Photo: Maria Muina/Telefonica

Telefonica's Volvo Ocean Race decline

On daggerboard and rudder breakages and the Spanish VO70's secret interceptor

Thursday June 28th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

It would be fair to describe Telefonica as having been ‘robbed’ in this Volvo Ocean Race.

After winning the first three legs, then just remaining on the podium into New Zealand (when they passed Camper just before the line) and into Itajai, despite suffering significant delamination and core sheer while crossing the Pacific, since then the fortunes of Iker Martinez’ Spanish team have taken a dive.

Some tactical errors led them to lose places on the leg into Miami and since then the team has been beset with some unfortunate technical problems – a broken daggerboard three days out from the finish of leg seven into Lisbon, following an alleged collision with a whale, where for the second leg in a row they beat Camper to the finish line to claim fourth place. Nonetheless this caused them to lose first place with Franck Cammas’ Groupama taking the lead with a three point advantage.

The Spanish team’s situation was made no easier by coming last in the In-Port race in Lisbon, their fourth in-port DFL (although they won the Sanya in-port). And then on leg eight Telefonica experienced a bizarre double rudder breakage, that caused them to reach Lorient in fifth place, plummeting the one time runaway leaders to fourth place, now 28 points behind leader Groupama, although on equal points with third placed Camper and within five points of Puma in second. With a maximum of 47 points left on the table there is an outside chance of catching the French, but the prospects of the Spanish team winning on their third attempt at the fully crewed round the world race are now all but over.

Rudder breakage is rare but does happen in the Volvo Ocean Race. Sanya broke the stock of their starboard rudder inside the boat early on in trans-Pacific leg five this time around. In the last Volvo Ocean Race, Telefonica broke the tiller arm to one of their rudders on the first night out from Alicante, while on the leg to Galway Puma broke their port leeward rudder.

On leg eight this time, Telefonica was sailing in 30-35 knots of wind on port tack when the starboard, leeward rudder, broke clean off at the hull exit.

“The dangerous part of it was that once the rudder goes and then you broach, then what do you do?” queries crewman Neal McDonald. “You have no rudder to leeward, how do you get the boat back on course? That was very tricky and in fact presented a new challenge because we tried to furl the Code 0 while we were head to wind in 30-35 knots... But it was under control and the only real sweat was ‘will the sails last this broach?’ But while we were trying to furl the Code 0, we broke the furling line because of the load on that. And then you have a bit of an issue because we got back on course sailing with our weather rudder - which is dicey in itself - but then you have to get a guy up front in 30-35 knots to get the furling line. That was the most difficult part of the procedure...”

While the VO70s have substantial gudgeons on the transom, the spare rudder on Telefonica is in fact an exact replacement of the principle rudder. To fit this in through the bottom of the boat, with the sails dropped, the boat is laid on its side with the keel down to leeward and the rudder to be replaced pointing out of the side of the boat. Then it is a case of taking out the old rudder remnants, attaching the halyard to the top of the replacement rudder, lifting it over the side and then guiding the new rudder into position.

“The way that this system works now is very very nice. I’d like our team to take credit for it, but it came from Puma. It took longer to take the sails down than put the rudder in,” says MacDonald, who recalls that in the last race after their rudder change Puma still managed to claim second into Galway. “The guys did a fantastic job, but we had a lot of little tricks to it. Horatio had made up a conical top to the rudder, so that guided it through.” The common ingredient between Puma’s last campaign and Telefonica’s present one is veteran navigator Andrew Cape.

At the time of the rudder breakage, McDonald says they weren’t overly stressed about it - the whole operation had taken just 40 minutes, although they knew they were going to lose the lead temporarily. The new rudder was a direct replacement and it was a case of ‘well that’s unlucky’ but press on. “We were back going again as if nothing had happened. It was the right decision in the circumstances and we sailed exactly the same as we had been before. Some might say perhaps you might have backed off...”

Unfortunately then they sailed on, gybed for Lorient and an hour later the replacement rudder sheered off in exactly the same way, flush with the hull. The only difference was that while on the first occasion it had been to leeward and this occasion it was to windward.

“Once we had broken the other one then we did have a lack of confidence in the system,” McDonald admits. And so they were forced to limp into Lorient with just one rudder with the prospects of their winning the 2011-2 Volvo Ocean Race evaporated in an instant. “My gut feeling was that our chance of winning was washed away with the second rudder breaking. We all felt that. That may or may not have been the case, but there were certainly some long faces and not too much said after that and that is what we probably felt.”

As to why not just one rudder broke but two and at this late stage of the race, McDonald says remains a mystery. “We still don’t know for sure. We think it was degraded and damaged.”

Typically rudders breakages on twin rudder boats like IMOCA 60s and ORMA 60 trimarans usually occur to the windward rudder when it is slapped by a wave while in the air. However the breakage occurred when the VO70 was downwind when typically it is only heeling around 1-2 degrees and both rudders are immersed and working. This might have been an explanation of one rudder breakage on Telefonica – but two?

“You can scratch your head, but you don’t know,” McDonald continues. “With the first one the immediate thoughts on board were ‘blimey we must have hit something’, but we didn’t know. When the second one goes you suspect there is more to it than that. In the previous two legs there was some quite heavy sailing, but you still don’t know...

“It is strange. We started with the design philosophy to put all the weight we needed in the rudders, so they are heavier than every other rudder in the last race. The design philosophy was that we didn’t want to break them and that was the last thing we thought would break in that scenario – that takes 15 tonnes of side force or something...”

The only difference between Telefonica’s rudders and those on the other Juan K designs, Groupama and Puma, is that those on the Spanish boat are slightly longer. “We made that decision a long time ago based on a control issue rather than drag,” says McDonald. “It was a trade-off we have been happy with and is one I’d do again. We sailed with two different size rudders before the start of the race and made that decision based on that.”

For the last two inports and the final leg to Galway they have replaced both rudders like for like (changing the design would incur a penalty they cannot afford at this stage). “We have got to put the same design rudders back in so we are just going to go for it again and looking at the forecast it is not even going to be something I’m going to be thinking about.”

Given the points situation at present, it is highly unlikely but not impossible that Telefonica could knock Groupama out of first place. In reality it is more likely to take a catastrophe to befall the French boat for this to happen.

So aside from the technical issues of the last two legs did anything else cause the rot to set in? “It was a case of other people catching up a little,” says McDonald. “I think we had a good running start. Luck is not a word I like to use a lot, but we had a good run. We didn’t have too many failures. We still haven’t broken any sails. But our design philosophy was to be good in the early legs. Our boat is set up for those medium reaching and upwind legs. But then we haven’t had it going our way in the last few legs. From the outside you see good and bad results, but the difference is minutes at the end of a four day leg - very different thing to previous races where people were days ahead. There is none of that any more. So the gap between the top boat and last boat is smaller and it really doesn’t take much to knock you off your momentum.”

Groupama in comparison has been more optimised for reaching in medium to strong breeze which appears to have benefitted the French VO70 later in the race, at times when Telefonica has had to work harder.

In the performance envelope Puma is thought to be somewhere between Telefonica and Groupama.

Secret weapon

A secret weapon that it must have slipped McDonald’s mind to mention to us when he showed up the blue boat in Alicante prior to the start is Telefonica’s interceptor. In fact so keen were they to keep this feature under wraps that they chose to Photoshop it out of a press photos prior to the start.

The interceptor is a device that was used in the IMOCA 60 class prior to the last Vendee (although it has since been banned) on boats like Mike Golding’s Ecover and Artemis Ocean Racing. On Telefonica the interceptor cannot be raised or lowered like it can on the IMOCA 60s (now grandfathered) so instead their is a permanent lip in the hull around the transom.

“That is what makes it difficult inshore and different in breeze because it puts us bow down and it gives us an edge upwind and in medium reaching,” explains McDonald.

Volvo one design for 2014

Today the plan for a new Volvo Ocean Race boat are to be announced and - the world’s worst kept secret – it is to be a one design 65 footer from Farr Yacht Design to be assembled by Green Marine with parts built across Europe, etc. It will be crewed by 8 and displace 10 tonnes – more information will be available after the announcement at 0800 UTC today.

So as someone coming up to the end of his fifth Volvo Ocean Race (or fifth and a bit if you include the unfortunate Fortuna) what does our man think about the next race being one design?

“I think the concept is right for this race. I think we all like as sailors to have an equal boat and I think it is probably right for the race. There is definitely a cost cutting push and I think it will achieve that. Once you have a one design then really what it looks like doesn’t matter to the sailors because they are all going to look the same.

“There will still be plenty to do. It will make the sailors sail the boat more. We spend a lot of time dicking around with different sail profiles etc but if that is all cast in stone then you spend more time tweaking the boat - you sail with the jib lead a little further out or a little more twisted, etc. There is almost as much to tweak as there was before, so there are still plenty of opportunities for sailors to play their game and try and improve it. It does lose some of the challenges that others races have had - it just pushes it somewhere else.”

McDonald says that the sailors and those presently involved in the Volvo Ocean Race have had a big say in the design and some of the features of the new boat, so unless it ends up being a ‘design by committee’ it should be a nice boat. “They will go quick and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be hard to sail. When you have a one design people will push harder because they know that they are in the same boat everyone else and the only way they are going to beat them is by sailing harder.”

He adds: “One of the interesting things is that they are going to be forced into designing and choosing a boat before they know the course which is a tricky scenario. I don’t know what they’ll do. The course has to be driven by the sponsors and by what they need and where they want to go. We all understand that part of it.”

However McDonald is unlikely to be among the crew next time. “The format is hard on the family with Christmas away and one day off in New Zealand. It doesn’t fit certainly for my family. At my age I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. The wife is more likely to do it than me!”



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