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Crew rules



On a racing yacht, if a piece of gear doesn’t make you go faster, it is probably slowing you down.


Keeping excess weight off the yacht is a challenge which can sometimes be carried to extremes. Veteran Volvo Ocean Race skipper Paul Cayard was so keenly competitive that he asked his crew to cut their toothbrushes in half and store their sunglasses on the windward side to help level the boat.


We decided to talk to some of the teams to find out exactly what limits are placed upon the gear that sailors can bring on board.


To describe the creature comforts of a Volvo Open 70 as minimalist would be an overstatement. The amenities for the crew of ten sailors and one Media Crew Member consist of a pipe berth, which is essentially a light weight cot that can be adjusted to keep level according to angle of heel, and a single shared hand-pump toilet.


The cuisine on passage consists mainly of freeze-dried meals and protein bars. The occasional chocolate bar helps to keep spirits up, not to mention the calorie count demanded by the rigours of ocean racing.


If crew members smuggle contraband on board, these goodies must be shared with crew mates. The general consensus is that each crew member can bring along anything they want, as long as it all fits into a small regulation-sized duffel bag.


Practically speaking this works out to a full set of foul weather gear including sea boots; two changes of clothes, one pair of shoes and two pairs of sunglasses (in case one gets lost or broken).


According to Horacio Carabelli, head of shore crew for Telefónica, the only treat that the Spanish entry’s crew enjoys at sea is jamón (smoked ham), an Iberian delicacy. In Spain, it is elegantly presented on a special carvery stand and sliced off the bone. To save weight on Telefónica, the bone is left ashore and the sumptuous slices sealed in plastic bags.


For off-watch entertainment, Carabelli says each crew are allowed to bring as much music, movies and books as they wish, providing the digital files fit on to their iPhone.


“When the crew arrive in port after a Leg, they are examined by a dietician who gives them a blood test and measures lean body mass with a skin pinch test,” says Carabelli.


The crew are gradually weaned onto normal food and are allowed to eat and drink as they please. Although the Volvo fleet is equipped with reverse osmosis water makers which covert salt water to fresh, there are no shower facilities on board.


“The only time the crew get a shower is when it is raining in the tropics," says Mike Danks, Abu Dhabi’s shore crew leader. "The only fresh water they have for washing is what they are able to catch in buckets.”


Do they use some uber-strength deodorant to control offensive odours on the long ocean legs?  “No," says Danks.  "They just get used to the smell.”


When asked about shore liberties, Danks admits that the crew may hit the town for a night or two of partying after they arrive, but with the hectic in-port schedule in Auckland, they all have to be bright-eyed and back to work on Wednesday.


The only thing worse than the first couple of days at sea is nursing a hangover the first couple of days at sea.


Rob Salthouse, helmsman and trimmer on CAMPER and veteran of two previous Volvo races, is a bit more casual about the weight. He says that while each crew is limited to what fits into a 900mm by 350mm duffel bag, weight is not a huge issue.


“Because we stack all the gear on the high side, all the gear just adds to the ballast package,” says Salty.


The Volvo Open 70 yachts are examples of the most technologically advanced monohull racing yachts. While their speed and safety are light years ahead of the sailing vessels that circled the globe a century ago, it appears that quality of life on board for these oceanic athletes has been skipped by evolution.


And no, these days the  crews don’t have to cut their toothbrushes in half!