Shipping Containers: The Workhorses of the Elite Yachting World
They say that you see a swan gliding gracefully over the water but don’t see its legs kicking frantically beneath. It’s the same when you watch the pros of the elite yachting world. You only see the sailors and yachts waging battle on the water, but you do not see the massive shore operation that makes it all possible. Looking at the Olympics, Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup, we will celebrate here the role of shipping containers in helping to make some of the world’s greatest sailing spectacles happen.
Australia and yachting
Australia has long been one of the world’s greatest sailing nations. Team Australia won the sailing Olympics in 2012 comfortably, with three Gold medals and one Silver medal that year (leaving its main rival Team GB a distant second) and is set to do very well at the Rio Olympics next month. Australia has sent many of its sons and daughters on the elite ocean racing circuit over the years, with 68 sailors crewing or skippering on the Volvo Ocean Race since it began in 1972. The country was the first team to beat America in the America’s Cup in 1983, 132 years after the regatta series began.
Sailing at Rio 2016 has faced a lot of controversy with stories of untreated sewerage in the water and boats even colliding with dead dogs in the waters where the Olympic events will be held. Team Australia hopes to leave all this behind with a series of successes on the water. After a 12 year campaign they are now the team to beat having smashed their rivals to bits in 2012 at the London events.
But all this sailing gear needs to be moved around the world. Just getting the team to its base will require several 40 foot shipping containers that are moved by road and sea from Sydney. Along with around 21 hulls being sent to the venue comes all the equipment including masts, sails and rigging for the boats to be at their best during the events. As well as the 11 sailors going to Rio there will be nearly 40 support staff going including coaches, physiotherapists and boat maintenance teams. The guys on the water may get the medals but without the team ashore none of it would be possible!
Pushing boats to the limit, there will be breakages and a lot of equipment to repair. Secrecy and privacy comes with all sports, and this is where the shipping container workshops come in. Team Australia will use the containers as repair units, as well as storing the hundreds of bits and pieces that the team’s boats need for their Olympic campaigns.
Rio is also very different to the London 2012 venue in Weymouth, England in that they have very limited space in which to carry their gear to the water. Some teams sent 10 containers to Weymouth, where in Rio the same teams are only allowed to send three to the event!
The units will have to be very flexible, and the containers used for transporting the gear to the venue will be rapidly converted into the team’s waterfront base. Once the medals have been given out and it is time for the Olympic circus to leave the city, everything will be packed up and sent home to Sydney.
The Volvo Ocean Race
The Volvo Ocean Race has been happening every four years since 1972. Originally named after its founding sponsors, the brewery Whitbread, the round the world yacht race is one of the foremost global yachting events. Australia has sent 68 men and women as skippers and crew on the race in its various forms and its ocean racing sailors are some of the best in elite yachting.
Each Volvo Ocean boat costs millions of dollars and is pushed to the very limits, whether navigating through Pacific typhoons or dodging icebergs in the Southern Ocean. Designers of these boats need to remember one thing – nothing is unbreakable. In the 2014 edition of the race, designers claimed that a very important strong point near the cockpits were unbreakable and two teams broke them in the first leg! As such while the yachts are racing around the world, so tonnes of repair gear and spares needs to be moved around the world with them – always to be at the destination of the next leg ahead of the boats.
Until the 2014-15 edition all the boats were different and had their own shore operations. Because they were an ‘open class’, winning the race was as much down to the best designed boat as it was to the best crew.
This created a huge logistical nightmare as every team needed its own space that had to include all the spares and repair teams for several boats. Each sail could be 70 feet long and needed the space to be laid out for repairs, while shore teams of 15-20 people would crawl over each boat to effect repairs when it reached its destination before the next leg. On top of all this they had to pack up and move on to the next venue that could be 5,000 miles away!
The competition between racing teams came down to which team had the most money at the end of the day – no matter how good the crew was, if they had a small budget and a poorly designed boat they would lose. People started to lose interest and no matter how many millions a sponsor threw at it, fewer and fewer of the world’s public would see the teams because after the first leg you would often know which team would win nearly a year and 30,000 miles of racing later.
Ahead of the 2014 edition the organisers of the event decided that the vessels participating should be exactly the same design and make the race about which was the best crew so the best team would win, not the best boat. This also made the logistics vastly easier to manage – there was no secrecy between the teams as to what gizmos and gadgets they used to make it go faster and the same shore crew did all the work on all the boats in the race.
What this meant in turn was that the race organisers only needed one set of shipping containers to carry all the gear, and only one mobile boatyard to look after all the boats! Have a look at the video above as the head technician guides journalists around the mobile boatyard, and shows how it all works.
You will see that a number of shipping containers are arranged around a single space that is covered over. Each container has its specific use, whether as a parts store, or sail loft. Specific teams worked in each container doing the hundreds of jobs to make the boats ready for the next leg of the race.
Maersk shipping line was one of the sponsors of the event, and they would be called upon to help in very unusual circumstances in late 2014 when the Team Vesta’s boat hit a coral head 400 miles off Mauritius. The crew got off safely and the decision was made by the team sponsors to repair it and get it to the last two legs of the race. This meant that the 65ft wreck was hauled on board a container ship and moved several thousand miles to Italy where it was rebuilt from scratch, and sent to to Lisbon in Portugal where it re-joined the race. This epic subplot to the story was one of the most compelling battles off the water during the round the world race.
The America’s Cup
The America’s Cup grabbed the world’s attention in 2013 with its high speed flying catamarans that flew faster than the wind. In 21 knots of wind these boats flew on their foils at speeds approaching 45 knots! Australia has long had a powerful presence in the America’s Cup. In 1982 it became the first nation to win the Cup other than America in the 132 year history of the event.
Reading the sailing press, you will almost certainly know that after becoming the Challenger of Record, an Australian syndicate pulled out of the upcoming 2017 America’s Cup in 2014 because they objected to the way that the next edition would be organised. This isn’t to say that Australians should ignore the upcoming regatta as the skipper of the Defender, Jimmy Spithill, is Australian born and bred. Indeed, though Oracle Team USA is an American owned team, seven of its crew in the 2013 tournament were from Australia. If the teams were named after the majority of the nation aboard, Oracle Team USA would therefore be called Oracle Team Australia.
Moving these giant teams around the world for the America’s Cup takes quite some effort. The boats, equipment and crew need shifting, for the most part, in shipping containers. As with the Volvo Ocean race, many of these containers are then re-used on site to create the team storage, office space and repair units once there. Getting all the teams to the Louis Vuitton Cup America’s Cup World Series involves moving up to 43 shipping containers around the world to venues as diverse as Portsmouth, England; Chicago, Illinois and the Atlantic island of Bermuda where the America’s Cup itself will happen next year. The gear includes the boats and equipment but also the publicity operation – one container carries the TV helicopter and another the TV production suite that broadcasts the events to watchers around the world.
One of the reasons Team Australia pulled out was that the organisers of the event wanted to make the boats smaller in 2017. This would reduce costs and make it possible for more teams to compete but many argued at the time that it would reduce the spectacle of the giant catamarans flying around at high speed. In making the boats smaller, so they are easier to transport around the world. The AC45 boats that are used in the America’s Cup World Series can be much more easily fitted on a container ship than the 72 foot giants that raced in San Francisco in 2013. Perhaps in 2021 we may well see an Australian syndicate return to fight for the Cup and, unlike Oracle Team USA, may even have a crew dominated by the nation the team represents!
Shipping containers for storage spaces or workshops
Shipping containers are easily transformed from storage spaces into workshops, and can be used as both at the same time – the workshop can transport all your gear wherever you need it. They are almost endlessly flexible in this regard, and whether a top world sporting event or an operation that needs to be moved across the continent, you can use them to suit your needs.
Gateway Container Sales has years of experience in shipping container conversions and can help you create your mobile, multi-container space that meets your exacting needs. Contact us today and we can put you in touch with our network of experts who can help you with your logistics, storage and workshop operation – wherever you may need to go in the world.