I was interested by this article from last week’s Times of London about the potential for mayhem in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race: Global race starts under a cloud of safety fears.
The new Volvo Open 70s could hardly be more of a contrast to Volvo’s safetyconscious designs for the family car market. The boats are only 10ft longer than the old Volvo 60s, which were used in the last race four years ago, but they are much more powerful and much more dangerous.
Capable of exhilarating performance, with a top speed of up to 40 knots, the super-light Volvo 70s demand total concentration from their ten-man crews, with manoeuvres in rough seas having to be precisely choreographed if spectacular wipe-outs are to be avoided.
The new boats are more complex than the 60s and include hydraulically controlled keels that swing through an arc of 40 degrees either side of the centre line, giving the yachts extra lateral stability, plus daggerboards either side of the mast to prevent the boats slipping sideways.
Conceptually, it makes all kinds of sense. In flat water, under ideal conditions, I’m sure it makes for intense sailing excitement. But in the Southern Ocean, I just don’t know.
Neal McDonald, of Britain, who skippers Ericsson, admitted to a certain nervousness and fear of the unknown. “These are tricky boats — they are fast and powerful,” he said. “The hardest thing will be to know when to back off. When do we say, ‘Let’s put the no heroes flag up and knuckle down for the night and make sure we see tomorrow in good shape.'”
Paul Cayard, the Californian skipper of The Black Pearl, a boat sponsored by Disney in a unique marketing campaign to promote a sequel to the feature film Pirates of the Caribbean, is concerned about the swing keels, which have had a mixed reliability record in other classes. “The technology is a little more on the edge,” he said.
I continue to think that the relatively conservative (emphasis on the “relatively”) boats of the ABN Amro campaign may end up doing significantly better than their poor showing in the opening race last Saturday would seem to indicate.
I was also interested by the quotes coming from ABN Amro One skipper Mike Sanderson, as quoted in this post-race writeup from the official site: Worry no more.
Mike Sanderson put a brave face on a woeful performance by the best-funded boat in the fleet. In the preceding days he had made it clear that we shouldn’t expect a sparkling performance in light airs. ABN AMRO One is a fat-bottomed girl who likes a good breeze to allow her to strut her stuff. She doesn’t like it light and fluffy. “I can walk down the dock and I can show you the narrowest boat and I can show you the widest one,” said Moose. “It wasn’t the biggest surprise. We always knew that a six-knot In Port race — where we got the start wrong — would be our biggest nightmare. I think I’ve said that publicly before. You know that when you put your boat at one side of a fleet, you’re going to come first sometimes and other times you’re going to come last. We’re still adamant we’ve the right boat for the race. I don’t think we’ll be having this conversation in Cape Town.”
Time will tell on that one, obviously.
Photo: That’s In Port race one winner Ericsson taking the pin end at the start, on her way to stretching out to a big lead on the left side of the first beat. Photo by Rick Tomlinson.