Volvo Ocean Race: 45,000 miles, freeze-dried food, two hours sleep

By Tom BrownBBC Wales Sport
Bleddyn Môn
Bleddyn Môn has competed in the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race

It calls itself the world's 'longest and toughest' professional sporting event.

Since October seven boats have been racing around the world - battling storm-affected seas and freezing temperatures - all in the hope of winning the 13th Volvo Ocean Race.

By the time they get to The Hague in the Netherlands in June, they will have covered 45,000 nautical miles.

"You'd be lying to say every minute of it you were loving it," admits Bleddyn Môn - the 26-year-old from Bangor who is part of the Turn the Tide on Plastic crew.

"The worst parts of it are when you've been woken up in the middle of your 'off watch'. It's cold, wet and dark outside and all you want to do is keep sleeping.

"But as soon as you've got your kit on and you're on deck you forget about that. The good moments definitely outweigh the downsides."

Mon, his nine crew-mates and the six other boats are currently crossing the Atlantic.

The 'off watch' he talks about is the four-hour period he gets to "eat, sleep and wash".

But the challenging weather they have faced since leaving Newport, Rhode Island, has meant he rarely even gets that.

"The conditions now are quite tough," he says, in a video call to BBC Sport Wales from on board the 22-metre-long racing boat.

"The last couple of days we haven't really had much of those four hours because we've been changing sails and that requires everybody up on deck.

"So it's been a couple of hours sleep every off watch. You just have to get bits of rest when you can."

The Volvo Ocean Race flotilla left Newport, Rhode Island, on 20 May for the ninth leg to Cardiff
The Volvo Ocean Race flotilla left Newport, Rhode Island, on 20 May for the ninth leg to Cardiff

Weight no good

The near-constant work on deck is gruelling.

The sailors can burn up to 6,000 calories a day. Some lose as much as 11 kilograms in just one leg of the race.

There is certainly no time to enjoy a nice meal.

"We eat freeze-dried food that you add hot water to and 'hey presto' you have your meals," Mon explains.

"It's very simple and a basic way of living but ultimately we want to sail the boat fast so any excess weight is no good."

The team's name - Turn the Tide on Plastic - is a clear sign this is about more than just the race to them.

The crew - led by Britain's Dee Caffari - support the United Nations' Clean Seas campaign.

They also boast the race's only female skipper and a 50/50 male-female split in the crew.

In 2011/12 there was not a female sailor in any of the teams.

Heading home

After a 3,000-mile journey across the Atlantic, Mon will be back in his homeland next week, albeit briefly.

For the first time in the Volvo Ocean Race's 45-year history, Cardiff has been selected as one of 12 host cities - alongside the likes of Hong Kong, Melbourne and Cape Town.

"This leg from Newport to Cardiff has been one I've been looking forward to since the beginning," continues Mon. "This puts Cardiff on the map.

"It's cool that people will come down and watch us arrive. By then these boats will have sailed almost all around the world."

The race continues on 10 June, with the next leg to Gothenburg in Sweden before they finally finish in the Netherlands around two weeks later.

Mon will then have competed in the America's Cup (alongside Sir Ben Ainslie last year) and completed sailing's most famous round-the-world race, not bad for the 26-year-old from Bangor.