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Start of Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race and the boats leave Auckland bound for Itajai in Brazil – Photo by Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race

GAC Pindar’s uncompromising logistics keep the Volvo Ocean Race on course – again

The Volvo Ocean Race is over, the crews have dispersed, and the containers of gear have been unpacked for a final time. For logistics provider GAC Pindar, it’s been another nine-month around-the-world challenge successfully completed.

The Volvo Ocean Race is arguably the toughest professional sports team event of them all. A relentless marathon on the seas, it’s the ultimate test for some of the best sailors on the planet. Clinching the all-important victory is an obsession. For some, the pursuit of victory takes decades. For others, it costs them their lives.
GAC Pindar team members start building the race village at Alicante – Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

It’s no less intense away from the boats. The agony and ecstasy of the Volvo Ocean Race is felt by all those involved. This includes the men and women of GAC Pindar, the official logistics provider for the 2017–18 race. 

GAC Pindar is the only supplier in the history of the race to be appointed as its official logistics provider for a second time. It’s a mammoth task that involves moving the event’s race village around the world, taking it to 12 countries in nine months, all while transporting kit for the race’s seven teams.

Nothing comes close

The GAC Group is a privately-owned company specialising in the delivery of high-quality shipping, logistics and marine services to customers worldwide. GAC Pindar was formed when GAC and the sailing team company PSP (Pindar Sailing Partners) joined forces while working on a project together in the Middle East. Today, the brand is both a professional sailing team and a recognised expert in integrated specialist marine leisure logistics solutions, including yacht transport, superyacht services, yacht spares logistics, event logistics and site management, vessel monitoring services and customs clearance procedures.

GAC Pindar combines the global strength and resources of the GAC Group with a deep understanding and passion for the sailing industry. Launched in 2011, GAC Pindar is headquartered at the heart of the UK’s yachting community in Southampton and has personnel operating around the world.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing ready to re-join the race in Auckland after receiving a new bow section – Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race 

It was from these offices that a wide range of services were provided for the Volvo Ocean Race which started in Alicante, Spain, on 22 October 2017 and finished in The Hague in the Netherlands in June 2018.

Jeremy Troughton, GAC’s Volvo Ocean Race project manager, says these services included customs clearance and transportation of race village structures, pavilions and hospitality infrastructure, broadcast and other support equipment to the 12 host cities across six continents.

“With a truly global itinerary, the Volvo Ocean Race is as unique a logistics challenge as it is a sailing event – nothing comes close to it for complexity. Each country that hosts the race has its own rules, regulations and customs laws, all of which have to be thoroughly understood and successfully negotiated within a very tight schedule,” he says. 

“Then there are local holidays like Chinese New Year and Memorial Day in the USA that had to be factored into the schedule this time round. Adding an extra layer of complexity, they are yet another aspect to be planned for and navigated with support from ‘normalised’ ship and freight services, where the nature of the cargo and tight deadlines already challenge the norm.”

Ever-changing conditions

As the sailing teams race across the world’s oceans, GAC Pindar faces a logistical race of its own, transporting two identical race villages that leap-frog each other around the globe, with one village travelling ahead to the next host city for set-up (or ‘bump-in’) while the previous village is in use.

Sunrise during Leg 6 to Auckland, with MAPFRE chasing Dongfeng – as the sailing teams raced across the world’s oceans, GAC Pindar faced a logistical race of its own – Photo by Ugo Fonolla/Volvo Ocean Race 

Each village needs around 140 containers and includes the teams’ bases, a ‘globe’ exhibition centre for visitors and a ‘race boat experience’ marquee. Bump-in from whoa to go for each village can take several days, with the containers arriving by sea one to two weeks prior to the race fleet, sometimes longer. Storage space for the empty containers during each stopover also has to be considered – in Auckland, for example, vacant land at the foot of Curran Street, under the Harbour Bridge, was used.

Just getting the containers to their location in the host city can be a logistical nightmare. “Freight that departed Auckland was sent to the port of Philadelphia as this was the best ocean transit option available that fitted with the race schedule. This then involved a day’s trucking to Newport, Rhode Island. However, certain states in the US have a weight restriction for road freight of 19,500 kg. Knowing this in advance, and by working closely with the Volvo Ocean Race, we were able to pre-plan in Auckland the move into Newport by splitting overweight container contents between two containers,” Jeremy explains.

“The transit to Cape Town from Alicanté was also complex due to the very tight timeline we had to work with – we had to break down the race village in three days to meet a vessel from Algeciras, rather than Valencia, as this was a quicker ocean passage to Cape Town. And the Hong Kong bump-in was impacted by adverse weather conditions affecting the ground at the race village. All the equipment had to be trucked around the outside of the site to avoid breaking it up. The race village still opened on time despite these issues.”

Approachability, flexibility and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the race are key, adds Jeremy. “GAC Pindar’s ‘small business mentality’ makes that achievable. We have an 11-strong team that delivers agile logistics support, all while leveraging the global strength, resources and contacts of the wider GAC Group.”

The crew of Vestas 11th Hour Racing celebrate completing their jury rig in Port Stanley – Photos by Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race

Springing into action

There’s no better example of this agility than when GAC Pindar sprang into action to help the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team deliver a replacement forward quarter section for its boat, after a collision with a fishing boat around 30 nautical miles from the Leg 5 finish line in Hong Kong on 20 January critically damaged the bow. 

The carbon fibre replacement section was produced in Italy, then transported by road to London Heathrow. From there it was air freighted to Auckland on a special cargo service capable of transporting extra-large loads – its 6 m length limited the options to a weekly Boeing 747 service flying out of Heathrow. 

Auckland’s race village – each village includes the teams’ bases, a ‘globe’ exhibition centre for visitors and a ‘race boat experience’ marquee – Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

Upon arrival in Auckland, the new section was delivered to The Boatyard (the facility in each race village where each race team’s expert boatbuilders carry out maintenance of the fleet) to be fitted to the boat, which had been delivered from Hong Kong onboard a Maersk ship by GAC Pindar. Repairs were completed in time for the team to re-join the race when the fleet departed Auckland on 17 March 2018.

Auckland had more than its share of logistical challenges. With the race fleet back in the water at the Viaduct the week prior to departure, MetService issued a cyclone warning for Monday 12 March – Cyclone Hola was bearing down on the top of the North Island. Ports of Auckland issued a directive to the race organisers that all boats were to be lifted out of the water. GAC Pindar’s Auckland facilitator Richard Thorpe says several cranes and shore crews had to be mobilised at very short notice – and great expense – only for the cyclone to bear away to the east, leaving the city to experience just strong winds.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing’s new mast being delivered to Itajai, Brazil, after the dismasting in the Southern Ocean – Photo by Jen Edney/Volvo Ocean Race

Vestas 11th Hour Racing went on to experience another calamity when it was dismasted on 30 March while racing in Leg 7 of the race (from Auckland to Itajaí in Brazil) after rounding Cape Horn. All crew were reported safe, and the team were able to motor to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands just over 100 miles away. Such an isolated location proved to be a logistical nightmare, and the crew set about sourcing materials to construct a jury rig in order to get them to Itajaí in time for repairs and to begin Leg 8 on Sunday 22 April. GAC Pindar organised delivery of a replacement mast and rigging to Itajaí from Paranagua, Brazil, which had been repositioned there after the Cape Town stopover to ensure a spare mast was always readily available to the race fleet as progress was made around the globe.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing in Port Stanley after being dismasted – such an isolated location proved to be a logistical nightmare – Photo by Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race

Crew member Damian Foxall wrote in the team’s onboard blog: “Our jury mast started life as a streetlamp before being discarded behind a shed on the Falkland Islands to corrode away in the grass. It was dragged out from the undergrowth by Nick [Dana, boat captain] and local Falklander Paul Ellis from Martech Logistics. Measured up, fitted with mast foot, masthead fittings, shroud terminals and ‘brand new’ rigging, the new mast stands 8 m above the deck, compared to our 30 m racing rig.”

Sustainable operations

Sustainability was at the heart of the 2017–18 Volvo Ocean Race, promoting ocean health and a campaign to ‘turn the tide on plastic’ in collaboration with the UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign, so again logistics had an important role to play. 

“Consumer expectations are that world-class events should be environmentally responsible. That trend was fully embraced and championed by the race, its sailors, event organisers and fans, who united in their call to action to reduce plastic waste at sea,” says Jeremy. 

From a logistics perspective, this placed even greater emphasis on accurately tracking trucks, air freight and cargo, and working with the supply chain to minimise the impact on the environment where possible. Volvo Trucks – among the most sustainable vehicles of their kind in the world – were the natural choice.

Intrinsic understanding

Throughout the Volvo Ocean Race 2017–18, maintaining the flexibility and bandwidth to deal with ad hoc logistics requests while managing the safe and timely transportation of the race village was key. 

“It was only possible due to GAC Pindar’s intrinsic understanding of the pressures felt by all involved in the race, from competitors to organisers and viewers,” concludes Jeremy Troughton. “Through our profound knowledge of boats and yachts, and a passionate team with sailors of our own in our ranks, we hope to continue meeting and exceeding the exciting yet uncompromising demands of the world’s toughest sailing event.”

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