As the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Racing enters its final weeks, VOR management has unveiled a new boat for the next two editions that it hopes will address the twin problems of high costs and breakages.
In a break with tradition the new 65-footer, which has been designed by Volvo veteran Farr Yacht Design, will be a one-design, constructed by a consortium of boatyards in the UK, France, Italy and Switzerland.
All previous races, including those that took place during the earlier Whitbread era, have been held aboard handicapped boats or boats built to a box rule design, like the current generation of VOR70s.
Despite the fact that the VOR70s have produced racing that is unprecedented in its competitiveness, they have proved to be highly problematic because of their high cost vulnerability to dismastings and hull failures. The current fleet of six boats is much smaller than what had been originally hoped for; VOR chief executive Knut Frostad says he is hoping eight to 10 boats will be on the start line for the 2014-15 race.
"This breathtaking new design, and the agreement to build at least eight yachts, will take the Volvo Ocean Race into an exciting new era," Frostad says. “It represents another major milestone for a race that has never been afraid to move forward in its 39-year history. This move to a one-design gives us an enormous head start in our planning for the next two races and puts the Volvo Ocean Race in even better shape going forward."
Despite being five feet shorter, Frostad says new boat will be almost as fast as the Volvo Open 70s that are contesting the current race. The “ready to sail” cost of the boats, including sails for both training and the race itself, will be around $5.7 million.
"Our clear goal throughout the planning process for the next race has been to make it easier and less costly to mount a campaign," Frostad says. "This is a big step toward that goal."
Although a one-design approach does away with the “design competition” that has been such a big part of past races, James Dadd, project manager for the new design, says the boats themselves should be as exciting as ever.
“Being freed from the restrictions of the previous Volvo Open 70 box rule opened up a wealth of performance improvement opportunities,” Dadd says. “In the Volvo Open 70 we had very tight restrictions to ensure that people didn’t develop outside of the ‘box’. When we go to a single design we don’t have to apply those restrictions. This means that areas of development which were prohibited in the Volvo Open 70 can be fully exploited in the new design.”
According to Dadd, the new boat will be around three tons lighter than a VOR 70, which provides opportunities for significant performance gains, particularly downwind. It could also facilitate a greater diversity of crews.
“One of the reasons we have gone for the lighter overall weight is that the new design -- with a lot of that weight coming out of the bulb -- is to make the boat more tender and twitchy,” he says. “This means you won’t need to have so much raw physical power to be able to sail them, opening up opportunities for all-female teams in future races.”
Low cost? All-female crews? Interesting, and hopefully just the thing to help get a classic race that many believe has lost its way back on track.
Volvo One Design 65 Specs:
Hull length: 67ft (20.40m)
Length on deck: 65ft (19,8m)
Beam: 18.4ft (5.6m)
Max draft: 15.4ft (4.7m)
Boat weight (empty): 10,750 kg (23,700 lb)
Keel arrangement: Canting keel to +/- 40 degrees with 3 degrees of incline at axis
Daggerboards: Twin reversible, retracting asymmetric daggerboards
Rudders: Twin under-hull with spare that may also be transom-hung
Aft water ballast: Twin 800L venture filled tanks under cockpit sides at transom
Forward water ballast: Single centreline 1000L venture filled tank forward of mast
Rig height: 30.30m (99.4ft)
Rig arrangement: Deck-stepped, twin backstays with deflectors
Bowsprit length: 2.15m (7ft)
Mainsail area: 151m2
Working headsail area: 135m2 (permanently hoisted jib)
Upwind sail area: 451m2
Downwind sail area: 550m2