest in the race - with the aim of not having anyone over 30.

With the number of teams and boats competing in the race having dropped from eight boats in the 2008-9 edition to six in 2011-12 and five this year, Enright said it was good that Volvo had pushed for a single-design boat to keep a lid on costs.

"To be honest we wouldn't be here right now without all the changes the race has made," Enright said.

Frostad said the single-design boat had effectively cut the costs per team by half or more, from 20-to-36 million euros in the last edition of the race to between 10 and 14 million euros per team this time, with those costs spread out over two years.

"For our sport that is a revolution because it brought the cost down 50 percent and I think that's one thing sports has to do is be more sensible about costs," he said. (Editing by Ossian Shine)

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