Volvo is struggling to get more than six boats for its first Ocean Race

Ed Gorman reports on the problems for Volvo as it tries to achieve a reasonable-sized fleet in the face of fierce competition from the America's Cup
When the last Whitbread round-the-world race finished back in May 1998, it seemed little could go wrong for an event which looked poised to finally establish itself under Volvo as the undisputed world championship of sailing. We were heading for some clarity at last in a sport bedevilled by its many and varied divisions. But life just isn't that simple, as Volvo has found out to its cost. Despite putting its considerable weight behind its new event, it has struggled to get its first race off the ground in the face of unexpected and extraordinary competition from the America's Cup. Not only has the billionaire explosion in that event distracted many key sailors from the Volvo, it has also distorted pay levels in pro sailing, making wage bills for Volvo campaigns beyond many company budgets. The decision by the Kiwis to wait only three years before hosting their second defence - as opposed to four - was another critical blow for the Volvo which hoped to slot its race in between Cups, thus allowing many of the same sailors to compete in both events. Yet only the German Illbruck team is attempting this schedule. The upshot is that just 10 months away from the gun, there are only six boats confirmed for the start line. That's four less than last time (though only nine boats completed the race after America's Challenge dropped out in Cape Town). But, more worrying, it's probably four boats short of a decent fleet. You only need one dismasting - there were two in the last race - and you are looking at a seriously small field with limited potential in terms of sporting interest. Volvo has been saying for months that more boats will be forthcoming and indeed Kevin Shoebridge's Tyco syndicate has formerly announced its campaign this