There are so many things that go into winning a Volvo Ocean Race - a fast boat, tactics, luck, the quality of sailors - but it really all comes down to one thing.

The dynamics on board a boat can make or break a campaign. If people don't get along or egos get in the way, an otherwise rock star team will have little chance of winning.

There have been some pretty dramatic developments over the last week, particularly around the appointment of Kiwi Brad Jackson as AkzoNobel skipper, and rival teams are now more wary of what that team will achieve in the race than they were before.

I'm more well known for sailing solo around the world when I can only argue with myself (it happens more often than you might think) but I have been in plenty of harmonious teams and just as many dysfunctional ones.


Mapfre seem to have got it together this time and it's one reason why they go into this year's race as one of the favourites.

They badly underperformed in the last Volvo Ocean Race when Iker Martinez was skipper. They weren't even on the podium, even though they had a number of rock stars on board.
But that was the problem. They were overloaded with talent and couldn't get out of each other's way. That came down to personality.

This time around they are being led by the cool head of Xabi Fernandez. He was the crew, not the helm, when he was part of the 2004 Olympic 49er gold medal-winning team and is happy to let specialists do what they have been brought on to do.

That means he won't always be on the helm because he sees himself as a team leader and overall strategists and the dynamic is clearly working well.

Mapfre will start alongside Dongfeng as favourites with Team Brunel, AkzoNobel and Vestas 11th Hour Racing not too far behind.

The teams that are strong are generally the ones who are coming back for another crack. It takes a while to understand how to win the Volvo Ocean Race and that means getting things right on and off the water.

There are plenty of fresh faces this time around, and the new rules around under-30 sailors and women have helped in this regard.

It's a great move by the organisers because, speaking from experience, the Volvo Ocean Race is a difficult beast to crack. Instead of holding try-outs, skippers naturally pick those who they have sailed with before so it was hard to get new blood into the race.

It means this time there is a lot of nervous energy around Alicante. Just walking around the dock, there are plenty of wide-eyed individuals who hope they can just make it through the race.

The first leg is a bit of a warmup, given they're heading around the corner to Lisbon, and the real racing will start on the second leg to Cape Town.

It's been a shorter preparation than normal, and Brunel entered as late as June, but now the sailors just need to get out on the water.

Let's just hope they have got the team dynamics right.

● Conrad Colman is the first Kiwi to sail in the Vendee Globe solo, non-stop round the world race.

The other Volvo Ocean race Kiwis

Peter Burling

Team Brunel

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 0

Olympic champion, world champion, America's Cup winner; Burling is now hoping to add Volvo Ocean Race winner to that list. The 26-year-old is one of the most remarkable sailors of the modern era and has the chance to become the first person to win the Olympics, America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race. Incredibly, he could do it all in the space of two years. Burling will feature in a handful of legs (he's definitely doing the first two) and will operate as a helmsman and trimmer.

Blair Tuke


Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 0

Like Burling, Tuke also has the chance to win sailing's triple crown (Olympics, America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race) but that's not what is driving him. The 28-year-old originally had more interest in participating in a round the world race even before the America's Cup and Olympics. Mapfre will start as one of the favourites, having won Leg Zero and last week's prologue from Lisbon to Alicante, and Tuke is expected to be on board for most legs of the race. He will be a trimmer-helmsman on board the Spanish boat, which is being skippered by his long-time friend and rival in the Olympic 49er class, Xabi Fernandez.

Louis Sinclair


Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 1

Sinclair was born in New Zealand, raised on the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua and this year was the powerhouse on Oracle Team USA's America's Cup boat. This will be his second Volvo, having been on the winning Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for two legs in 2014-15 (including one Southern Ocean leg) and he also has vast experience on big boats, having won line honours in the 2015 Sydney to Hobart on board the 100-foot super maxi Comanche. Sinclair apparently likes spear fishing, kite surfing and honey cutting - the action of harvesting honey from wild bee hives. Not all at the same time.

Brad Jackson

Team AkzoNobel

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 6

The 49-year-old Kiwi is a self-confessed Volvo Ocean Race addict and this year, when the race gets under way in Alicante, will be lining up for his seventh. It's a love affair that started in 1993 when he helped Grant Dalton win what was then known as the Whitbread Round the World yacht race aboard New Zealand Endeavour. He has missed only one race since, the last instalment in 2014-15, and even then, he helped the all-women's Team SCA as on-shore manager. Jackson has won it three times and finished second twice, and is now eyeing success aboard Team AkzoNobel.

Brad Farrand

Team AkzoNobel

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 0

Farrand grew up idolising Sir Peter Blake and he now gets to follow in his hero's wake in his first Volvo Ocean Race. The 29-year-old bowman qualifies as one of his crew's under-30 sailors - teams must have two members aged under 30 at the end of the race in July 2018. He has some offshore racing experience but is better known for his involvement in the Extreme Sailing Series and World Match Racing Tour.

Stu Bannatyne

Dongfeng Race Team

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 7

Bannatyne is regarded as one of the world's best and most experienced offshore sailors. On top of his three round the world victories, the 46-year-old has also broken the 24-hour monohull world speed record on five occasions, was 2009 New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year and has completed nine Fastnet Races, three Transpacs from California to Hawaii and 11 Sydney to Hobart races. Like last time, he's likely to be on board for the main Southern Ocean legs only, which is hardly surprising given he's known as the King of the Southern Ocean. "The big thing with the Volvo Ocean Race for me is the fast downwind sailing, having no bottom mark to worry about going around." No, there are just icebergs, whales, giant waves and battering storms.

Daryl Wislang

Dongfeng Race Team

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 4

Wisbang, as he's known, is chasing consecutive wins after being on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing last time around. The 36-year-old, who hails from Petone and got into sailing because his parents figured it would be a way for him to sort out his differences with his older brother, has carved out a good profession as a sailor. He's crewed for Team New Zealand and the king of Spain and was also on board the American maxi Comanche as it set the world 24-hour distance record in the Transatlantic Race (618.01 nautical miles) and later won the Sydney to Hobart. Wislang has designs on skippering his own Volvo team one day.

Tony Mutter

Vestas 11th Hour Racing

Number of Volvo Ocean Races: 5

Mutter admits he struggled with the last Volvo Ocean Race, because he wasn't involved. This edition will be the 48-year-old's sixth and he's won it twice before with ABN Amro One (2005-06) and Ericsson 4 (2008-09). It was during the latter race that Mutter's knee got infected and he had to be operated on by his teammate at sea but it didn't improve enough, so he jumped off the boat and was taken to hospital by a fishing boat. He had a better time as co-leader on board Comanche when the super maxi crossed the Atlantic (2880 nautical miles) last year in a record 5 days 14 hours and also played a key role for Perpetual Loyal when the boat shattered the Sydney to Hobart record in 2016.