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Liz Wardley, setting sail for the extreme
The Volvo Ocean Race is a legend of offshore sailing. Crewed racing aboard ultra-powerful yachts in which the Trojans of the oceans defy the elements. Australian sailor Liz Wardley is familiar with the trials of the competition. A seagoing battle of winds and currents...
On a Volvo Ocean 65, everything is perfectly choreographed and timed. Each day is divided into six watches of four hours each. When part of the crew is in action on deck, the other members "enjoy" the comfort of the super-spartan cockpit. "In theory the "off" watch allows you to look after your own needs, but in reality you don't have much time to yourself," explains Liz Wardley. "We're regularly called on to trim the sails or perform a maneuver." Sleeping and eating might be overstating it aboard a boat like this. No cook, just dehydrated, high-calorie food to make up for the colossal amount of energy expended by the sailors. Not much shuteye either, but micro-naps rocked by the waves, strapped into a narrow bunk that acts as a berth. "You don't ever sleep very deeply because there's lots of noise and movement," says the sailor. Every time a wave hits the hull it makes a deafening crash in the carbon cockpit, which acts as an amplifying sound box. Thankfully, nature has it all worked out: "When you're exhausted, completely shattered, the conditions don't matter and you sleep!" Six hours a day, rarely more.
© Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race
Life at a 45° angle also makes each daily task more difficult: drinking water (desalinated), getting your gear on, doing your business in a bucket, and so on. "Living aboard a boat in the Volvo is a bit like trying to keep your balance on an icy slope shaken by an earthquake," explains "Chook". For her, like any sailor, water, salt and cold are the main enemies: "You're often soaked, and I get especially wet as I'm responsible for trimming at the bow of the boat. I take plenty of water in the face!" Battered by the wind and sea spray, in glacial conditions when sailing in polar latitudes, nerves are sometimes tested to breaking point. Welcome to hell!
© Sam Greenfield / Volvo Ocean Race
Faced with these extreme situations, solidarity is the key word on board. "A good crew is a tightly-knit group, where everyone pulls in the same direction. Of course, you need people with a strong physique, but even more important are great competitors with a good mental outlook. There are sometimes tensions, so you have to be able to talk frankly with each other," says Liz, knowing that she can count on her fellow crew members in any circumstance. "Emotions can be read on our faces, you can't hide what's going on. When someone's not feeling great, we support them." Living extraordinary adventures, at the ends of the earth, inevitably creates strong bonds. "Although you couldn't say we're a family, we do form a team of professionals with a shared objective: to make the boat go as fast as possible." To achieve this, although versatility is important, everyone has a set role: trimmer, tactician, helmsman, etc. The skipper is like the conductor of an orchestra. The main decisionmaker, they chart the course. Most importantly, they guarantee the cohesion of the group. Which is ultimately the secret of success.
© James Blake/Volvo Ocean Race