Foiling boats bring the racing classic into the 21st century
The Volvo Ocean Race recently announced some design changes for the 2019-20 event, and I for one am very pleased. It’s true I have been ranting on Sailfeed (sailfeed.com) against the unimaginative slab-sided boats currently in use (and set to do another lap as part of the 2017-18 race, beginning in October). However, I don’t think it was because of my rants that the changes have been made. I think it’s because Volvo hired Mark Turner as CEO, and Mark is an innovator. He has long been involved with the IMOCA Class, where the true innovation in offshore ocean monohull racing has been taking place, including once serving as the group’s chairman. You only have to put one of the new generation IMOCA 60’s alongside a VOR 65 to see what I am talking about.
The good news in the latest announcement is that the future boats for the VOR are going to be more like the IMOCA 60’s—on steroids, no less. To accomplish this feat, the VOR has tapped French designer Guillaume Verdier and his team, a group with vast expertise not only in IMOCA design but also in creating some of the world’s most exciting multihulls, to create a new 60ft one-design to replace the Volvo Ocean 65. The boats will be smaller but more powerful and include a set of lifting foils, something that is missing from the current generation of 65-footers, making them look, quite frankly, a little frumpy compared to the other Grand Prix boats now flying around the oceans.
The recent Vendée Globe made it clear that foils added a considerable amount to the boat’s performance, as was evident in winner Armel Le Cléac’h’s record-setting first-place finish. This will be even more noticeable on a fully-crewed boat where a crack crew can push hard day and night. That said, let’s first be clear what these foils are, and are not. They are not America’s Cup-type foils designed to lift the boat clear out of the water. Instead, they project out the leeward side of the boat to provide lift that, in turn, reduces displacement and increases stability. I predict that even though the next-generation boats will be smaller, they will be around five percent faster, thanks largely to their foils.
Of course, many sailors, myself included, were pushing to abandon monohulls altogether and make the switch to cats or tris. However, Turner felt it would be too much too soon for stakeholders, and in what I think was a clever move decided to go with foiling catamarans for just the inshore portions of the event. After watching the recent America’s Cup and seeing how fast the boats were going, it will be hard to sit and watch an inshore race if the boats are not flying.
While the offshore legs will still be heavily weighted in terms of points, the future Volvo Ocean Race sailors will need to be multi-disciplined and have the skills to set a spinnaker in the Southern Ocean as well as fly a catamaran around a tight inshore course.
I take a special interest in the latest developments in the VOR, having competed in three events back in the 1980s when the race was called the Whitbread Round the World Race.
We dragged tons of lead around the world back then, and I’m here to tell you it was painful. I can still remember what it was like to see a steep-sided Southern Ocean roller come up astern, feel the boat rise and start plummeting down the face of the wave, the boat shuddering, shaking and vibrating like mad with torrents of water coming across the deck, all in an effort to hit a top speed of—wait for it—16 knots.
No, I welcome the change, and I embrace the innovation. It’s finally moving the Volvo Ocean Race into the 21st century. For the latest on the race, visit volvooceanrace.com.