Years of dreaming, and months of intense preparation, both in terms of sport and logistics. A historic moment for Polish sailing is coming. On 8 January, after half a century, the white and red flag will once again fly at the start of The Ocean Race. The crew of the Polish yacht WindWhisper is a perfectly composed mix of routine and youthful enthusiasm. Its full line-up is known.
The final countdown is underway for the start of the 15th edition of The Ocean Race – one of the most famous and challenging crewed sailing races in the world. All the teams taking part in the race have already gathered at Ocean Live Park in Alicante. The red-and-white yacht WindWhisper and its crew are also already there. Who will represent the team that will be sailing on the Polish yacht?
The role of the skipper is filled by Pablo Arrarte. The 42-year-old Spaniard is an experienced racer, a recent winner of the Sydney-Hobart classic, in which he sailed in the crew of ‘Andoo Comanche’. He is very familiar with the specifics of The Ocean Race. In the two previous editions, he finished second representing the Dutch Team Burnel (2014-15) and the Spanish Mapfre (2017-18).
The role of yacht captain has been entrusted to Liz Wardley. The 43-year-old sailor from Papua New Guinea has a wealth of experience in ocean racing. At just 19 years old, she led the crew in the Sydney-Hobart race. In 2001, she made her Volvo Ocean Race debut aboard the British Amer Sports Too, crewed by an all-female crew. In the 2014-15 campaign, she defended the colours of Sweden’s Team SCA (third place), and four years ago she led the United Nations-flagged Turn the Tide on Plastic team (sixth place). Her undoubted advantage is her vast knowledge of the VO65 class yachts, which she gained from working on their repairs and servicing in workshops run by the race organisers.
After many months of preparing the boat, it will be great to finally stand at the start of the regatta. We can’t wait,” enthuses Liz Wardley.
An important figure in the team will be Antonio Cuervas-Mons. The popular ‘Neti’ has competed four times in The Ocean Race and won the Sydney-Hobart Regatta in 2016 and 2017.
Neal McDonald has also enriched the Team’s line-up. The British sailor is a living legend in sailing. He represented his country at the Seoul Olympics, where he finished sixth in the Flying Dutchman class. He made his debut in The Ocean Race under Fortuna’s sails in the 1993-94 edition, when the event was still called the Whitbread Round the World Race. The mythical Fortuna did not favour the crew, who had to withdraw from the race after breaking the mast twice during the first day of racing. The initial adversity did not discourage McDonald. On the contrary, they sharpened his appetite for success.
In subsequent editions of the regatta, he was a member of the Silk Cut crew (1997-98), and in 2000-2001 he took second place leading Assa Abloy. There was an interesting family rivalry in this edition, as the skipper of Amer Sports Too was McDonald’s wife Lisa (she had the aforementioned Liz Wardley in her crew). In subsequent campaigns, the Brit represented the colours of Ericsson Racing Team (2005-06), Green Dragon (2008-09), Team Telefónica (2011-12), Azzam (2014-15) and Mapfre (2017-18). The 59-year-old has also competed in the Louis Vuitton Cup, a qualifying regatta for famous America’s Cup.
Aksel Magdahl will be in charge of getting the best out of the course and making the most of the meteorological conditions. The Norwegian navigator is, among other things, the author of the winning tactics of the Ericsson 3 team in the longest leg of The Ocean Race to date (from Qingdao to Rio de Janeiro in the 2008-09 edition).
The Ocean Race will kick off on 8 January with an impressive harbour race in Alicante (start 2 pm). Although the results of the harbour races do not count towards the overall standings, in the event of a tie between the crews they can determine the final order. The start of the first ocean leg of the race from Alicante to Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands is scheduled for 15 January. The Polish team is competing against five others: Portugal’s Mirpuri, the Dutch Team JAJO, Mexico’s Viva Mexico, Lithuania’s Ambersail 2 and Austrian-Italian Ocean Racing – Team Genova. The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint Cup will be won by the best team after three stages: Alicante – Mindelo, Aarhus – The Hague, and The Hague – Genoa.