The secrets behind racing

Planning for the Volvo Ocean Race was a massive global team effort Image: TNL GAC Pindar

Planning for the Volvo Ocean Race was a massive global team effort Image: TNL GAC Pindar

The 2014 – 2015 Volvo Ocean Race has finished, but have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes to make these huge international events possible? Here we look at the GAC Pindar Volvo Ocean Race logistics challenge.

For most of us, the race story starts on the day an event begins. However for all those working behind the scenes there will have been many months of intense planning.

For GAC Pindar the organisational work for the Volvo Ocean Race started over a year before the race began in October 2014. The team travelled over 30,000 miles to recce each of the host ports to understand the specific challenges presented by each location. GAC Pindar’s main roles included customs clearance for race villages and the logistics of setting up the race villages around the world.

You might think there is 1 race village that is moved around the world. However due to the sheer size of the race – 38,739nm across 5 continents and 11 ports, including a pit-stop in The Hague, in just 9 months – two identical race villages were required. They then leapfrogged each other across the globe.

Nick Bice, Head of Boatyard, Volvo Ocean Race said: “GAC Pindar is crucial to the smooth running of the whole Volvo Ocean Race operation. Not only will their role ensure that each of the race villages are in place by the deadline but they will also be instrumental in making sure the race runs smoothly.”


For the first 6 stopovers of the race (Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, Auckland, Itajai and Newport) there was an average 14 days to get everything set up and ready on site from when the cargo arrived.

As if that was not tight enough, after the Newport stopover, the lead times between race villages sped up dramatically due to the proximity of the stopovers in Europe (Lisbon, Lorient and Gothenburg).

To add to the pressure there was no room for manoeuvre on timings. Once the race started the dates were set in stone for each race village – so even the smallest delays could derail the entire operation.

This was a massive global team effort, with local GAC offices occasionally working with approved partners to ensure the smooth execution of race village delivery (Bump in), set up and deconstruction and subsequent onward travel (Bump out), with GAC team members moving around the globe.


GAC Pindar's Diogo Diniz with Donfeng’s new mast.

GAC Pindar’s Diogo Diniz with Donfeng’s new mast.

In incredibly tough events like the Volvo Ocean Race it is inevitable that boats will require repairs and maintenance both during the race legs and at port stopovers. With a race that covers so much of the globe it is not always easy to have the necessary parts to hand. So GAC Pindar had $2,500,000 of spare boat parts stored at different locations: Auckland, Dubai and Rotterdam.

When the mast on the Volvo Ocean 65 ‘Dongfeng’ boat snapped over 2,000nm from the next port stopover in Itajaί, Brazil, organisers called upon GAC Pindar to put together an emergency plan to ensure that Dongfeng Race Team had everything required to re-join the race at the start of the sixth leg to Newport, USA, just 20 days later.

Three cutting-edge carbon fibre masts worth $345,000 had been stored across the globe for exactly this type of situation.

With time of the essence the mast stored in Dubai was selected to travel to Brazil on specially designed Boeing 747 cargo planes. The 28.6m, 500kg mast was flown from Dubai to Amsterdam and then loaded onto a second plane for the flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil the next day.

Beth King, Operations Manager, GAC Pindar said: “Once the mast touched down in Brazil we were still over 500 miles away from our final destination. There was a real possibility that Brazilian customs would hold up our operation as they are closed over the weekend.

“But our good relationships, developed over the last 12 months planning for the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race, ensured special clearance and the mast was quickly loaded onto an over-sized truck for the final leg of its trip.

“The journey, across several mountainous regions, took place during daylight hours due to local travel restrictions and was completed in just two days, a full week before the leg start.”


The Team Vestas Wind VO65 got transported by GAC Pindar from the port in Genoa, Italy to the foothills of the Alps Persico Marine, Bergamo. Image: Brian Carlin

The Team Vestas Wind VO65 got transported by GAC Pindar from the port in Genoa, Italy to the foothills of the Alps Persico Marine, Bergamo. Image: Brian Carlin

Sometimes, though, even the best teams can face potential disaster as Team Vestas Wind found out to their cost on 29 November. They miscalculated their route and sailed head on into a shallow reef in the Cargados Carajos Shoals, Mauritius. The Team Vestas Wind boat rudders were destroyed while the stern began taking in large amounts of water.

Remarkably the nine members on board came out from the crash unscathed. They were shocked, cold, wet and without a boat, but thankfully uninjured.

That set in motion a monumental recovery operation involving multiple parties that led to the Team Vestas Wind boat being successfully rebuilt in time to re-join the race in Lisbon for the in-port race on 6 June – a feat that many expert observers thought to be impossible.

GAC Pindar redirected the various Team Vestas workshop containers that follow the team around the world to Genoa – where the boat would be sent for repair. This was followed by the transport of salvaged boat materials from the reef to Genoa.

Once the stricken boat arrived in Genoa, GAC took care of customs clearance for the vessel and passed it onto Persico – the company in charge of repairs. GAC Pindar Technical Manager Ollie Smith was present on the ground in Genoa to oversee the smooth running of this process.

GAC Pindar also had to move the new mast for the repaired boat from the manufacturers – Southern Spars in New Zealand – and transport it to Lisbon, ensuring it was there on time for the arrival of the repaired boat.


Tom Touber, Volvo Ocean Race, Chief Operating Officer commented: “We’d like to thank the team at GAC Pindar. As our race is life at the extreme we are always confronted with the unexpected. In those circumstances it is vital to have a logistical partner that is not only able to stick to their promise, but also able to change the promise swiftly and deliver the new one. ”

By the end of the race in June GAC Pindar employees, including 11 permanent staff, had worked over 21,000 man-hours to complete this unique logistics test.

The winners of the 2014 – 2015 Volvo Ocean Race? You will have to turn to our news pages to find out.

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