In the current economic climate, it’s no surprise that that potential sponsors are balking at the prospect of ponying up the $50-60 million needed to fund a first-rate Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) campaign. The VOR itself has been working to reduce costs, as they recognize that sponsors only get their full value if there are plenty of boats competing.
So far, changes include a nearly 40-percent reduction sail inventory; dropping one crew member from each boat (leaving a crew of nine, plus one media crew member, or MCM), and one extra “under thirty” sailor (bringing this count up to three).
The VOR has announced an enforced keel/bulb weight of 16,315 pounds, plus a rule that the keel strut must be monolithic and cannot use any fairings. Also, the total weight of each boat has been increased from 30,556 – 30,865 pounds in this race to 30,865– 31,968 pounds. These latter changes are an attempt to equalize the righting moments of the entire fleet, keep older-generation boats competitive, and expedite the often-slow and always-expensive design and build process. There are also whispers that there might be future limitations on how many new boats each team can build.
Other changes include a ban on head foils, with only furlers or hanked-on headsails allowed. There’s no stacking sails and gear to windward (a brutal job); these will be kept in the center of the vessel, as opposed to the windward rail, which will be necessary with one fewer set of hands. Batteries will be reduced in weight by 220 pounds, which is weight that designers can place back in the hull’s structure without penalty.
But most interesting is the announcement of women’s teams. These teams will be allowed to sail with a total of one MCM, nine women sailors, plus two male sailors, for a total of twelve sailors aboard these mixed-gender entries. For speed-seeking women sailors, this is the chance of a lifetime, and a great way of adding interest and excitement to an already-great event.