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Daryl Wislang on the Volvo Ocean Race

Daryl Wislang on the Volvo Ocean Race

New Zealand ocean racer Daryl Wislang has an exceptional track record over the last four editions of the Volvo Ocean Race. He followed up his third place in 2008-09 on Telefonica Blue with a second place in 2011-12 on Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand and then back to back wins in 2014-15 and 2017-18 aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team respectively.

We spoke to him recently from Sydney, Australia (where he was about to begin a week of training aboard the 100-footer Comanche in preparation for the upcoming Sydney Hobart Race) to quiz him about the last Volvo Ocean Race, the introduction of IMOCA 60 for the next edition, and rumours of him staging a Kiwi around-the-world campaign in 2021.

What have you been up to in the four months since the race finished?

It’s been a pretty hectic time since the end of the race and I haven’t really had much of a chance to sit back and reflect on the fact that we won the race. After we – my wife Jess and our two children – left The Hague we headed to Spain to a nice little place on the Costa Brava called Llafranc where some friends live.

We had a bit of family time there with my brother and other family members. I guess that was the time to wind down from winning the Volvo and to try to get back into a more “normal” life. My priority since the race finished was to spend plenty of time with my family so we also had a three week break in Bali together – which was truly amazing.

But once we were back in New Zealand I think I managed to spend about three days at home before heading to Australia for the start of the Comanche campaign for the 2018 Sydney to Hobart Race. That’s meant a lot of backwards and forwards from New Zealand to Australia – where I’m speaking to you right now as we are having a week of training. I also managed to fit in the Maxi Worlds and St. Tropez on the Wally 100 Galatea.

So all in all it’s been pretty busy!

How difficult is it to re-enter normal life after finishing an eight-month race around the world? Do you find it hard to get back into a regular sleeping pattern?

It is tough – I call it “the reintegration into society”. The sleeping isn’t too bad when you have two young kids. They wake up fairly frequently so you have got no problem with dealing with a broken sleep pattern, that just continues.

But certainly if you are thrust into an environment with a lot of people it can be difficult and quite overwhelming at times. Obviously everyone wants to congratulate you on what you have done and to talk to you about what you have experienced. Sometimes that can be more draining than doing the actual race.

I’m always aware that these are people who have supported me the whole time in everything that I’ve done, so you have to put the time in with them. It’s a small effort on your behalf to make sure that you are giving something back to those people by answering their questions.

How did you come to join Dongfeng Race Team?

I had some dealings with the Dongfeng campaign on their first attempt at the Volvo Ocean race in 2015. I went out to China and I sailed with them but at that time I had America’s Cup aspirations with Team New Zealand – which obviously didn’t materialise. Although I ended up joining Abu Dhabi in that edition I had met a lot of the Dongfeng people who then ended up involved in the next race.

I guess winning the race with Abu Dhabi meant the Dongfeng people were pretty quick to get in touch with me when they decided to go again. I liked what they did in the previous race and I admired what Charles [Caudrelier, skipper] had done with the team and the Chinese sailors and that all meant it was a pretty easy choice.

Also, I wasn’t hanging around to start a bidding war or picking and choosing between teams. Once I have decided to do something, I go and do it – I’m not going to jump ship and do something else.

The victory was much harder fought this time – was the race much harder on you as a result?

It was tougher on me because I took on the responsibility of being a watch captain. Everything that goes with that makes it more stressful and gives you a few more grey hairs at the end.

This last race was just so close because it was the second go around for the 65s and everyone was getting every last bit out of the boats that they could. It all came down to one final leg and a call on whether to go inside or outside. We got it right and the rest is history, as they say.

In the previous race with Abu Dhabi we had a significant speed edge in certain conditions and we used that to great advantage. With this last race we had a good speed advantage early on with the way we set the keel angle, but that got closed up significantly when everyone started figuring it out. So it was a lot tougher race in terms of the boat on boat stuff.

Daryl Wislang on the Volvo Ocean Race
Image @ Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

The Volvo Ocean Race sometimes gets criticism for being too commercial. Is it still the pinnacle of professional sailing?

I think it is still the pinnacle of our sport. There is nothing else in the world like it. You obviously have the singlehanded stuff with the Vendee Globe and then the paid Clipper Race – they are the two other main around the world races.

With the Volvo Ocean Race I don’t believe it really matters what boats you are sailing when you are in one-design boats. They are all the same and it comes down to where you put your boat and how fast you can make it go. You have to go through all the same weather conditions as everyone else.

Personally I wouldn’t be interested in doing another race in the Volvo 65s. I have done two of them and won two of them, so I don’t think there is much more I can offer or gain by doing another race in those boats. The move to the IMOCA class and the latest generation of boats looks pretty exciting. I think having a development boat like that will bring a lot more sailors back into the race.

I think where it is difficult from the sailors’ standpoint is that that they are now talking about reducing the crew numbers significantly and still expecting the in-port racing and all the corporate engagement from the teams. So the people who are on the boat are going to be under even more pressure in this next edition, I believe.

What is you view on the introduction of the IMOCA 60 fully crewed rule?

Well they had to do something because it was pretty hard to just send the 65 around again. That would have likely meant less interest from the sailors in doing the race. So I think the introduction of a new class is good.

They have decided on IMOCA and that’s fine – it’s an exciting development class. How they navigate around the challenge of keeping costs down remains to be seen. Restricting the number of foils a team can build etc. is all down to the organisers.

But I think it’s an exciting time for the race because these boats represent a huge leap in the development of offshore racing boats.

What is your view on the almost fully-enclosed cockpits featured on the new generation IMOCA 60s?

It has to be that way. The way the it’s shaping up is that in the next edition of the race you are going to be sailing these boats with just two people on deck most of the time.

You couldn’t have just two people on deck and be completely open to the elements. I think it’s a chicken and egg situation: you either have to have more people on deck or you have to have protection to keep the crew safe. You would be looking pretty vulnerable if you had an open boat.

Daryl Wislang on the Volvo Ocean Race
Image © Volvo Ocean Race

Based on your experience what are the key elements of staging a winning Volvo Ocean Race campaign?

Money, time, personnel and consistency.

In terms of the personnel – I guess there are two sides: the sailing team and then the shore team.

For the sailing team the skipper is the pivotal role in terms of the relationship they have with each of the crew – but probably most importantly – the navigator. Then the shore side on one of these campaigns is not a small operation and so you have to have a good team management structure and good communication and fluency between all the groups.

Time is always a factor in the equation. It’s a case of the earlier you can start the better. You have to have the money though so that your time can be well spent on the water. It’s well known that quality time spent on the water is a very valuable commodity.

An example is with the 65s where you had to spend plenty of time on the water to try everything out to get the best out of the boat. You have been given a tool and you have to find out how to use it the best way possible.

Consistency across the board: how you are sailing, how you finish the legs, how you deal with situations on shore. You have to have a very level-headed approach to the whole thing. If you are erratic and up and down, that will show within the team and the performance will be up and down too.

The trick is to not get too excited in the highs and not get too downhearted in the lows. You really do have to show a consistency level of intensity and spirit.

If you were picking an IMOCA 60 crew for the next edition what would you be looking for? Would French IMOCA sailors be top of your list?

Well before you look for the sailors the first thing to think about is the designers. If you can find the best IMOCA designer then they can give you the tool that is not going to take you forever to work out how to use it.

In terms of sailors I think you would be looking for really good all-rounders. For instance you would pick someone who is good all round over someone who for instance could only navigate. The experience of the French IMOCA sailors could be really helpful and I guess from that point of view they are hot property.

What are your plans for the next race? Might we see a Kiwi campaign lead by Daryl Wislang?

It’s something that is not outside the radar circle. Anything is possible.

It’s a tough ask from a New Zealand perspective in terms of funding so I think it would take an overseas investment to get a campaign off the ground. The race is a fair way away yet so right now it’s a case of chipping away and getting all the help you can.

Might you partner up with your fellow countrymen Peter Burling and Blair Tuke?

Like I said, anything is possible and no idea is a silly idea at this stage. I had a brief discussion with Pete and Blair at the end of the last race and we will see what develops.

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