Ocean racing is tough. And the Volvo Ocean Race is one of the toughest of them all. Disrupted sleep, time away from family and friends, a constant caffeine supply to keep you going, living in one set of clothes for a month at a time, and not to mention the potential health risks. But I’m not talking about the real Volvo. These are just a few of the potential hazards of competing in the virtual version of the race!
Alongside the actual race there is a fantastic virtual game where you can race alongside 100,000+ other boating fanatics, many of whom, like me, dream of the opportunity to take part in the race.
How the "virtual Volvo Ocean Race" works
There are nine leg races. You register and pick a boat design to race. And after the start time for each leg, you have to steer your boat along the same route as the real teams taking part in the Volvo. You can adjust your course and choose which sails to use. The weather is updated every 12 hours so you can’t sit back and cruise. Getting to the finish requires regular monitoring.
Like me, you might find this very addictive. Even if you start out casually, you can find yourself sneaking away from the dinner table or getting up in the middle of the night to tack or change course. We have heard stories from previous editions that plenty of beer is needed before bed to ensure waking up frequently! Alternatively a newborn baby can be handy!
It is much like the real race, except you are not getting out of your bunk for a four-hour shift, banging your head on the bulkhead or being drenched on the foredeck. Your only risk is upsetting your better half or impacting your social life. If you don’t take it that seriously, that is fine too, but you may end up driving into some small island, or the coast of Brazil where I found my boat lodged a few days ago.
Watch out for addiction to regular snacks and leftover Halloween sweets, cans of coke and some eyestrain, as you may end up spending quite a lot of time at your screen. With a handy mobile app, being away from the computer is not an issue. While your friends are checking Facebook, you can chat with fellow sailors or swap out your heavy gennaker.
Costs and rewards
The game is free to play. However, you can decide to make life faster and easier by buying some pro sails, automatic settings such as waypoints, autoheading scheduler and sail changes. These cost €9.99 each, which is inexpensive, in my view, for a month of gaming.
Keep this up for nine months or so, and you could find yourself the winner of the virtual Volvo Ocean Race game. Your family may have given up on you, having not seen you for the past 24 days (and that's just Leg 1!) and have no interest that you finished in the top 36,000 gamers! But win a leg and you get a free trip to the next stopover, or win the entire thing and get a very smart looking IWC Schaffhausen Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph “Ocean Racer” watch.
Leg 1 is now over and time for some well deserved rest. The next leg of the race from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi starts on November 19 - see Virtual Race. See you on the start line!