Although the basic concept has remained the same, ever since the inaugural running of the Volvo Ocean Race’s predecessor—the Whitbread Round the World Race—back in 1973, the event is also continually evolving to meet the exigencies of both sailboat design and economics.
In 2014-15, the sailors not only have to deal with an all-new boat and new stopover ports, there has also been a major change to the way the event is scored. What follows is a brief guide to the nuts and bolts of the 2014-15 VOR, so you’ll be able to follow the action out on the water that much better.
Offshore leg distance
Cape Town, South Africa
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Auckland, New Zealand
Newport, Rhode Island
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Traditionalists who bemoan the fact that the VOR now regularly diverts from the Southern Ocean—its traditional stomping grounds—to visit its sponsors’ home ports in the Middle East and Asia won’t be pleased with the 2014-15 route.
However, U.S. fans will undoubtedly be happy to see that the fleet plans to stop in Newport, Rhode Island, in early May. The last time the fleet visited Miami during the 2011-12 VOR the reception was a bit tepid. But expect a whole different vibe when the fleet ties up at what is arguably the sailing capital of North America.
This year’s VOR kicks off with an in-port race in Alicante, Spain, on October 4, with the first offshore leg to Cape Town starting a week later, on October 11. In all the fleet will visit 11 different ports and cover just under 39,000 nautical miles, with the longest leg stretching a little over 6,700 miles from Auckland, New Zealand, around Cape Horn to Itajai, Brazil.
The 12th edition of the VOR features a low-points system, with one point for each first-place finish, two points for second place, etc., and an extra point tacked on if you are disqualified or forced to withdraw. This replaces the high-points system used last time.
In another big change, the inshore races—one at each stopover—and the offshore legs will be scored separately, as two different series.
“We used to have an overall in-port race winner, so it was already a separate series, if you like,” says race director Jack Lloyd. “But on closer inspection, that meant that a team could win the in-port series, but there was no trophy for the team who performed the best on the offshore legs. In some ways, that meant that we were making more of the in-port races than we were the offshore legs. Yet, ultimately, we are an offshore race.”
One way in which the two series could overlap is in the event of a tie. In that case, whichever teams does best in the inshore racing, wins.
Finally, there will be a 24-hour “pit stop” in The Hague midway through the very last leg to “give the public a close look at the boats,” and undoubtedly placate the Dutch sponsor of Team Brunel. The plan is to have the boats make port and then re-start a day later at intervals corresponding to their arrival deltas. Could be fun. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.
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The boats may be identical, but the seven crews taking part in the race couldn’t be more different. From the all-female SCA team to Team Vestas Wind, which signed on just days before this publication went to press, the sailors taking part come from all around the world and range from relative newcomers to grizzled veterans, like six-time veteran Bouwe Bekking at the head of Team Brunel. The question is: will youthful enthusiasm prevail over age and wisdom, or will it be the other way around?
Although Alvimedica has been hailed as the “American” team in this year’s race, the Swedish-flagged SCA Ocean Racing Team includes three Americans among its all-women crew: South Dakota native Sara Hastreiter; Wisconsin-born, three-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Sally Barkow; and Newport, Rhode Island-born media crew Corinna Halloran. The first to throw their hat into the ring, Team SCA and British skipper Sam Davies have taken part in an impressive series of ocean crossings as part of their training program and know their boat as well as any in this race.
Dongfeng Race Team
Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Chinese-flagged boat includes a couple of Chinese neophytes. The boat’s French skipper, Charles Caudrelier, served as a helmsman aboard Groupama, winner of the 2011-12 VOR, and he has surrounded himself with a number of compatriots and offshore veterans for this next lap around the world: among them his navigator, veteran offshore racer Pascal Bidegorry, and Swedish two-time VOR competitor Martin Stromberg. While an overall win seems highly unlikely, some podium finishes are well within the realm of possibility.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Abu Dhabi never quite seemed to get its act together in the last Volvo, with some saying the boat was slow, while others blamed the crew. Either way, if the team’s returning skipper, two-time British Olympic silver medalist Ian Walker, has anything to say about it, his third crack at the VOR (he was also the skipper of Green Dragon in 2008-09) will be the charm. Backing him up are a number of other veterans, including his Kiwi boat captain, three-time VOR veteran Daryl Wislang and Spanish trimmer Roberto Bermudez de Castro, who has a remarkable five VORs to his credit. And of course, with the race now a one-design contest, this time around there’s no blaming the boat…
Any boat with Dutch VOR legend Bouwe Bekking aboard is bound to be a contender. A six-time VOR veteran who has twice finished in second place, he knows as much about this event as anyone alive and is undoubtedly hungry to win the thing. Also hungry for an overall victory will be his Australian-born navigator, five-time VOR veteran Andrew Cape, and Frenchman Laurent Pages, watch captain for 2011-12 winner Groupama. Then there’s Danish sailor Jens Dolmer, with one VOR to his credit, and Spaniard Pablo Arrarte with two. If you’re beginning to think this is a team with experience to burn, you’re absolutely right.
At one point it looked as if lifelong friends and 49er partners Iker Martinez (at left) and crew Xabi Fernandez, both from Spain’s Basque region, were going to walk away with the 2011-12 VOR aboard Telefonica—until Frenchman Franck Cammas and Groupama found their sea legs and took it back. Among the others joining the duo this time around are their countrymen Telefonica teammate Antonio Cuervas-Mons and four-time Olympian Rafael Trujillo Villar. It’s hard to imagine another team with the same combination of drive and talent.
Team Vestas Wind
There was a time when signing up for a VOR less than 60 days before the start would have been the height of folly. But now with no need for a long build and trialing program, thanks to the switch to one-designs, a late entry is nothing to sneeze at—especially when you’ve got four-time VOR veteran Chris Nicholoson of Australia as your skipper. At press time the team was still taking shape, but given Nicholoson’s VOR credentials, not to mention his two Olympic appearances and six world championships, he presumably has a number of highly experienced mates he can call to join him.
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Every VOR brings something new, but few changes have been as dramatic as the switch from custom boats to a new one design, the Volvo Ocean 65.
Created by Farr Yacht Design, the boat is intended to bring down the costs of a campaign and also reduce the number of breakdowns—a major concern after the 2011-12 VOR turned into a kind of waterborne demolition derby, with the first casualty returning to shore mere hours after the start with hull problems and multiple boats losing their rigs as the race progressed.
Organizers also hoped the new boat would increase the fleet size, from the half-dozen teams that sailed in 2011-12 to eight to 10 this time around. And while only seven teams will be taking part in the 2014-15 race, that is still an improvement over the race’s six-boat nadir. Better still, because the new design has been locked in for the next edition of the race as well, the fleet will presumably be even bigger in 2017-18.
Constructed by a consortium of companies in the UK, France, Italy and Switzerland, the $5.5 million boats cost about half as much as their 70-foot predecessors. They also require just eight crew (with an extra crew allowed during in-port races and aboard boats with three or more women in the crew), compared to the 11 sailors on a VOR 70. Nonetheless, they are still very much reminiscent of the VOR 70s, with their twin daggerboards (1), carbon-fiber hulls, water-ballast tanks (2), twin rudders (3), twin helms, 7ft fixed sprits (4), high-aspect canting T-keels (5) and chines (6) running the lengths of their hulls to promote planing performance and sail-carrying ability.
Beyond the decrease in length and beam, a significant difference is that maximum draft has been increased from the VOR 70’s 14ft 9in to 15ft 6in to enhance righting while allowing designers to reduce ballast. The new boats also have eight structural bulkheads (7)—compared to the four typically found aboard a VOR 70—and robust stringers to (hopefully) prevent the major hull failures that plagued a number of teams last time around.
The reverse bow, while sharp looking, is mainly cosmetic. Less noticeable is the increased freeboard forward and amidships to keep the boat drier (despite being 5ft shorter, freeboard is roughly equivalent to a VOR 70) and a sculpted cabintrunk to help shed water as quickly as possible. The boat’s keel pin is also inclined 5 degrees, as opposed to being horizontal, so that the keel will provide some vertical lift when canted, thereby pushing some of the hull out of the water to reduce wetted surface area.
Finally, the boats are fully wired for media coverage, with five fixed camera positions, including a camera and microphone in the companionway hatch (8)—right in the crew’s faces—so if anything ever does go wrong with the new boats, we will be sure to hear about it!
VOR 65 Specifications
LOA 66ft // LWL 65ft
BEAM 18ft 7in // DRAFT 15ft 9in
DISPLACEMENT 27,557lb (light ship)
BALLAST 7,716lb and up to 6,000lb H2O ballast
SAIL AREA 3,186ft2 (upwind);
6,221ft2 (main and A3 spinnaker)
SA/D RATIO 56 (light ship, no water ballast)
D/L RATIO 45 (light ship, no water ballast)
For all the updates of the Volvo Ocean Race click here.
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