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Yachties line up for eight-month Volvo race -

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Three Australians have joined New Zealand yacht Camper for the gruelling eight-month Volvo Ocean
Race, starting Saturday in Spain.


ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: It's one of the world's most demanding and perilous sporting contests.

The Volvo Ocean Race starts tomorrow in Spain. An endurance race that'll take teams to nine ports,
ending in Ireland next July.

There's no prize money, just glory. And for the next eight months sailors will be hitting speeds of
up to 40 knots in often treacherous oceans, and living on scant sleep and freeze-dried food.

Three Australians are a vital part of team Camper, which will be pushing to get the Kiwi yacht over
the line first.

Europe correspondent, Rachael Brown, joined the crew during its final preparations in Alicante,

CHRIS NICHOLSON, SKIPPER: There's a trophy at the end of this, that is all. But you know that's not
what, the guys race this race because their just, it's in their blood.

MIKE PAMMENTER, BOWMAN: You do get those moments where you just sit there shaking your head,
saying, look, there's no logical reason why I'm doing this.

NEIL COX, SHORE MANAGER: It's like you're match racing the whole way around the world. So yeah,
like everything matters.

RACHAEL BROWN, REPORTER: The sun rises over Alicante for another day of nautical choreography. The
moves have to be meticulous, short and sharp for the import sprints, paced and calculated for the
nine offshore marathon legs around the world.

Former Australian Olympian, skipper Chris Nicholson, takes his crew through its paces.

The grinders read and match the wind's crescendo for the sprints that'll account for nearly a fifth
of their score. And they need to perfect manoeuvres now, in the calm Mediterranean, before the
unforgiving Indian Ocean.

CHRIS NICHOLSON: You couldn't get a bigger contrast today to when it's, you know, anything from 25
to 45 knots and big seas. And you know those conditions are rough, but that's not so much the
problem. The problem in those conditions is that we're still full on racing. That's what makes it
tough. Because, you know, it's easy enough to get through those conditions if you weren't racing.
You'd put a race in amongst it against the best guys in the world, and all of a sudden it's pretty

MIKE PAMMENTER: Well the boat's is designed for it, the boat's built for it and you're sailing
with, you know, nine other professional sailors and you know I'd put my life in their hands any day
of the week.

RACHAEL BROWN: Sadly it can come to this. In the 2006 race a sailor died after waves knocked him

Chris Nicholson had the grim task of helping bring the body home.

It's not a topic sailors like talking about, but they acknowledge it can be a sport of close calls.

CHRIS NICHOLSON: On the second race I did, second Volvo I did, our boat ended up sinking in the
end. So that was, we did a life raft transfer at sea into another boat. So and, you know, we've had
a few breakages along the way and also, also we also had a near sinking just near Cape Horn. So
it's, you know, they're quite sobering moments, you all of them. And none are easy to forget.

NEIL COX: It is incredibly competitive and it is the highest end of offshore sailing. I mean, you
know, one of the legs of this race is like doing 10 consecutive Hobarts in a row. And we know how
beaten-up people get by doing one Hobart. So by the time you get, like the boats show up and the
guys show up after a leg like that, you know everyone's given pretty much everything they can. It's
a bit of an Australian thing, I guess, of how much pain you can put yourself through.

RACHAEL BROWN: Sailors steal precious minutes of sleep when they can.

It's a far cry from the competition's birth in 1973, an informal race between whichever misfits
were putting around the Mediterranean at the time. Now, every second counts.

Rudimentary tools and complicated nautical tables have been replaced by sophisticated technology
and the navigator is now the strategist.

WILL OXLEY, NAVIGATOR: It's not worrying about where you are, it's trying to make the best use of
the predicted upcoming winds, currents and sea state to actually position the boat the best place
to get to where you're trying to go as fast as possible.

RACHAEL BROWN: Every three hours crews learn of their rivals' location.

WILL OXLEY: We have a series of programs we've written that do an analysis of the performance of us
relative to those boats over that three hours. So did we go faster, slower, were we sailing a
higher course, a lower course. And then we look at their position, we look at the predicted winds
and currents, and we try to figure out, not just our strategy is, but what their strategy might be.

RACHAEL BROWN: After crew skills, the next vital ingredient for success is cutting edge design.

NEIL COX: Even though you're covering 39,000 miles, you'd be surprised. Like this fleet is so close
now, that we found in the last race you know, there was two legs that were over 3,500 miles long
and the first three boats all finished within two minutes of one other.

RACHAEL BROWN: As if this race wasn't hard enough, this crew has to deal with the more modern
problem of piracy. On the second leg of the race all the yachts will be loaded on to a ship and
taken to the Middle East and the crew will pick up the competition from there.

NEIL COX: Obviously, you know, with the dynamic of the race, once upon a time being a very
Corinthian based, you know, yachting experience, now it's more commercial and things like that, a
lot of the sponsors want to go into certain areas of the world you'd never normally go sail in.

So all of a sudden you find yourself off the coast of Somalia or off the coast of Iran, places like
that, not ideal to be in a yacht, especially in a yacht in not a lot of breeze. These pirates, you
know are coming out up to 600 miles off shore now off the coast of Somalia now.

CHRIS NICHOLSON: If there's breeze, we'd be able to outrun them, but that's not the position you
ever want to be in. There's quite often very little breeze up there. So, there wouldn't be much we
could do about it. So, you know, and three months in Somalia isn't part of what we plan for the

RACHAEL BROWN: The crew blows off steam with more racing.

And being back at base is also a chance for rare family time.

ISABELLE OXLEY, NAVIGATOR'S DAUGHTER: Not many people have been nearly quite a few places around
the world when they're 11, but I love the travelling. You learn a lot by travelling, a lot more
than you can learn in the classroom about things like that. So it's a great experience and, yes,
I'm very lucky compared to other kids.

RACHAEL BROWN: 11-year-old Isabelle Oxley was born while her navigator father was sailing up
London's Thames. It's a familiar tale. Chasing this trophy can mean sacrificing other awards, like
father of the year.

CHRIS NICHOLSON: Very grateful to my partner Megan, who's about six days away from giving birth to
our second child.

RACHAEL BROWN: Which you won't be there for?

CHRIS NICHOLSON: No, no, I won't be. And on top of that I forgot her birthday last week. So, you
know, she, she understands all that. You know, So like I said, it's a unique lifestyle and, you
know, I've seen the different end of it, where, you know, you're trying to do an Olympics and
trying to further your career and, you know, you're out of money.

RACHAEL BROWN: Out here, this is their family. In cosy quarters, they sleep, sometimes loudly.

MIKE PAMMENTER: Yes, there's a few wood choppers on board, call them little generators. But there's
so much other noise, I don't think anyone actually notices it,


WILL OXLEY: Periodically you won't be able to hear yourself think because of the noises from on
deck and there are the odd drips that come in from time to time. But, you know, they ...

RACHAEL BROWN: You love it?

WILL OXLEY: Yeah, we're clearly mad.

RACHAEL BROWN: And life is pared back to the basics. Crews survive on one change of clothes, for
those who bother, that is, and freeze dried food.

Back on land the shore crew, the unsung heroes of this race, nourish the team and their yacht.

The race is faster than the speed of shipping, so this base is duplicated so the two can leapfrog
around the world.

Then this handy work is passed back to these hands to be thrown to the wind.

Rachael Brown, Lateline.