Volvo Ocean Race: Weathering The Elements as Media Crew Member

Amory Ross of PUMA Ocean Racing. Photo by Paul Todd / Volvo Ocean Race.

You won’t find a member of Sebastian Vettel’s F1 set-up riding shotgun shooting video during the race, or Lionel Messi’s team mates taking photos while he scores, yet MCMs will have just that role at the heart of the action in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

The Volvo Ocean Race is unique in major sporting events, with Media Crew Members, switching between cameras during live TV production and preparing multimedia reports as the eyes and ears for the outside world during the longer ocean legs.

These embedded reporters on board the Volvo Open 70s are not allowed to help sail but they are part of the teams that employ them in every other way.

Holding a camera steady while hurtling in excess of 70kmh over heaving waves while water smashes over the deck like a proverbial fire hydrant all while hanging on for dear life is just one of the duties of a MCM.

Turning freeze-dried food into an edible and flavoursome meal with nothing but the addition of boiled desalinated seawater every eight hours, plus supplying a snack every three hours, for 10 hungry teammates is another.

Not to mention being the “bilge rat” whose unenviable job is to get down on all fours in the often hot and pungent environment below deck to bail the thousands of gallons of water that will inevitably wash and slosh inside the boat.

Then there’s the domestic chores like keeping below deck clean and tidy, making water, charging batteries and passing your teammates sunglasses, wet-weather jacket or what every it he wishes for at his every request.

Some days the MCM may spend just a few hours above deck with the luxury of a fresh sea breeze to inhale.

Instead, the MCM will be busy using state-of-the-art equipment including five fixed and two hand-held custom built video cameras, still cameras and a computer, with satellite technology beaming high-definition footage, images, audio and words back to shore.

The six men taking on the MCM role in the 2011-12 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race are as varied in background as the tasks they are expected to perform: producer, photographer, engineer and of course many are sailors.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Nick Dana, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand’s Hamish Hooper, Groupama sailing team’s Yann Riou, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG’s Amory Ross, Team Sanya’s Andres Soriano and Team Telefónica’s Diego Fructuoso make up the 2011-12 roster.

Associate Producer and MCM Manager Rick Deppe said you couldn’t expect to find the qualities needed to fulfil the role of an MCM by placing an advertisement in a classifieds section: “Most reasonable people would think it’s mad.’’

Deppe said it takes physical and mental strength, versatility, adaptability, organisational skills, a technical aptitude, creativity, passion, a sense of adventure and good humour to handle the unique job.

“You’re living in extreme conditions, it’s hot, it’s cold, you’re wet, you’re sweaty, you’re being tipped around, hit on the head and there is no space on board where another person is more than a few feet away. It’s not for everyone.’’

As the only member of the team with a focus outside of winning the race the MCMs are often the “odd man out” Deppe said. They also have to deal with requests from sponsors and Volvo HQ, which don’t always align with the racing objectives.

“Ten of the people on the boat are there for the sole objective which is very clearly to win. The 11th man is there to win, but his main objective is to tell the story on the way to victory or defeat through video, photos, audio and words,’’ Deppe said.

“There’s going to be times when the sailors don’t want a camera in their face, they won’t want to talk about that tactical decision that made them come last or a tough emotional situation, but that’s the MCM’s job, so again the MCM is the odd man out.

“Then you have the demands of the sponsors and the race organisers. Basically, the MCM is stuck in the middle, getting pulled in different directions. He has to deal with that, with professionalism, with humour, by giving in or just telling them to shut up. And each MCM will do so differently.”