While the next Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) doesn’t kick off until 2011, gears are spinning rapidly to get the various pieces in place so that teams can design boats, build boats and start test sailing their craft. As the past two editions have made completely clear, VOR teams that start early, train hard and are the most prepared are certain to be strong contenders, if not outright winners. It was no accident that Mike Sanderson’s ABN Amro One team and Torben Grael’s Ericsson Four proved so strong offshore: before the race they made certain that as many variables were discovered and solved as humanly possible. So, it’s no surprise that not even six months after the last race finished, the early phases of the next cycle have begun.
Obviously, before anything can start in earnest, the designers need to have the design rule from the race organizers. After the 2005/2006 event, the new design rule placed its emphasis on making the boats stronger and safer, specifically in the keel areas. More structure was added to the boats to help support the loads generated by the canting keels. This included more of a structural grid, as well as rules governing the construction of the keel rams. The rule for the 2008/2009 race increased the size of the headsails and also changed how spinnakers were measured.
Last month the new rule for the 2011/2012 race was announced and the emphasis this time is on containing costs improving crew safety. For the past two editions, well-funded teams have put together multiple-boat campaigns. Not surprisingly, these teams are more prepared than their rivals, and have typically spent more time training as well. The results are self-sufficient (both ABN and Ericsson were two-boat programs), but they are also expensive. Given the staggering costs of running a full-on VOR campaign, this level of preparedness was threatening to result in fewer boats on the starting line..
The minimum weight of each boat has increased each vessel must now weigh between 30,865 and 33,070 pounds, with a maximum fin/bulb weight of 16,315 pounds. Teams are only allowed to build one new boat per race (they can also run a second 2008/2009-generation boat), and two-boat testing is prohibited. Sails and equipment can now only be stacked on the boat’s belowdeck centerline, and sail inventory has been cut from 24 to 17.
Headfoils have been eliminated in a move to keep crews off the foredeck. Boats must instead use furling headsails or hanked-on sails. This reduces the crews’ exposure to the fire hose-like conditions on the foredeck of a VO70.
Also, the number of “under 30” crewmembers has been increased to three, again helping to reduce costs and to provide opportunities for younger sailors looking to make a name for themselves in the VOR. Given the success of the “under 30” rule in the last Volvo, this will be a great opportunity for the race and for sailors alike.
The VOR also announced recently that a French team has entered the next two editions of the race. French insurance company Groupama and highly rated skipper Franck Cammas announced their involvement in early November in the French port Le Chteau in Brest, just days before Cammas and crew set off for a Jules Verne attempt aboard Cammas’s 103-foot maxi trimaran, Groupama 3. Two-time VOR-winning designer Juan Kouyoumdjian will design Groupama's new VO70 (this bodes well for Groupama, as Juan K has won the last two editions of the VOR with his ultra-fast designs).
“The French certainly have their place in the Volvo against the cream of the Anglo-Saxon and European crews," said VOR CEO Knut Frostad. "It is excellent news that the Groupama team is joining the race. I have known Franck Cammas and his team for a long time. They are formidable competitors, who are remarkably well organized. It is going to be an exciting race.”