Photo: Rick Deppe / Volvo Ocean Race

Knut Frostad - Volvo Ocean Race update

One design progress report, teams and ports for 2014-5 and much more

Tuesday December 4th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

It’s exciting times for the Volvo Ocean Race. While the months post-race would normally be a reasonably slack period, the team in Alicante is busy at the coal face working in particular on the new Volvo Ocean 65 one design, negotiations with potential stopover ports and helping teams to get to the start line of the next race in 2014.

Ports

As to where the race is going in 2014, the final bids from potential ports had to be in on 1 November and the organisers are currently in their final decision phase. When this is finalised, the announcement of the ports is likely to be drip-fed out (as they were last time) the first ones coinciding with the publication of the Notice of Race on 21 December with the majority being revealed early in 2013.

Impressive though is the number of applicants. “We started with 64 and in the end we cut it down to 30,” says Volvo Ocean Race CEO, Knut Frostad. “It is very good. We were quite modest in making predictions. We expected a big push back in Europe, but we had some really good interest from there, including some new countries and big interest in South America. And China is getting stronger and stronger, which is great.”

The number of stopovers for the 2014-15 race is likely to be the same or one less than it was last time around (ie nine or ten).

Frostad says that while for the last race they attempted to standardise the format of stopovers, for example their duration, the timing of the in-port racing, etc next time the stopovers will revert to varying in length, although not perhaps for the obvious reasons: “We discovered that it is very difficult to achieve cost efficiency with that because of shipping routes [for containers rather than boats BTW], so if you can allow more flexibility and make some [stops] longer and some shorter, you can play with the logistics more and reduce the cost.”

Of course it also makes sense for the teams to have longer stopovers after longer legs, particularly early on in the race, when there is typically more breakage.

“Last time we had a very short stop in Auckland whereas it would make sense to have a longer one,” Frostad continues. “For the public, it doesn’t make sense to have long stopovers really - 10 days is long enough or a maximum of two weeks, but for the teams sometimes it makes a difference.”

In terms of the stops at present we know that the race will be starting in Alicante and Lorient in France signed a two race deal, so it will definitely return there (so does this mean we can see another French team in the next race – Groupama or someone else???). Frostad confirms that they will also be returning to China, but won’t divulge where.

The controversial one in the 2011-2 race was the Middle Eastern stopover in Abu Dhabi which required the boats to be shipped from the Maldives into the Gulf halfway through leg 2 and back out the same route but in reverse during leg 3, for which the event came in for much criticism.

Whether the next race is returning to the Middle East Frostad won’t confirm, but says they have “some new options” this time in terms of how they sidestep the Indian Ocean piracy issue. “Last time we did something we hadn’t planned to do, so we had put plan B in place a long time after we had decided to go to Abu Dhabi. Originally we thought we could sail up a corridor close to India. If we had known from the beginning that we would have to put the boats on a ship, we would not have done it in the same way. So it can be done a lot smarter and we are working with the same intelligence we used last time and we have new reports of how things are changing in the area.”

Teams

To date the only team to raise its head above the parapet is Team SCA, the all-female campaign being managed by Richard Brisius and Johan Salen’s company Atlant in Sweden, previously behind the winning EF and Ericsson campaigns, among others.

Frostad says that at present there are three teams that are very close to signing contracts on boats including Team SCA (we’ve since heard four). This compares well to the last race. “At this stage last time we only had Groupama, so at the moment I am optimistic. I think everyone has to be pretty sober these days with the sponsorship market, but the fact that we have a couple of companies we know who are doing the next race and are doing it because of the changes that we made, that is a good sign. But every project is a challenge.”

Interestingly the three teams Frostad mentions, he says are ‘new’, although his team continues to work with all teams from the last race, although Puma, having sold their VO70 to Team SCA, sound like they aren’t in the running.

In addition to these there are a number of other campaigns – the same number or slightly more as last time - who, Frostad says, are “seriously working on it.”

Shiny new one design

Meanwhile work on the new Volvo Ocean 65 one design is progressing as shown in the recent video update, with the first hull being laminated at Persico in Italy, the first deck coming together in Multiplast and the frames and structure being built at Decision SA in Switerland. These parts are ultimately destined to end up in the UK where they will be assembled at Green Marine’s facility in Hythe.

While the boat broadly hasn’t changed since it was unveiled during the Lorient stopover of the last race, it has been refined substantially. Frostad says how the media equipment is to be installed has been a big project. “We are designing and building the boat around television. We are doing things that we haven’t done with sailboats before with cameras moulded into the construction and how we pick up sound, etc.”

The major issue with the new boat is ensuring the absolute integrity of the one design, no mean feat at this size. This comes down to uniformity in the tolerances between boats (bearing in mind that parts are being manufactured by different builders). “We are down to one millimetre on a lot of things on the boat. Then it is about how you measure it accurately and who certifies it.” This certification is being carried out by James Dadd and the RORC Rating Office, as well as other agencies.

“The MOD70 is the closest you can get, but even that boat isn’t as complicated as ours when it comes to television equipment and everything," says Frostad. "So even the cables to the watermaker have to be the same length on all the boats, the Inmarsat cable to the computer has to be the same length on all the boats, because if one team has a 50cm longer cable they will come and complain about it.”

Although it has yet to be announced, it sounds like the general trend will be towards going one design to the maximum possible degree. “We had left computers and nav equipment out, but we have now decided that even that will be one design,” says Frostad. “We found more benefits the more one design made it.”

This is not purely down to cost. Frostad says that a couple of the sponsors who are looking to do the race are interested simply because they have chosen to go down this route. “They have looked at the race before and they didn’t do it then because they thought that the gap was too big [versus other, more experienced teams] and they don’t want to do a race to learn.”

For sponsors coming in, the name of the game is managing risk, Frostad explains: “Cost matters, but the risk is a big factor now, because companies they have to focus more on what they do, they have to sponsor less things and they cannot make a mistake. They cannot sponsor something that has a high potential of not finishing it or being slow.”

Going one design as far as possible limits this. Frostad provides a sponsor’s reasoning: “’Okay, I haven’t done the race before, but I am going to have the same shore crew as everybody, so no risk there, I am going to have the same boat, so no risk there. So I am going to hire the skipper and crew and do a good marketing campaign.'”

Essentially the moment you open up one piece of the puzzle, then a team will launch in there to try and exploit it, so the organisers are attempting to shut this down wherever possible.

So while it has yet to be announced, it seems highly likely that the sails will be one design too.

A secondary effect of going one design, is that the penalty is now smaller for starting late. A team entering at the 11th will have the same equipment, the only significant downside being that they will have less training time in the boat.

Shore team for all

For the teams another significant cost saving will be the shared shore-side resources. Frostad reckons that this will cover about 90% of a team’s needs between legs. As a result he envisages that a team’s shore crew could comprise as few as three – a boat captain plus two others.

At present Nick Bice is building up the team who will look after the in-port servicing of the VO65s. “The more we work on it, the more obvious it is that that is going to work,” says Frostad. “The suppliers are also willing to contribute to it. They say ‘if we can supply the whole thing, we’d like to take a part share in it and pay for some of it and give you the spare parts for free, etc. It is becoming better and better.”

Frostad also observes that one of the ironies of going one design, is that in fact there is now a reportable ‘technology story’. In previous races, it was almost impossible for non-team members to go below on a boat so writing technical articles or creating TV packages on the boats was hard work. Going one-design has all changed this, says Frostad: “For the last two races we haven’t had a single minute clip of a boat being built. We don’t have two minutes of video inside the Volvo Ocean Race boats before the start - all of that is just stupid... Volvo Cars have tried to use the design story in sailing with their cars and they haven’t been able to tell that story because they never got footage. Now they are going to do it with the launch of the XC90 and it is only possible because of the one design.”

As to how the boat is going to be on the water when the first example is launched in mid-June next year, Frostad is anticipating a similar performance to the VO70. The VOD65 has a deeper keel plus it has considerably more water ballast, more akin to an IMOCA 60 than a VO70, with wing tanks and a forward tank, to give the boat momentum upwind.

“The biggest change from the VO70 rule, or so the Farr guys think, is the inclination of the keel pin,” says Frostad (something which Juan K tried with the first ABN AMRO boat, before it was outlawed). “We had a stupid rule [with the VO70] where the keel had to be horizontal to the waterline, so you never had lift from the keel, but now it is going to have serious inclination.”

The boats are still expected to have a two race lifespan. “That is a five year span which we think is a healthy life cycle for a design. To push it longer than that I think is wrong. The objective is not that the boat should live as long as possible.”

Potentially this might encourage teams to mount two race campaigns and there is obviously the potential to turbo the boats for the 2017 race, if required. “It changes the cost of the boat, because you can split it over two races and it is also the design brief and the brief to all of the suppliers and the yards on what the boats need to be able to withstand. The VO70s weren’t really built for two races.” But if you want to be competitive in the 2017-8 race, surely a team will be looking to get a new boat?

With the Volvo Ocean Race going one design and crew numbers being reduced to eight (for the male teams at least – the number of women allowed to sail on Team SCA will be revealed when the Notice of Race is published) sailing a boat that is only slightly less powerful than a VO70, so the premium will be on the crew, crew work and training time pre-race. On this latter feature, while the organisers limited this for the last race (as the America’s Cup has done), Frostad says that they are not going to next time around.

“There will be an advantage for the first team to sail more. At the same time we have a very tight limit on numbers of sails that you have - you can only have one set before the race and they are also your back-up sails for the race. That means that the last boat on the water will have newer sails – that is one upside. But certainly training and experience always count: learning how to sail the boat, learning the overlaps, the different gears, how to shift the weight, and the weather routing and navigation is going to play a big part.”

So a new era in the Volvo Ocean Race, and while we won’t be able to report on the new widgets and ground breaking technology that we might have in the past, at least the end result will be an even better yacht race.

 

 

 

 


 

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