Fans of the Volvo Ocean Race will already know that the organisation behind the world’s toughest yacht race has been thrown into a bit of confusion by the unexpected resignation recently of its CEO Mark Turner.
Turner took over just over a year ago and had made some swingeing changes to the future profile of the race, including a new fearsome sounding “Super 60” foiling monohull design, a two rather than three-year gap between races, and some radical new race configurations – including the tantalising possibility of a non-stop round Antarctica race.
While most if not all of this went down well with the majority of the world’s sailing fans, it seems Volvo board members were not all so enchanted with Turner’s vision for the future. Adding to the problem was Turner’s failure to deliver on a commitment to recruit an eighth team for the current edition of the race in time for the October 22 start date.
Neither it seems had Turner’s revamped commercial team brought in very much in the way of new commercial partners – either as sponsors of the race itself or prospective backers of future entries. This is not to say the team had failed – sailing sponsorship deals are notoriously difficult to land, and the word is that Turner was excruciatingly close to signing a deal for the eighth team, but in the end, fell short of the cash figure needed.
This was the landscape that resulted in Volvo Ocean Race issuing an unexpected statement in September that plans for a 2019 race had been scrapped and Turner had decided to step down from his role as leader. It’s fair to say the news shocked the sailing industry and has caused prolonged speculation over Volvo’s longer-term commitment to the race.
The current race is unaffected and on a visit to the Volvo Ocean Race offices in Alicante – where I am typing this column – I can confirm that it is business as usual for the teeming ranks of blue-shirted Volvo Ocean Race staff who are swarming around the race’s glitzy headquarters building. Slightly disconcertingly the outgoing CEO is still very much in charge – Turner has been asked to stay on until his successor is appointed – and making his presence felt, both in person and on social media.
What happens next with the Volvo Ocean Race is anybody’s guess. Much will depend on who takes over in the corner office overlooking the harbour in Alicante. Speculation on that has ranged from 2015-16 winning skipper Ian Walker (he says he not interested and has just taken on a huge job as racing manager at the Royal Yachting Association), to past Team SCA CEO Richard Brisius (he too is likely too busy trying to bring the Winter Olympics to Sweden in his role as President of Stockholm 2026).
I have even heard past-America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Sir Russel Coutts name bandied – not too seriously though – about. (He of course is now comfortably ensconced as commodore of Manly Sailing Club in New Zealand).
For myself, I’m disappointed at Turner’s decision to walk away. I think his vision and drive to shake the race up was good for it and for the sport of sailing in general. He wasn’t (isn’t) somebody who was afraid to question the status quo or afraid to be the first to try new ideas. For all that he will be missed in the Volvo Ocean Race, but hopefully he will not be lost to the sport all together.