It might seem a very normal thing to do today – but historically, the Volvo Ocean Race has strictly prohibited onboard internet access in order to ensure sporting equality and rule out any potential outside assistance from shore.
But, in the second of a series of 10 announcements that the Volvo Ocean Race will make over the next two weeks, organisers have revealed that a new bespoke platform is currently being developed in-house, and sailors will be provided with a ‘crew communicator’ that will allow them to transmit one-way updates on either their own, or their team’s, social channels.
“This is exciting news for fans of the race" - Mark Turner
“This is exciting news for fans of the race, who can look forward to more direct and raw multimedia content from the boats than ever before,” said Race CEO, Mark Turner.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is unique in ocean racing in that there’s an internet lock-down – the boats only have access to monitored emails and weather data supplied by Race HQ.”
He continued: “The rules around accessing the internet onboard are there in order to ensure that there’s no way for a crew to receive outside assistance – and whilst it has raised the bar in terms of sporting credibility, the down side is that, in the past it has blocked some sailors from sharing their story.”
And, due to the unique scale of the race, which visits some of the most remote areas on the planet, designing a device capable of withstanding the conditions has proved a challenging task.
“We have to develop both the devices and implement some gateways to enable our sailors to circumvent the existing firewalls onboard, but only for this one purpose, in order to share directly from a handheld device,” explained Turner.
The communication is one-way, meaning that sailors using the ‘crew communicator’ won’t be able to receive replies whilst at sea, but they will be sent an email digest featuring engagement stats at the end of each day.
Three-time Volvo Ocean Race sailor, Gerd-Jan Poortman, commented: “This is fantastic news. All athletes have their own network, so it is a good way of making the race more personal. Fans will be able to read what the sailors want to say – and not just what they are asked about in an interview. It's going to be great."
“The stories that go on in this race are amazing, and so far, we haven’t been able to get much of it off the boats" - Richard Mason
“The stories that go on in this race are amazing, and so far, we haven’t been able to get much of it off the boats,” explained Volvo Ocean Race Operations Director, Richard Mason, who competed in the Race four times between 2001 to 2012.
“The ‘crew communicator’ will be a fantastic way for fans to follow individuals, and learn more about the characters in the race – not just the skipper, but the bowman, trimmer and each of the crew.”
And Mason, who was also Shore Manager for Team SCA during the 2014-15 edition, believes that the public will be captivated by the daily life onboard the Volvo Ocean 65s.
“Look at shows like ‘The Deadliest Catch’ – people are mesmerised by a bunch of guys fishing in the Barents Sea, hauling out crab pots,” he continued. “Everyone watches it, including myself, and I know that the stories that go on in the Volvo Ocean Race are at least as compelling.”
"It’s a fine balance to protect sporting integrity, with making sure that everyone can join the adventure" - Phil Lawrence
Race Director, Phil Lawrence, commented on the need to innovate and tell the story of the teams, whilst also ensuring that the racing isn’t compromised.
“We’re keen to get raw content off the boats and into the public domain as fast as possible, and this technology allows us to manage that process in the right way,” he explained.
“It’s important not to just throw it open – the crew are racing their boat around the planet, and the last thing we would want is to make it possible for a group of meteorologists sat in an office in central Europe somewhere making decisions which should be made on board.”
He added: “It’s a fine balance to protect that sporting integrity, whilst making sure that everyone can join us on what promises to be an amazing adventure in 2017-18. I believe that the ‘crew communicator’ concept is a big step towards finding that balance.”