The Volvo Ocean Race is a not just a race against your rivals, it’s a race against the clock. Time is the most precious resource you have, and to make the best use of your time can be the difference between feeling in control, performing to the best of your ability, or being stressed, on the edge, and distracted. In short, time management is self-management.
Being able to take back control of your schedule and optimise effectiveness is a key skill in any business – but particularly important if you’re planning on sailing the Volvo Ocean Race. In this nine-month marathon, trust me, you’ll need to get your time management in order!
When you’re racing against the clock in search of glory, no matter what you do, you’ll never feel like you have enough time.
Being a professional athlete isn’t an easy life – we don’t get molly-coddled or given weeks of time off. In fact, being a sailor in this race is very similar to modern business. We have deadlines, we have time pressures, we have meetings upon meetings.
Before even crossing the start line, you’re fighting a battle to be ready on time. Is the boat ready, are the team ready, have you done enough training, do you have enough data to be confident in your decisions, have you pushed hard enough?
Then, the Race Village, of which there’s one in each Host City along the route, opens – and demands fly in from all directions. The sponsor, the race organiser, the media, your teammates, and not forgetting your friends and family. It’s a delicate balancing act to keep everyone happy, and that’s why so many professional athletes let someone else manage their time. It’s a lot easier to just turn up and be wherever you’re asked to be.
Once you cross the start line and head out into the open ocean, it’s the opposite. Time is on hold. Every day on the ocean is like groundhog day – you’re in a routine, broken up only by position reports and weather downloads. You’re constantly trying to do the same thing – make your boat go as fast as possible, in the right direction. Long legs or short sprints, the intensity doesn’t change, and even though the proximity of the competition might, you can’t relax until your home and hosed.
When you’re a sailor in the Volvo Ocean Race, time doesn’t belong to you anymore. You’re now on rotation, working four hours on, four hours off, through day and night. Between sail changes and manoeuvres, which take absolute precedence, you must eat, drink, pee, clean your teeth, and maybe, if you packed smartly, even get to change your underwear every few days.
On shore, the stopover becomes all-consuming. You arrive thinking you might be able to relax for a few short weeks before setting off again, but usually this recuperation time is gone before you can say ‘hot bubble bath’.
Preparation for the next monster offshore leg starts as soon as you arrive from the previous one. There’s the packing up the boat, debriefing the leg, trying to grab some much needed sleep and stock up on fresh food (after three weeks at sea, you will be in desperate need of an apple or two).
Then, you’re back in the gym trying to maintain your fitness, stretch out the kinks in your muscles and make sure you’re good to go again.
Once you’re in the race cycle, there’s no time to develop muscle. This must all be done before the race begins – at sea we eat 6,000 calories per day and still lose weight! – so the best thing you can do in this situation is to try and keep in shape and be healthy, physically and mentally. My motto? Eat well, sleep well and stretch. These are all things you can’t do offshore.
When you’re not in the gym, you’ll be preparing your kit, the boat and fulfilling the requirements of your sponsor ahead of the next leg – this will usually be in the form of media interviews.
Needless to say, to be able to make the most of this incredible event, you need to get control of your time. You need to be organised, or at least have someone to help you organise.
My advice? Get the personal stuff done early – pack your bag, and then get out and enjoy whichever incredible location you’re in, otherwise you miss it and your only experience of travelling the world will be various marinas and hotels.
That’s a huge mistake and will feel like you never stepped off the boat the whole way around the planet.
The Volvo Ocean Race will feel like the fastest nine months of your life.
Sail fast, live slow!