Volvo Ocean Race: The logistics of putting on a world boat race

While there's no doubt that the Volvo Ocean Race takes considerable effort to compete in and keep running smoothly, the hard work starts months before the first race itself. For starters, the event’s massive consignment of accompanying equipment needs to be shifted around the world throughout, and that takes a lot of organisation and hard graft.

Craig Rodgers is the man tasked with making sure everything gets to the stopover ports on time, as Volvo Ocean Race Logistics Manager.

“The biggest challenge is to make the timeline," he says. “This time the stopovers are shorter and the boats quicker, so it’s really tight. If we miss one ship and the vessel only sails once per week, then we don’t have time to meet the next vessel and to build the race village.”

Two identical sets of equipment are therefore taking two separate leap-frogging routes to reach each of the 10 ports on time.

There are 100 to 120 containers per route for the entire race, including 12 containers for the organisation.

“We have two identical kits for everything. So when you open container 1A, it’s the mirror image of container 2A. It is arguably not the most cost effective way for doing things but there is no container ship in the world that can match the speed of a Volvo Open 70!”

Rodgers works closely with DHL, Official Logistics Partner for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

“DHL takes care of all race logistics – by air, land and sea. In most cases they try to use Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping line. But in some cases, even Maersk doesn’t have ships to service our ports. For example, the port of Sanya isn’t a main container port so we have to charter a ship from Sanya [on Hainan island, China] to Itajaí in Brazil.

“We also have to take bio-security into consideration. When going to New Zealand, all textiles and wood have to be treated. We also have to consider fumigation in New Zealand and also from China to Brazil. Custom clearances are always tricky, especially with freeze-dried food and hazardous materials. Again, DHL’s expertise in that domain makes our lives much easier.

“Volvo Emballage provide all our pallets, boxes and packaging in order to test their products in a corrosive environment.”

In addition to the hundreds of containers travelling with the race, another 20-25 tonnes of material will travel by plane.

“Anything ultra expensive such as TV broadcast and editing kit, as well as the real one off pieces of IT infrastructure, goes by air freight to every port. If it’s cheaper and an option to buy two of anything, then it goes by sea. If it costs less to buy one and send it by air or if there is no option to buy a duplicate, it’s goes in the plane."

Looking ahead to future logistic challenges, Rodgers believes the likely performance ramp-up of the boats in further editions of the race may require more kit to travel by air.

This includes the huge video screens and communications kit provided by Ericsson.

“We are working with Ericsson to make sure the network in village is fast and efficient so we can spread information from race to shore, to big screens, to mobile handsets, and to online for those who are not in the race village," says Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race. During our first three stopovers fans have told us how much they love the video on the screens.”

Ericsson is providing the MINI-LINK PT microwave solution and service for the nine-month duration of the race. MINI-LINK PT is a compact, high-capacity microwave solution with zero footprint and easy installation. It is highly flexible and can be used across water for boat-to-shore connectivity. It puts high-definition connectivity where it needs it to be, quickly and flexibly and means the teams can stay in touch with each other when needed.

While Ericsson is providing the equipment and service, the race IT supplier Volvo IT is performing the installations at the 10 stopover cities.  

“Using air freight only for the entire race is definitely do-able, but the volumes we currently ship are an issue. Yet, I think it’s something we would need to look at in the future as the boats will only go faster and it is something done well by F1 and Moto GP.”

<p>Fore more information about the Volvo Ocean Race, check out the official <a href="http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html" target="_blank">Volvo Ocean Race website</a>.</p>