Some big changes are in store fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of the clos­est fin­ish in the event’s sto­ried his­tory, says Brian Han­cock

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A new di­rec­tion for the Volvo Ocean Race; Laser North Amer­i­cans

The most re­cent edi­tion of the Volvo Ocean Race ended with one of the most ex­cit­ing fin­ishes in the race’s long his­tory. It all came down to the last few hours of the fi­nal leg of the race from Gothen­burg, Swe­den, to The Hague when the three lead­ing teams—Spain’s Mapfre, China’s Dongfeng and Team Brunel of the Nether­lands—all stood an equal chance of tak­ing home the big prize. The drama played out in slow mo­tion as a global au­di­ence sat glued to the on­line race tracker watch­ing and wait­ing to see who would blink.

In the end, leg leader Mapfre found it­self in an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion when the two other boats split to go to ei­ther side of a large traf­fic sep­a­ra­tion zone just off the Dutch coast. Mapfre had been cov­er­ing Dongfeng when the Dutch en­try gybed away and Mapfre skip­per Xabi Fern‡ndez made his fa­tal choice, stay­ing with Dongfeng for a few more min­utes, then think­ing bet­ter of it

and go­ing off to cover Brunel. It was in that mo­ment he lost the race, as Dongfeng’s French-born skip­per Charles Cau­drelier found just enough breeze to leapfrog the other two. With such an ex­cep­tional con­clu­sion, along with the 45,000 miles of drama and ex­cite­ment that led up to it, the Volvo Race man­age­ment can be con­grat­u­lated on pulling off another great event. (For com­plete cov­er­age of the VOR, go to sail­magazine.com/rac­ing/volvo-ocean-race.)

But what now? That’s al­ways the ques­tion when a race like the VOR comes to a close, since steps in­evitably need to be taken to keep spon­sors and crews in­ter­ested in com­ing back for the next go-around, cur­rently planned to be­gin in 2021. The prob­lem is con­stantly hav­ing to bal­ance out so many con­trast­ing needs, an ef­fort that is es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult this time around as Volvo has de­clined to be a ti­tle spon­sor again. Not much rea­son was given, and we can only sur­mise that, like most long (read ex-

pen­sive) spon­sor­ships, this one had sim­ply run its course. At some point the money in­vested is not giv­ing you the same re­turn it did when the spon­sor­ship was fresh and new.

Fac­ing or­ga­niz­ers this time around is also the need to take a look at safety. These boats and crews are be­ing pushed be­yond their lim­its on a daily, even hourly ba­sis, and the fear has al­ways been that some­thing would crack. Un­for­tu­nately, in the 2017-18 race there was a huge crack with the death of John Fisher, who was swept over­board from Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai/ Scal­ly­wag in the depths of the South­ern Ocean. It was ev­ery­one’s night­mare sce­nario: big seas, big speeds and in a split sec­ond a sailor was lost. The VOR has long em­ployed the tag line “Life at the Ex­treme,” and there is noth­ing more ex­treme than wa­ter boil­ing across the deck with the yacht hit­ting 30 knots on the front side of a South­ern Ocean gray­beard. Un­for­tu­nately, “ex­treme” and safety do not al­ways go handin-hand, and race man­age­ment has to come to terms with that fact. Team Ves­tas’s col­li­sion with a fish­ing boat off Hong Kong, which re- sulted in the death of a com­mer­cial fish­er­man, served as another case in point.

Then there is the ques­tion of cost, another fac­tor at the fore­front of any race or­ga­nizer’s mind and al­ways a tricky bal­anc­ing act. You can’t have a race if you can’t find enough com­peti­tors with the where­withal to take part. But at the same time you need the race to be cut­ting-edge and ex­cit­ing enough to at­tract those all-im­por­tant spon­sors, which takes money.

For the past two edi­tions of the race, the fleet has used the Volvo Ocean 65 one-de­sign by Farr Yacht De­sign, which went a long way to mak­ing things more af­ford­able, since the teams no longer had to work up their own in­di­vid­ual de­signs. Un­for­tu­nately, while the boats may have been cut­ting-edge at first, the world of off­shore ocean rac­ing is fast paced and full of in­no­va­tion, and by the time the 2014-15 race was over the Volvo 65 was al­ready out­dated.

By con­trast, the other big off­shore cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion race, the sin­gle­handed Vendée

Globe has con­tin­ued to leave most of the de­sign de­tails of the IMOCA 60s that are used for the race up to the in­di­vid­ual cam­paigns, and the re­sults have been stag­ger­ing as the Vendée Globe has now very much stolen a march on the VOR. When a sailor sail­ing alone aboard a boat 5ft shorter than a fully-crewed Volvo 65 is able to come very close to match­ing the lat­ter’s daily speed runs, some­thing is clearly amiss.

For­tu­nately, late last year Volvo handed con­trol of the event over to an ex­tremely com­pe­tent team in the form of Richard Bri­sius and Johan Salén, and it’s clear that they’ve long rec­og­nized the fact some­thing had to be done. As a re­sult, af­ter the VOR’s end it was an­nounced that the race is part­ner­ing with IMOCA (the In­ter­na­tional Mono­hull Open Class As­so­ci­a­tion) to form a part­ner­ship aimed at cre­at­ing a new IMOCA 60 de­sign rule to be used in fully-crewed roundthe-world yacht races. In other words, the next VOR will be raced in cus­tom-built, fully-crewed IMOCA 60s.

One of the keys to the high speeds of the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of IMOCA 60s are their lee­ward lift­ing foils, which not only in­crease sta­bil­ity, but quite lit­er­ally have the boats fly­ing out of the wa­ter at times with just the foils and rud­der in con­tact. It’s a very ex­cit­ing in­no­va­tion that is still in its in­fancy, and the idea of fully-crewed fly­ing boats should be enough to whet the ap­petite not only of speed freaks, but spon­sors as well.

Another big dif­fer­ence be­tween the Volvo Ocean 65 and an IMOCA 60 is the amount of pro­tec­tion the IMOCA 60 of­fers its crew. Whereas a Volvo Ocean 65 has ba­si­cally a flush deck with a small cabin for pro­tec­tion, the IMOCA 60s feature large cab­in­tops that can be ex­tended to cover most of the cock­pit. This, in turn, means crews no longer have to be ex­posed to tor­rents of wa­ter cas­cad­ing across the deck. In­stead they will be able to steer and trim sails from rel­a­tive safety.

At the end of the day, the new de­sign part­ner- ship will un­doubt­edly re­sult in an even more spec­tac­u­lar class of Volvo rac­ers, at the same time it takes bet­ter care of its crews. Here’s hop­ing that com­bined with the mo­men­tum cre­ated by the last race, these boats will help usher in a safer and more ex­cit­ing VOR than ever be­fore. s

Brian Han­cock is the founder of the sail­maker Great Cir­cle Sails and a vet­eran of three Whit­bread races, the pre­cur­sor to the Volvo Ocean Race

The IMOCA 60 Safran, shown here dur­ing the runup to the 2016-17 VendŽe Globe, of­fers a fore­shad­ow­ing of the 2021-22 VOR: note the rad­i­cally curved foils

Safran’s par­tially en­closed cock­pit does an ex­cel­lent job of pro­tect­ing skip­per Mor­gan La­graviere from break­ing seas

The Volvo Ocean 65 pro­vides lit­tle pro­tec­tion against big seas

Dongfeng skip­per Charles Cau­drelier (right) and crewmem­ber Chen Jin­hao cel­e­brate in The Hague

A fleet of spec­ta­tors was on hand as Dongfeng closed in on the fin­ish

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