It has been said that logistics is the key enabler behind all great human achievement. In so many ways, our profession is that vital life force that is always in action behind the scenes. From the building of the pyramids, to the staging of the Olympic Games, to landing a spacecraft on Mars – nothing happens without exceptional logistical performance.
Others may bask in the limelight, but we can be confident that it was supply chain that made all the good stuff happen.
And human endeavor does not get any more exhilarating than Extreme Yacht Racing.
Last week, DC Velocity’s Toby Gooley crafted a really interesting article about DHL Logistics involvement with the Volvo Ocean Race. I grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario, and as such water sports are in my DNA. As a logistics practitioner, I would give my eye teeth to be a member of that support team, and maybe even sail round Cape Horn with the Big Boys.
This takes the excitement and creativity of supply chain management to a whole new level.
As any logistics professional will attest, it’s nearly impossible to predict what the job will bring from one day to the next, and boredom is definitely not a problem. But it’s a good bet there were times over the past nine months when DHL’s Reinier Vens and his colleagues were wishing for a little less excitement.
Vens is DHL’s project director for the 11th Volvo Ocean Race, which pitted six high-tech sailboats in a ’round-the-world competition that began in Alicante, Spain, in November 2011 and finished in Galway, Ireland, in July 2012. As the official logistics partner for the race, DHL was responsible for ensuring that each team’s equipment and spare parts, as well as the Race Village pavilions and the material handling equipment for setup and breakdown were delivered on time to the 10 stopovers along the nearly 45,000-mile route.
That in itself was a mighty challenge that involved more than 150 40-foot containers of ocean freight, another 20 containers of air freight, some 16 tons of loose air cargo, and more than 100 express air shipments. To make sure critical supplies were available for each leg of the race, Vens and his group kept two identical sets of ocean containers in motion. The teams used the contents of the first set during the first leg of the race, then picked up equipment and supplies from the second set of containers to use on the next leg, and so on around the world. Sequencing the right containers in the proper order was no easy task, Vens said in an interview during the race stopover in Miami.
A “control center” in the Netherlands oversaw the entire mission. DHL kept emergency stock like spare masts and rudders at its Amsterdam facility just outside Schipol Airport. Amsterdam was an ideal staging area because it’s a gateway to destinations worldwide, Vens said. “You can never plan where [an accident] will happen, so you … have to be able to ship anywhere in the world.”
DHL dedicated a team of six people to the race, including some who traveled from port to port ahead of the boats. On call 24/7, they worked closely with the Volvo Ocean Race’s own logistics staff. DHL offices worldwide pitched in to provide support services like customs clearance and share their local expertise.
Local know-how helped to solve one of the most challenging logistical problems of the race. When one boat lost its mast in mid-ocean, the sailors motored to the nearest land—Tristan da Cunha, a remote island in the South Atlantic between Argentina and South Africa. Now what? DHL’s Cape Town office had a solution: charter a local ship to deliver a new 100-foot mast, then pick up the yacht from the barely inhabited island and bring it to South Africa. “You can’t plan for that creativity,” Vens said.
There is a link provided in the article to the Facebook page of Ocean Race Backstage by DHL. The photography on that page is simply awesome. If you love sailing, water sports, or great technology, you need to do yourself a favor and visit this page by clicking here…
The History of the Volvo Ocean Race
There are deeper lessons for logistics practitioners and project managers within the history of this race. What follows is an amazing video about the first 40 years of this incredible yacht race. The cinematography in the first three minutes is simply breathtaking. Then, the viewer is taken into the heart of the race – its challenges, and its meaning for mariners around the world. Sir Peter Blake said: ”If you are determined to be in the sailing game you have to do this Race.”
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