IN A SPECTACULAR christening ceremony, multi-million euro racing yacht, ABN AMRO 1, emerged from the mists of Portimão harbour and slid gracefully over the glassy water to a mooring alongside the Hotel Tivoli Quay. There, before an audience of some 300 people and before the world’s assembled press, broadcasting the event live on TV and over the internet, the favourite to win the renowned Volvo Ocean Race 2005/2006 officially received her name accompanied by fireworks, a laser show and popping champagne corks.
The 70ft Dutch vessel, the first of an entirely new ‘Volvo 70’ racing class, designed and built in secret using state-of-the-art technology and materials, is sponsored by Amsterdam-based ABN AMRO, one of Europe’s largest financial institutions. Investing more than 20 million euros in this three-year project, the company has claimed it is definitely in the race to win and has chosen Portimão as the base for six months of intensive crew training and sea trials in Algarvean waters. “We chose to come to the Algarve because the weather conditions, tides, waves and winds are absolutely perfect,” said team member Peter Bas Van Zaling. “And there is an awful lot to do, for example, we have to test 130 different sails to find out which give us the best performance under what particular conditions.”
Apart from putting together the best possible team, presently 60-strong including crew and land support personnel, the ABN AMRO strategy involves the building of a sister vessel. Construction is already underway. The idea is that experience gained during the trials on ABN AMRO 1 will be applied in designing and building the second boat. Both vessels will take part in the race.
While crew members for the first boat have been personally selected from among top professional sailors by skipper and world sail speed record holder, Mike Sanderson, a different scheme of recruitment is under way for the second vessel, due to be launched in the coming months. For ABN AMRO 2, sailing director, Roy Heiner, a veteran of two previous Volvo Races, has selected four experienced sailors to fill key positions such as skipper and navigator. The remaining eight crewmembers will be amateurs, aged between 21 and 30, who will be recruited through an open selection process – two from Holland, two from US, two from Brazil (these countries being the home markets for ABN AMRO) and two from the rest of the world.
The selection process is in three stages. Initially, 80 finalists were chosen out of 15,000 applicants, through an interactive questionnaire on the ABN AMRO website. The second stage is still under way and comprises live assessments taking place in Holland, Brazil and the US, during which candidates are tested on physical, mental and sailing ability. The result will be a shortlist of 20 who will take part in the third and final phase, involving a voyage from Portimão to Madeira, where some candidates will be eliminated and returning at the beginning of April to Portimão, where the final eight will be announced.
Formerly known as the Whitbread Around the World Race, the Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier ocean yacht race and is one of the top international televised sporting events achieving more than 800 million viewers.
Since the race began in 1973, the Dutch have put in an impressive showing, fielding some 60 sailors with Dutch skipper, Conny van Reitchoten, winning the race twice on the boat Flyer.
The 2005/2006 race is due to start from Sanxenxo, Galicia, on November 5 this year with the first offshore leg being from Vigo, Northern Spain, to Cape Town in South Africa. There are nine legs in total and the course takes about eight months to complete, covering some 31,000 nautical miles and visiting 10 ports in nearly all continents.
Both ABN AMRO vessels are designed by Argentinean Juan Kouyoumdjian and built under the supervision of Irishman Killian Bushe, builder of “Illbruck”, winner of the last Volvo Ocean Race.So far, there are four other participating teams – Premier Challenge, Australia; Telefonica Movistar, Spain; Altantic Ocean Race, Sweden; and Brasil 1, Brazil. ABN AMRO, however, is the first to launch, with all other competing vessels still at various stages of construction.Jon Rivelon Wilson