Professional sport is a large driver of research and development and sailing is one of the most innovative sports delivering new technology. One only has to look at the two boats contesting the latest version of the America’s Cup to see how yacht racing pushes the boundaries of design and manufacturing. But for all the technology, sailing wouldn’t be as interesting without a human competitor. Though some cruelly call sailing a ‘sitting down sport’, the physical and mental fitness of sailors is an increasingly important factor.
Offshore racing, particularly solo offshore sailing is an incredible test of endurance. Sailors are sleep deprived, operating in hostile conditions for weeks in a row. Very few other sports ask of the human body what offshore sailing does, but like many sports, researching the elite athletes can provide lessons for other applications.
Organisers of the VELUX 5 Oceans Race have announced that researchers will study what it takes to be a world-class solo sailor and produce guidelines on how to prepare for sailing single-handed around the world.
Dr Neil Weston from the University of Portsmouth will work with competitors of the VELUX 5 Oceans race 2010-11 to determine how these unique individuals optimally prepare for The Ultimate Solo Challenge. It follows an inaugural study during the 2006-07 VELUX 5 OCEANS race which analysed the effects of the different ocean legs around the world on the physical, mental and emotional state of the solo skipper.
Dr Weston, from the University’s Department of Sport and Exercise Science, specialises in solo ocean sailing research and will interview the competitors and their shore managers before and after the event. He hopes to get ‘under the skin’ of the solo ocean sailor and undertake a systematic evaluation of the key strategies employed to prepare a skipper and their boat for single-handed round the world events.
Dr Weston said:
“There are currently no guidelines available to help skippers prepare for these life threatening and environmentally challenging races. Our previous study produced some incredible data on the extent of the physical and psychological demands faced by skippers during long periods alone at sea. We have devised a programme which will provide a comprehensive evaluation of how skippers and their shore team prepare for the challenge. The results will be used to build a detailed set of guidelines to inform future skippers who wish to participate in such events.”
For the eighth edition of this classic round the world ocean race, Dr Weston will interview the skippers and their shore managers on site in La Rochelle and in their homes. He will question them about how they prepared for the event physically, psychologically, technically, tactically and logistically. He will use data from the post race reports compiled for each team to evaluate the effectiveness of their preparation strategies and race performance.
Commenting on the partnership, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Chairman of Clipper Ventures said:
“The study with the University of Portsmouth will deliver an incredible insight for skippers, sponsors and ourselves as race organisers of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. Only 90 people have so far completed this challenging race, and less than 200 have ever sailed singlehanded around the world – they are special group of people, with a drive and passion that drives them from within. Simply getting to the start line is one of the biggest challenges faced by skippers – one of the reasons we introduced the promising Eco 60 Class and skipper support packages – and this study will she real insight into best practices and lessons for the future.”
Dr Weston will present the results at a conference after the race and will publish a detailed report in a scientific journal. A detailed overview of the findings will be available to skippers on request and Clipper Ventures will be able to provide a detailed guide to skippers entered into future editions of the VELUX 5 OCEANS to help them optimally prepare for the event.