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Volvo Ocean Race faces stormy seas ahead of this year’s event

The future plans for the race are in doubt following chief executive’s resignation

Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy competes at the Volvo Dún Laoghaire Regatta. File photograph: David Branigan/Oceansport

With three weeks remaining before the start of this year’s 72,000km Volvo Ocean Race, future plans for the event originally known as the Whitbread Round the World Race have been thrown into doubt.

The twin blows of the resignation of the race’s recently-appointed chief executive, Mark Turner, and his motivation for stepping down – the decision to postpone the development of a new foiling 60ft race yacht, plus an inshore multihull – are at the core of the issues.

However, the current edition of the race, which begins in Alicante, Spain, on October 22nd, is unaffected by these events. Seven existing one-design 65-footers will begin the first leg – a 1,100km sprint to Lisbon.

Irish interest this year centres on Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy, who has suspended her campaign for the Tokyo 2020 Games to switch to offshore racing, and veteran Damian Foxall from Co Kerry, who is on his 10th lap of the planet.

Irish cameraman Brian Carlin will also be on board several of the entries during the race as the lead on-board cameraman, following his experiences with the Team Vestas Wind crew who became shipwrecked on a Pacific Ocean reef in the last edition of the race.

The scheduled finish for the race is June 30th next in The Hague, which would allow Murphy two full years to prepare for another Olympic appearance.

Among the changes Turner had introduced was a switch to a two-year cycle for the event, meaning that the Rathfarnham sailor – assuming she qualifies for the next Games – would be unavailable for the next around the world campaign as it would be sailed over 2019-2020.

However, the pressure of building a new fleet of boats from scratch means this schedule is unlikely to be achieved, meaning either the current fleet of 65-footers would sail a third edition starting in October 2019, or the next edition of the race would revert to a three-year cycle, or even the more traditional four-year cycle.

Atlantic ambition

Meanwhile, an offshore race of another kind and similarly as gruelling as the Volvo Ocean Race, though possibly tougher as it is sailed single-handed, gets under way this Sunday in La Rochelle.

Irish sailor Tom Dolan will be one of a total of 81 boats, including 56 in his “production series” class, competing in the 6,400km Mini Transatlantic Race. For the next few weeks, his home will be a 21½ft stripped-out boat that has been his sole ambition for the past two years.

“I’m dying to get going after a long week of faffing about and safety checks,” he said. “The weather is looking nice, with about 36 hours of upwind followed by a 180-degree shift and just a possibility of a calm off the Canary Islands as we reach there.”

The fleet stops in Gran Canaria after 2,100km, before a 4,300km stage across the Atlantic to Martinique.

“I did this race two years ago and back then I didn’t know what it would be like to sail solo across the Atlantic,” said Dolan, who the French media have reportedly nicknamed L’Irlandais Volant – the Flying Irishman.

“This is the summit of two years of preparation and although I would settle for a podium [place] anything outside top five will be a disappointment.”