Volvo Ocean Race in uncharted waters as Newcastle chases stopover

Tom Braidwood. Picture: Volvo Ocean Race
Tom Braidwood. Picture: Volvo Ocean Race

Sailor Tom Braidwood says Newcastle would be a perfect fit for the Volvo Ocean Race in 2021, but it is unclear what the event will look like in three years.

Braidwood won the race on board Ericsson in 2006 and has competed in three other editions of the round-the-world ocean classic.

The Herald reported last week that Newcastle City Council was in the early stages of bidding to host a race stopover in 2021, and Braidwood predicted a Newcastle event would be a success.

“Newcastle is the perfect-sized city for it,” he said.

“What used to make Fremantle one of the best stopovers ever was because it was that sized city. Rio is always a fizzer because it was too big. Nobody had any interest so nobody would go. It’s a major event. It’s like the Supercars. When we went to Sydney it was an absolute fizzer.”

But Braidwood said the race was in a state of flux after its “sugar daddy” owners, Volvo, passed it on last month to the Atlantic Ocean Racing Spain syndicate, led by Richard Brisius, Johan Salén and Jan Litborn.

Volvo, which has helped fund some of the competing teams, will remain as a sponsor in 2021.

Braidwood said the race had struggled at times to attract entrants willing to spend about $20 million for the eight-month marathon.

The past five races have attracted between six and eight entries. This year’s event, which ends this month in The Hague, has seven boats.

“I reckon there’s always that danger. Every single race it’s always on the edge of folding,” Braidwood said.

“I’d hate to see it ever stop. It’s always a tight thing to get it off the ground. Maybe it will be good because the Swedes are crazy about it.”

Brisius has said AORS is “in this for the long run”.

The race’s website says organisers are considering two classes of boat in 2021, the existing Volvo Ocean 65 one-design design and another yet to be determined.

Braidwood said the 65s were dull but reliable. A new division could be an open class, including super-maxis.

“They’re not sure which way they’re going. There’s a lot of discussion.”

Lake Macquarie sailor Chris Nicholson is rumoured to be working on an Australian entry for 2021, and Braidwood said a Newcastle-based team would be a great outcome.

“I think you need a local team,” he said. “I think that would be a real catalyst. There’s enough local sailors to make it really successful, but you need money.” 

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