x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Volvo Ocean racers beware things that go bump in the night

Would it upgrade the suspense if a player in the Premier League or NFL ran the risk of slamming into an unlit and unseen fishing boat?

The other Volvo Ocean Race boats only need to ask the crew of Team Sanya about the dangers of floating debris at night.
The other Volvo Ocean Race boats only need to ask the crew of Team Sanya about the dangers of floating debris at night.

A strange thing has happened to my sport-viewing brain.

Suddenly, as I watch the EPL or NFL or whatever "L", I entertain unprecedented questions such as:

  • Would it upgrade the suspense if that player streaming toward the end zone or goal ran the risk of slamming into an unlit fishing boat?
  • While there are rugged defenders, certainly, should the game's impediments allow for floating six-metre trees, let alone the odd steel barrel?
  • Isn't it curious that the pitch itself does not move or even roil, but just lies there all shiftless and benign?

Imbue the mind with just a little bit of this ocean-sailing business, and the mind alters. So while the EPL and NFL offer Sunday doubleheaders so luscious you literally could morph into a sofa all day and all night until removable only by crane, the mind turns also to the Maldives, where the topics will include, well, debris.

From the port of Male, Maldives, previously undisclosed out of piracy concerns, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and five rivals will depart Sunday for China on Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race, that rare sporting event you might lose because you plunked into a tree trunk or rammed into some bloke out there peddling discounted cigarettes.

For the first time since the middle of Leg 2 in the middle of December, all six entries will participate, Team Sanya having rejoined following rigging repairs in Madagascar. And by the time they reach the Malacca and Singapore Straits to curl upward toward the island of Sanya, they will find one of the world's most remarkable congregations of flotsam and jetsam, sort of the aquatic equivalent of my former college dorm rooms.

Chris Nicholson, Camper: "Certainly, for me, this is the most worrying and challenging leg of the race," with "some very confined waters that have a lot of unlit fishing boats and nets on the surface which are pretty random."

Mike Sanderson, Team Sanya: "Seven days into it you'll be into the swing of it and then you've got that nasty period in the middle."

Ken Read, Puma: "There's plenty of debris. During this leg last time, especially entering the straits, is where there seems to be a ton of debris. But it's not just debris, it's unlit things that are still there. This is definitely not the most pleasurable leg, the one that we all signed up for, I can tell you that."

Read does know more about debris than you and I do. Not only can he remember the debris in the major shipping lanes off Singapore from skippering Team Puma last time around (2008/09), but he and his crew recently hitched a ride on a ship so as to witness the front end of the debris process.

Actually, they hitched a ride to get from the Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha to Cape Town, South Africa, after their mast broke, but they wound up getting a ride and an education.

"Living on a ship for five days," Read said, "I was stunned at how much they're allowed to throw off those things … There's certainly some people in the world not taking seriously the clean-the-oceans" campaigns.

The last time around marked the first time around in China for the 38-year-old, 11-edition event, as one leg went from Singapore to Qingdong and every single hull incurred damage, a storm lending help with that.

The bowman Justin Slattery, sailing with the skipper Ian Walker then (on Green Dragon) as well as now (aboard Azzam), wrote in The Irish Times: "The area is littered with everything from entire trees, some six-metres long, to steel barrels and all sorts of rubbish.

"It's not too bad navigating around the obstacles during the day … but we've had a few hairy nights when we've been sailing between 15 and 27 knots hoping against hope we can dodge the rubbish as we're all aware this kind of debris could at least damage our keel or rudders and, at worst, sink the yacht."

Sink the yacht …

So, the EPL offers the doubleheader of Manchester City-Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal-Manchester United.

So, the NFL offers the revelation of the Super Bowl contestants, pared from New England-Baltimore and San Francisco-New York Giants.

So, a mind freshly addled with a once-ignored sport might watch the various footballs as usual but wonder:

You mean you intend to remain on that same surface for the entire competition?

And: Would it enhance the entertainment if they littered the field with large discarded cargo boxes?