By Tom Weaver, Partner, Weaver-Price Design & Construction
Since the 1970s, the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) has attracted an incredible global following as the boats disappeared over the horizon to show up in the next stopover port thousands of miles away with tales of daring, adventure, and sometimes disaster. Originally a “Run what you brung” race in 1973, then an evolution of development classes throughout the years from the maxi ketches of the 80’s and the 60 footers in the 90’s, and the current 70 ft boats.
With only 6 teams competing in the 2011/12 edition of the VOR and numerous catastrophic breakdowns, Volvo Ocean Race organizers decided something drastic had to be done to revitalize this historic race.
A few days ago, Volvo announced the next race will be raced as a one-design event in new Farr Yacht-designed, Volvo 65’s and has already footed the bill for 8 new yachts to be built.
This departure from development class to one design is an important one. The key being a huge reduction in the cost to compete in the event based on a commercial sponsorship model with global appeal, and also safety.
Though shorter, the Volvo 65 is going be close in performance to the Volvo 70 as it has a similar sail area/displacement ratio, a deeper keel with a higher Beam/L ratio. The configuration to the VOR70 is similar with canting keel, 3 water ballast tanks, a long bowsprit, reversible daggerboards for backup, twin rudders with spares, similar height mast (deck-stepped this time) and a much lighter hull with overall displacement of 10.75 tonnes compared to the VOR 70 of 14 tonnes.
From a structural point of view it will be easier to deliver a reliable and safer platform, a major consideration given the litany of structural failures which have plagued the fleet during the 2011/12 race, and prior races such as the 2005/6 race when the VOR70 Movistar sank while racing across the North Atlantic.
With this new one-design rule, there is now no excuse for under-engineered boats and levels the playing field. These boats are very fast and the sailors will push them hard as witnessed in some of the incredible Southern Ocean footage. Understanding the dynamic loads and building strong seaworthy boats will be a key part of the success of the new class.
Commercially, Volvo has committed to underwrite the new class with 8 new boats being built, new teams now have the opportunity to raise funding during the build stage reducing the competitive advantage for the earlier well-funded teams. The boats will also be raced with fewer crew and there is a shared “pool” of spare parts all of which helps bring the costs of the campaign to a manageable 12-14 million Euro, a significant reduction from the current edition.
The modern-era VOR has offered a compelling “cannot get out of your seat” product with the heavy use of high bandwidth satellite communications and a serious commitment from race organizers to deliver video, pictures and reports nearly live from the boats. The Volvo 65 will provide more incredible footage of big shiny multicolored boats, plastered with sponsors logos,blasting through the Southern Ocean and with more boats on the water the next edition is going to be very competitive.
Tom Weaver is a career yachtsman with a degree in Naval Architecture and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sunderland, England. He helped Farr International develop several grand prix classes including the Mumm 30, Corel 45 and Farr 40, spent a year as crew for Steve Fossett’s Playstation and five years as team manager of the Mascalzone Latino America’s Cup campaign.