According to legend it all started over a beer in a Portsmouth pub back in 1973. Now,
38 years on, the Volvo Ocean Race with expensive yachts built from the materials
that go into space shuttles, provide TV viewers with unrivalled excitement in perhaps
one of the most exciting sporting events covered, all thanks to a member of the
crew often forgotten about.
Four decades on from the inception of the race, there has been a quantum leap in
development, both in technologies of yacht building and in broadcast possibilities.
The crews are world champions, Olympic champions and only the most talented
youngsters get a foot in the door. The reasons are professionalism and the need to
win. Whereas that first race in 1973 drew huge numbers of private entries, today it
is contested by yachts sponsored for millions by top brands.
A global cumulative television audience in excess of 1.3 billion watches the race,
assisted by technology that enables live link-ups with the boats and 24-hour
surveillance from embedded reporters.
Modern media is now showing the world what previously could only be imagined and
reconstructed via sailors’ accounts. What viewers are seeing is an ocean as
dangerous as ever – and injuries as frequent and chilling – but there are space-age
boats regularly driven to breaking point by crews whose sole motivation is to win one
of the toughest events in sport.
Two initiatives have helped to expand television coverage of the event: the switch
to high definition (HD) programming and the introduction of an embedded reporter on
each boat – the media crew member (MCM).
Charged with documenting the race from the perspectives of the crew on board, the
role of MCM is often perceived as a glamorous “dream job’. But throw into the mix a
gruelling work schedule alongside tasks including cleaning the bilges, bailing water
from the boat and cooking all meals, and suddenly it’s not all fun and games if you’re
a Volvo Ocean Race MCM.
The MCMs have a perfect vantage point to capture the trials and tribulations of the
teams on the race, from the high winds of the Southern Ocean to the calms of the
Doldrums. Their mission is to be a fly-on-the-wall documentarian, providing a 24/7
news feed from the yachts, through HD video, audio, photography and the written
Inmarsat, which is a partner of the Volvo Ocean Race, provides the highly
sophisticated satellite tracking technology which allows all the content to be
transmitted from the boats at high speed to race HQ in Alicante, Spain and then on
to the world’s media.
Each Volvo Open 70 race boat is fitted with a FleetBroadband 500 terminal, delivering
voice and high speed data communications as well as a lower speed service for crew
voice calling and IP data. There are a minimum of seven cameras on board including
five fixed – able to shoot forwards, backwards and through 360 degrees and at least
two handheld cameras operated by the MCM.
Jon Bramley, communications director of the Volvo Ocean Race, acknowledges the
efforts put in by the MCMs. “One of the unique selling points of this event is that we
are, day-in-day-out, providing dramatic videos, pictures and words right from the
heart of the action hundreds of miles from land.
“These guys have surely the most challenging media work place in the sports world
yet every day we are seeing beautifully presented, stunning work which is capturing
the attention of an ever-increasing audience.
“Without the work of our MCMs, we simply wouldn’t be able to present the full
enthralling story of our race. Their images and words have already been transmitted
to audiences of many millions around the world and shown on television, online and
Amory Ross, MCM on PUMA Ocean Racing comments: “My time to work is when it’s
sunny and so I find myself up all day, and then at night I’m editing. Sometimes it’s so
loud and there’s so much going on. Whether you’re tacking or gybing or stacking your
stuff, you really don’t have much rest. I always tend to end these legs pretty darn
exhausted. The upside is that we get the opportunity to capture something really
special. I will find myself in a bit of a swear-fest hating life, and two hours later I’ll
take a picture or get something on video that makes all of it worthwhile. It’s amazing
how quickly you forget.’
When asked for his comments about the skills and attributes of a MCM, crew member
Mark Covell, of Team Russia 2008/9 noted one important addition was needed in the
job descriptor advertising the post for MCM – “Must have a healthy sense of humour
and a very large dose of humility!’
Out of interest, there is no financial reward for winning the 37 000 nautical-mile race
around the world; just a trophy, a pat on the back from your team mates and the
prestige of being part of one of the greatest races in the world.
By Ian Dormer
Screen Africa magazine – May 2012