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Mark Towill (USA) cautiously optimistic about Volvo Ocean Race changes

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Says Vestas 11th Hour Racing still needs funding for 2017 edition

 

WITH THE AMERICA'S CUP QUALIFIERS delayed a day because of, ahem, too much wind, SAILING ILLUSTRATED decided to check in with a guy who's not scared off by those conditions, Volvo Ocean Race sailor Mark Towill. In fact, the VOR thrives in those conditions.

 

Towill is wrapping up a trip to Europe and will fly home to Hawaii on Saturday for a few weeks of R&R. He's been busy with Vestas Wind 11th Hour Racing's second trans-Atlantic crossing, this one to deliver the team's VOR 65 to England. It was pulled out of the water and will await the Rolex Fastnet Race in early August. Towill also toured a Vestas plant and giant wind turbine outside of Madrid to get a feel for what the title sponsor does.

 

We wanted to get Towill's thoughts on the big changes announced earlier this week by the Volvo Ocean Race for future editions. Starting in 2019, the VOR will go to a 60-foot, foil-assisted monohull for the ocean legs and foiling catamarans for the in-port races. Organizers also plan to tweak the course.

 

"There's a lot to digest,'' said Towill, who is fully absorbed in getting ready for the forthcoming edition of the classic bluewater race, which starts in October from Alicante, Spain.

 

Towill said he's eager for more details, particularly on costs. Overall though, he understands the need for the changes, considering that the 2017-18 VOR will be sailed in boats that were also sailed in the last edition.

 

"There definitely needed to be a new boat and a new design,'' Towill said. ”I'm excited to see it's going in the foiling direction. Just watching the last Vendee Globe and the foiling-assisted technology that has come out and continues to be developed, to not incorporate that into a monohull for offshore is to not be on the cutting edge.

 

"I'm cautiously optimistic,'' he said.”I think it's great to be headed in the direction sailing is going: foiling, fast, exciting, cutting-edge technology. I'm, I guess, curious to learn more of the specifics of how they see this being implemented, the financing of the teams, the structure.''

 

There's the rub. While there could be financial challenges in the future, there are financial challenges now.

 

"Just kind of putting my team manager hat on, it'll be interesting to see finances and how we'll underwrite the boats,'' Towill said "It's been a real struggle to get to the starting line of this race. We still have a funding gap to fill.''

 

Towill said the team needs "a substantial amount of money, but it's not like it's dire.'' He said the team is looking for one to two sub-sponsor type deals.

 

Because of that, the team won't get to do as much sailing as it wants. To save money, the crew won't sail the VOR 65 boat in June and July. Some of the crew will sail in the Chicago-Mackinac and the Bayview-Mackinac races in July.

 

Towill and skipper Charlie Enright (Bristol, RI), both Brown University graduates, are heading into their second VOR. They tied for fourth with Team Alvimedica, an American-Turkish entry, in the seven-boat fleet in the 2014-15 VOR. They were the first to round Cape Horn and won the final leg in their first attempt at the round-the-world race.

 

Towill said the recent trans-Atlantic crossing was fast and windy, covering 520 nautical miles on some days. The trans-Atlantic trips were good training and testing, and the team has used them to help in crew selection. Towill expects to have announcements on the crew in the next few weeks. 

 

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