Sailors tackling one of the world’s best-known high seas challenges have been battered by water and winds during a training mission to South Tyneside.
They prepared for the nine-month, 51,000-mile Volvo Ocean Race, which launches next month, by being hit with replicated ocean conditions in a specialist survival pool in South Shields.
Over four days, competitors from the race’s seven teams, who among them include some of the world’s best sailors, pitted their wits against brutal simulated weather conditions.
Sessions took place at the Marine and Offshore Safety Training Centre (MOST), which is part of Tyne Coast College and one of the UK’s leading marine training venues.
The competition, formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, starts in Alicante, Spain, on October 22, and ends next June in The Hague, Holland.
During their time at sea, they will make port in 11 staging destinations, including Melbourne, in Australia, Hong Kong and Auckland, in New Zealand.
Though each team member is vastly experienced, the course was essential to race preparation and designed to deliver the latest survival techniques for sea safety.
Those taking part included Dee Caffari MBE, the only woman to have sailed solo around the world in both directions and skipper of team Turn the Tide on Plastic.
She said: “This training is important and will allow us to manage the worst-case scenario, should it happen when we are at sea.
“The facilities here are fantastic, and it’s great to be able to go into a training pool that replicates real-life sea conditions.
“This will be my sixth around-the-world race and I’m really looking forward to it, there’s a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.”
David Witt, the Australian skipper of team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, Hong Kong’s first ever race entry, added: “This is a very good venue at which to train and it’s good to be back in the North East.
“I spent some time here about twenty years ago, helping a friend at his boat yard on the river. It was also around the time I last competed in this race.
“I’m older and lot more experienced now, but the race will still be a great challenge. I’m looking forward to it even more this time around.”
Selection as the training venue represents a coup for MOST, which is based in Wapping Street, and has an international reputation for high-quality instruction and support.
Competitors also trained there ahead of the last Volvo Ocean Race, which takes place every three years, in 2014.
Its state-of-the art facilities usually train Merchant Navy mariners and workers in the offshore and renewable power industries.
Facilities include a 4m-deep environmental pool for survival training, full scale access ladder to replicate windfarm access arrangements, a variable wave pattern generator, wind, rain, light and sound effects, and an eight-seater helicopter escape module.
Each year it is used by over 100 companies to train over 3,000 people.
Michael Speers, head of school at MOST, said: “The organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race could have chosen any of the world’s offshore training centres, but they wanted to come here because of our great reputation, location and fine training support team.
“We have excellent facilities and are a very highly regarded training provider and very well known for the standard of training and expertise that we supply.
“Teams taking part in the 2014 Volvo Ocean Race also trained here and it is clear we made a lasting impression on the organisers.
“Within the sailing world, the sailors training here are very highly regarded – they the equivalent of Premier League footballers – and so welcoming them to the Marine and Offshore Training Centre is a tremendous coup for us.
“As well as being important to MOST, it is a real validation of the role that the North-East plays in the maritime sector. It’s good that this region is not forgotten by the yachting fraternity.”
Alistair Hackett, of Southampton-based Ocean Safety, whose instructors carried out training, said: “This centre is relatively unique and adds great authenticity to training.
“Being here allows us to provide crews with the best possible insight into how they would react in survival conditions.
“This is the fourth time that we have carried out training here and it’s great to be back. The staff here know exactly what we want to achieve and support us very well.”
The other teams who attended the training camp were AkzoNobel, Dongfeng Race Team, Mapfre, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, and Team Brunel.