Here We Go Again Round-the-World
By Vern Penner
Some Outlook by the Bay readers with good memories may recall an article appearing in the Holiday 2011 issue describing the forthcoming Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), formerly known as the Whitbread Round-The-World Race. It recommended that travelers consider plans to coordinate a visit to one of nine VOR ports of call during the race and watch a piece of sailing history. Taking my own advice, I arrived in Miami barely in time to witness from the city harbor breakwater a thrilling end-of-leg dual offshore for first place between two of the Volvo Open 70 monohull racing yachts. Can you imagine after sailing nonstop 5,000 miles for 17 days from Itajai, Brazil, these two sailboats were duking it out at the Miami finish line with barely an hour of separation?
The final stats for the 2011-2012 race are impressive for the six competing boats. It was the closest finish in the race’s history and the intense competition under rugged conditions made for record media coverage and record-breaking crowds at the race ports. Overcoming several major breakdowns, VOR sailors hit speeds of almost 50 mph (40 knots) and faced seas of up to 50 feet in height. Each of the teams had reason to celebrate at the final finish in Galway, Ireland, after nine months of racing some 40,000 miles over open seas. No one boat dominated. Five of the six celebrated victory in at least one of the nine offshore legs and all but one team won an in-port race. At the end, with just a week of sailing competition to go, four of six boats were still in contention. And it was the French captain, Franck Cammas, aboard the orange and green Groupama boat who won the overall title on his first attempt.
The 12th edition of the VOR challenge is now set for 2014-2015 and it will follow a similar round-the-world route after beginning in Alicante, Spain, in early October 2014. But there are two different ports of call. The American stopover takes the racing fleet to Newport, Rhode Island, instead of Miami and the race finish will be in Gothenburg, Sweden, the home of Volvo, and not Galway. More importantly, Annapolis has more skin in this competition. All the sailing teams will be using identical 65-foot boats designed by Annapolis-based, world-famous Farr Yacht Design. It’s fair to say that no design company has had so much experience in one design racing sailboats since the two, Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler, came from New Zealand and settled in Annapolis in 1981 to be centrally located for European and U.S. sailing markets.
It will take more than a casual eye to discern any changes between the Farr-designed 65-footer and the VOR 70s used in the 2011-2012 race. In fact, there are significant changes made to improve the safety, appeal and user-friendliness of the new yacht while reducing costs. It began with a total examination of the breakdowns and boat-related mishaps in previous races. All hull and appendage failures were closely reviewed and the new boats have 800 more kilos of carbon fiber for added strength. There will be greater shelter on deck with changes to reduce water streaming and improve boat handling in heavy weather. To increase participation and put all teams on equal footing, designs were incorporated with more manageable deck hardware, which will be helpful to women sailors and crew members of smaller statue. At the same time, to ensure breaking monohull speed records, the draft of the canting keel was lengthened one foot and hung differently to give greater lift. The 33 pages of specifications are available at the www.volvooceanrace.com website.
Race officials say that the same boats will be used for both the 2014-2015 race and the VOR race to follow, which is designed to increase participation and lure more syndicates to join the competition. It could be that 65 the magic number because it was a Swan 65 which won the inaugural Whitbread Round the World Race series 30 years ago that preceded the VOR races. The Swan boat was built in one yard, but four major facilities are involved in producing the Volvo Ocean 65 located in Italy, France, Switzerland and the UK. This makes for exceedingly complex quality control issues, but sailors’ lives will depend upon them. The latest rules allow for one other important change. Any boat with an exclusively all-female crew will be allowed to carry several more crewmembers but in the same space. This exception has already attracted a Swedish-based syndicate “Team SCA,” which will be the first all-woman team to compete since the 2001-2002 race, which came to Annapolis. Abu Dhabi is back along with a boat from China. The latest reported entrant will be a Dutch-speaking team, already boasting of the fact that only a Dutch skipper has twice won this race: Conny van Rietschoten, who died last December at the age of 87.
So review your travel plans and check the dates on the VOR website and see if Alicante, Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, Auckland, Itajai, Newport, Lisbon, Lorient or Gothenburg could figure on your calendar. The Farr-designed Volvo Ocean 65 will undoubtedly provide more sailing history in this latest example of sailboat racing to the extreme where one guiding rule remains the same. The sailors will not be racing for prize money, only a trophy and glory.
Vern, an inveterate sailor, participates in the Hospice Cup Regatta when he’s not sailing the Bay or around the Cape Verde Islands, where he served as US Ambassador. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org