Could you survive on four hours sleep and a chocolate bar?

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Volvo Ocean Race described as the 'Everest of Sailing'

Seven teams battle on the high seas for nine months

CNN  — 

They’re some of the toughest athletes on the planet, saying goodbye to loved ones for almost a year, as they traverse the globe’s oceans.

Hardened Volvo Ocean Race sailors must sleep in four-hour shifts, and survive on little more than freeze dried food and chocolate bars, if they hope to win the event.

The prestigious competition kicked off from Alicante, Spain, in October last year, and will finish nine months later in Gothenberg, Sweden.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker, spoke about the journey so far. This is the 45-year-old Briton’s third Volvo Ocean Race.

Ian Walker, Volvo Ocean Race skipper.

Why does the Volvo Ocean Race have such a fearsome reputation?

“As the leading offshore race – and the one that is most vulnerable to nature and synonymous with danger – it could be described as the ‘Everest of sailing.’”

What sort of preparation is involved?

“We trained for six months, covering 16,000 sea miles. As a team, we usually do three weeks on the boat, one week off. When not offshore, we train six-days-a-week in the gym.”

Describe a typical day on board – how much sleep do you get?

“Everybody has four hours on deck, followed by four hours off when you eat and sleep. On the off-watch, you still have to get on deck and help for any sail changes, so it is quite disturbed.”

And what do you eat?

“Mainly freeze dried food with some savory and sweet treats like beef jerky, dried fruits, one chocolate bar per day, and nuts.”

Sailors Luke "Parko" Parkinson and Alex Higby raid the spare food bags during leg 4, between China and New Zealand.

What are you actually doing?

“I’m the skipper, so overall in charge of safety and performance. I’m involved with all strategic decisions with my navigator, Simon Fisher, and I run one of the watches when on deck. Onshore, I’m also busy with media duties and management of our 15 shore team members.”

How do you keep emotionally strong during nine months at sea?

“It can be an emotional roller coaster and it can be tough not to take things personally if they don’t go well. At sea, emotions can range from frustration, boredom, elation, being scared, loneliness… it is important to try to keep a level head at all times – especially if you are the skipper!”

What is your relationship with the ocean?

“I have great respect for the ocean. It will always win in the end so you must respect it. I am also saddened by all the man-made debris we see in the ocean as we sail round the world.”

Sailor Seb Marsset looks across the ocean. Over the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere, the weather turns tropical, with rainclouds driving much of the day's movement south towards Vanuatu.

What type of person undertakes the Volvo Ocean Race?

“A professional sailor with a fierce determination to win. Someone who is prepared to put the needs of the team above his own, and who is prepared to commit over 12 months of his life to being away from normal life.”

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