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How GAC's uncompromising logistics kept the Volvo Ocean Race on course

by Jeremy Troughton 10 Jul 04:00 PDT
The GAC Pindar team on the ground and behind the scenes put in more than 26,000 man hours to deliver smooth logistics for the Volvo Ocean Race as it travelled around the world © GAC Pindar

Jeremy Troughton, GAC's Volvo Ocean Race Project Manager, reflects on 9 months of moving the event's race village and teams around the world...

The Volvo Ocean Race is arguably the toughest professional sports team event of them all. A relentless marathon on the seas, it's the ultimate test for some of the best sailors on the planet. Clinching the all-important victory is an obsession. For some, the pursuit of victory takes decades.

It's no less intense away from the boats. The agony and the ecstasy of the Volvo Ocean Race is felt by all of those involved. This includes GAC Pindar, the official logistics provider for the 2017-18 edition.

GAC Pindar is the only supplier in the history of the race to be appointed as its official logistics provider for a second time. It's a mammoth task that involves moving the event's 16 structure race village around the world, taking it to 12 countries in nine months, all while transporting kit for the race's seven teams.

Nothing comes close

With a truly global itinerary, the Volvo Ocean Race is as unique as a logistics challenge as it is as a sailing event. Each country welcoming the race had its own rules, regulations and customs laws, all which had to be thoroughly understood and successfully negotiated within a very tight schedule. Then there were local holidays like Chinese New Year and Memorial Day in the USA that had to be factored into the schedule this time round. Adding an extra layer of complexity, they were yet another aspect to be planned for and navigated with support from 'normalised' ship and freight services, where the nature of the cargo and tight deadlines already challenged the norm.

As the race completed its stopovers in Brazil and the USA, GAC had to find a solution that would ensure everything was in place on the other side of the Atlantic within a very tight schedule. Two breakbulk vessels were chartered to bring the race infrastructure into European waters.

Overall management of the logistics budget was integral throughout, and cash flow carefully monitored to ensure contingencies were in place for any unforeseen circumstances, which can arise quickly at sea.

Small business mentality

Approachability, flexibility and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the race were key. GAC Pindar's 'small business mentality' made that achievable, enabling the 11-strong team to deliver agile logistics support, all while leveraging the global strength, resources and contacts of the wider GAC Group.

There's no better example than when GAC Pindar sprang into action to help the Volvo Ocean Race and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team deliver a replacement forward quarter section for its boat, after a collision with a fishing boat around 30 nautical miles from the finish line in Hong Kong on 20 January. The carbon fiber replacement section was produced in Italy, then transported by road to London Heathrow. From there it was air freighted to Auckland on a special cargo service capable of transporting extra-large loads (its 6-meter length limited the options to a weekly Boeing 747 service flying out of Heathrow). Upon arrival in Auckland, the new section was delivered to The Boatyard where the boat had been delivered from Hong Kong by GAC Pindar. Repairs were completed in time for the team to re-join the race in March 2018.

Sustainable operations

Sustainability was at the heart of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, promoting ocean health and a campaign to 'turn the tide on plastic' in collaboration with the UN Environment's Clean Seas campaign, so again logistics had an important role to play. Consumer expectations are that world-class events should be environmentally responsible. That trend was fully embraced and championed by the race, its sailors, event organisers and fans, who united in their call to action to reduce plastic waste at sea. From a logistics perspective, this placed even greater emphasis on accurately tracking truck, air freight and cargo, and working with the supply chain to minimise the impact on the environment where possible. Volvo Trucks – among the most sustainable vehicles of their kind in the world – were the natural choice.

Spreading the sustainability message by supporting initiatives to foster cultural change is also key for GAC Pindar at grass roots level. It has led the way in urging GAC Group companies and employees around the world to sign up to the Volvo Ocean Race's six element #cleanseas pledge. GAC Pindar and GAC UK staff have been given reusable water bottles in a bid to eliminate single-use plastic, and met all six elements of the corporate pledge by the time the race reached Cardiff at the end of May.

Intrinsic understanding

Throughout the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, maintaining the flexibility and bandwidth to deal with ad hoc logistics requests while managing the safe and timely transportation of the race village was key. It was only possible thanks to GAC Pindar's intrinsic understanding of the pressures felt by all involved in the race, from competitors to organisers and viewers. Through our profound knowledge of boats and yachts, and a passionate team with sailors of our own in our ranks, we hope to continue meeting and exceeding the exciting yet uncompromising demands of the world's toughest sailing event.

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