10   +   4   =  

Stefan Coopers/Team Brunel

Well, the sailors are probably feeling worse.

Imagine being stuck at work for weeks on end. You cannot go home at night because you’re working round the clock, only resting a couple of hours here and there.

That, and your office isn’t exactly a comfortable cocoon. In fact, it’s damp, smelly and goes from extremely cold to extremely hot.

Your colleagues smell terrible, the food at the cafeteria is crap, and there is no coffee machine, no fresh donuts to cheer you up.

Now stick with that job for nine months.

“That’s the thing that gets me about this race”, said Ian Walker this morning.

“It’s just relentless.”

The skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is feeling it. His team is feeling it, his Onboard Reporter Matt Knighton is feeling it.

“This is one of the first times we’ve seen Ian admit to what we can all see and feel,” writes Matt.

“The tension and fatigue he experiences every waking – and sleeping – moment when the racing is close.”

Ian’s men are not the only ones. 204 days after the start in Alicante last October, all boats are within 56 nautical miles and Dongfeng’s skipper is also showing signs of fatigue.

“This is our sixth leg of 20 days and this one has come right after the stressful Southern Ocean leg,” declared Charles Caudrelier in an email from the boat a couple of days ago.

“We’re feeling the pain but I’m not too worried. It’s not just us – it’s the other boats too. When a competitor comes up to you on the dock and says ‘this is my last ever Volvo, never again’ while he’s fighting for the victory, you know that, he too, is struggling and not even trying to hide it.

“We can’t lie to each other on this race – it breaks you down little by little.”

It’s not just the mental fatigue that gets them, it’s the physical decline. Seasickness, skin infection, poor sleep pattern, loss of muscles and a lack of proper food – offshore racing takes its toll on the bodies.

“Do we look weak to you?” asks Rokas Milevicius to Team Brunel’s OBR Stefan Coppers.

The Lithuanian giant laughs.

“Of course we’ve lost some power. We trained every day at the gym before the start, but now the legs are long and the stopovers are short. We have less time to recover.

“The old dog says that in this race you lose your muscles and you gain fat. So the proper offshore sailor has to be a little bit fatty.”

The old dog could be his skipper Bouwe Bekking, six Volvo Ocean Races under his belt; or maybe it’s the two-race veteran Gerd-Jan Poortman.

None of them are fatties, but they know their bodies are paying a price for these months at sea.

“It’s day 10 or something and the power in the grinder is always less than day 1,” sighs Gerd-Jan.

“It’s becoming quite tough, this race. It’s very intense, in small groups.

“It’s not something you should do for 10 years, that’s for sure.”

With five more days to go to Newport, and a total of 57 days to the last In-Port Race in Gothenburg, how are they going to last?

“It’s about getting used to the habitat onboard and use your energy efficiently,” says Rokas.

Charles is more lyrical, but his message is just the same.

Resilience, resilience, resilience.

“The end of this race will be won by the last men standing.”

Text by Agathe Armand