Offshore warrior heading for home

As the Volvo Ocean Race fleet enters the final stages of the race into Auckland, Kiwi sailing veteran Daryl Wislang tells Suzanne McFadden of his dream to skipper his own boat around the globe.

Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean just south of New Caledonia - after that unsettling delay between question and answer that you get on a satellite call - Kiwi round-the-world sailor Daryl Wislang sounds a little frustrated.

“I’m struggling to get any news in English on this boat,” says the veteran watch captain on board DongFeng, a Chinese-backed boat with a mostly French crew. Later, I email him the day’s headlines, for which he is grateful.

He also misses his family - his wife Jess, and their two children, three-year-old Pearl and little Theo, who was born in July. They’ve travelled from port-to-port so far in this Volvo Ocean Race to be on the dock whenever Wislang arrives.

But most of his exasperation lies in not getting to Auckland quickly enough. When we speak, after 17 days at sea in the 6100-mile leg from Hong Kong, DongFeng was bringing up the rear of the six-boat fleet as they sailed closer to Auckland. Tail-end Charlie is an uncommon position for this boat - DongFeng has had podium finishes in all of the five legs so far.

"You couldn’t be out here if you didn’t love it. It’s something that is ingrained in my DNA now."

- Daryl Wislang

Nelson-born Wislang has been on board for all but one of them - the Cape Town to Melbourne leg, which he missed with a back injury. So surely it must sting when you’re not among the first boats to arrive into your home port?

“To me, it isn’t about whether I’m coming into my home port first - I like to be in front at every port,” he laughs. “We’d like to be closer to the front right now, but spirits are still high on board.”

There’s some relief, at least, that the overall race leader, MAPFRE - with America’s Cup hero Blair Tuke on board - is at the back of the pack with them.

“The way Auckland welcomes boats into the city, they give the same welcome whether you’re the first boat or the last. Hopefully we’re not last. But heaven forbid if we are, we’ll still get a good welcome,” Wislang says.

This is 37-year-old Wislang’s fourth circumnavigation of the globe. He won the last edition of the race, on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, and has always finished in the top three.

“Wisbang” may not have a rockstar name, but is one of those sailors sought-after for any offshore race boat. His crew-mates describe him as a brilliant driver, and a calm and clever watch captain. He was onboard American maxi Comanche when it set the world 24-hour speed record during the 2015 Transatlantic Race. As DongFeng skipper Charles Caudrelier says: “Daryl is a proven offshore warrior.”

But Wislang has his heart set on bigger things. He wants to skipper his own boat in the next Volvo Ocean Race.

“I don’t like to talk about it too much during a campaign, because I’m here to do a job,” he says. “But it has been an ambition of mine for a while. It obviously depends on one, funding, and two, which direction the race takes, in terms of the boats. I don’t think I’ve got another race in me in these boats [the one-design VO65]. Two races in them is enough. I need something a little more exciting.”

The Volvo Ocean Race has revealed its vision for the future - a foil-assisted 60ft (18.2m) monohull for the ocean legs, and an ultra-fast flying catamaran for the inshore races. Wislang is impressed.

“I don’t know whether you’d send a fully foiling boat around the world, but certainly a foiling-assisted boat would be pretty cool and exciting. Especially to try to open up the development of the boats again,” he says.

Of course, he’d like to be at the helm of a New Zealand team – he sailed on board the last Kiwi entry, Emirates Team New Zealand’s Camper, in the 2011-12 edition of the race. But there are two young guns who may steal his thunder.

“If it’s not me, it’s probably going to be Blair [Tuke] or Pete [Burling]. Those guys are really getting their teeth into the race this time, and talking to them, they’re really enjoying the challenges. In a few years’ time you might see one of them skippering a boat out of New Zealand,” he says.

But Wislang has the advantage of experience. And he’s witnessed the evolution of the Volvo Ocean Race – where winning has become less about speed and more about tactics.

“In the first races I did, there were boats that were faster upwind, some were faster reaching and downwind, so you knew after leg one which boats had which strengths. Now they are all pretty much the same speed. Your tactical decisions become glaringly obvious when you’re in a one-design fleet,” he says.

“We lost five miles in the clouds last night. It’s just so frustrating. You spend all day making a 0.1 mile gain here, 0.2 mile gain there, and then you lose four miles - bang - in half an hour. It’s a pretty brutal sport.

“But you couldn’t be out here if you didn’t love it. It’s something that is ingrained in my DNA now.”

Family has always loomed large in Wislang’s sailing career. His parents decided that he and his brother, Craig, should learn to sail so they could sort out their bickering. Their father, Brian, a former national sailing champion, was both coach and mediator on board a two-man Sunburst dinghy.

The brothers stopped fighting, learned to work together to get the boat around a race course, and built the strong relationship they still share today.

Wislang says he couldn’t keep sailing around the globe without the support of his wife. “It’s a very selfish sport because you leave port and head offshore to do what you love, and your family is left to pick up the pieces behind you. A toddler and a baby make it all the more challenging. Jess deserves huge credit for what she does,” he says.

Which is why he can’t wait to sail into Auckland in the next few days - first or last. “I really look forward to backing into the dock – and the total switch from offshore racing to family. Races today are so hectic, with very little downtime between legs, and it’s getting harder and harder on families. So any time you get with them is gold.”

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