The prospect of a British skipper winning the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time came a step closer with the shock announcement that the race would be starting in October with no New Zealand team taking part.
The absence of the ever-competitive Kiwis removes one barrier to the top spot of the podium for two leading contenders – both with strong Hampshire coast connections.
Warsash’s Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team are back for the second time and determined to erase memories of the last event which saw them dismasted within hours of the start from Alicante and a fifth-place finish.
Even more enticing, however, is the prospect of the all-female Team SCA taking top honours, led by Portsmouth-born Sam Davies.
The SCA crew were due to arrive in Newport, Rhode Island, today at the end of the first stage of a double trans-Atlantic training voyage.
Davies is somewhat coyly listed as the ‘person in charge’ but looks to be in the box seat for the skipper’s job.
The multi-national SCA crew also includes Davies’ friend and fellow solo racing star Dee Caffari, from Titchfield, while Hamble meteorologist Libby Greenhalgh is trialling as navigator.
The entry marks the first all-woman crew since the 2001-02 and 1997-98 editions and the 25th anniversary since Tracy Edwards’ groundbreaking exploits aboard Maiden in 1989-90.
The last two female-crewed entries were, in reality, second-string entries having to work in the shadow of their male team counterparts, and were both last in their respective races.
SCA, though, has a very different ethos.
The boat – one of the new Volvo One-Design 65-footers – was the first on the water and has top-line shore support and backing from their Swedish global hygiene and forest products sponsor.
‘This is a great opportunity for women’s sailing and it is the right time to do it with the change in the Volvo Ocean Race rule,’ said Davies.
‘With the top-level coaching structure and technical team that is in place, this will help to fast track our learning curve and I really believe we have the opportunity to achieve some amazing results in the next race.’
That said, and Abu Dhabi aside, SCA will have to earn a place on the podium.
While two of the other teams so far announced – Dongfeng and Alvimedica – come to the race with limited experience, the other confirmed entry, Team Brunel, has it in spades.
The skipper of the Dutch entry, Bouwe Bekking, will be racing for the seventh time and has been runner-up twice before.
In addition, race organisers say further entries could yet be declared, though time is getting short.
With one-design yachts and limited and defined sail wardrobes, the Volvo this time offers a level playing field – and perhaps the chance of a British winner.