Before the introduction of the Volvo Ocean 65, a combination of three factors would generally be key in winning the Volvo Ocean Race:
- The race organisers would regulate the major speed-defining parameters, controlling things like length, weight, and the sails. The designers on each team would then try and produce the fastest possible boat complying with those rules.
- Next, the design team would give the plans to a boat builder and they would go to the ends of the earth to search for the best technology. Mission: to make the boat as light and strong as possible.
- Finally, the builders would give the boat to the athletes. They would focus their talent, endurance, strategy and technique into the sum total of the designers and builders efforts... and race it as hard and fast as it would go.
Unfortunately for the sailing crews, sometimes it wouldn’t go very fast at all. They would often discover that either the design team, or the builders had dropped the ball somewhere along the line. They were stuck on a slow boat to China. And South America. And the USA. And... you get the idea.
Then, everything changed. The Volvo Ocean 65, introduced for the 2014-15 edition, is built to a single, tightly controlled set of plans from Farr Yacht Design. No longer do the teams need designers; the boat is designed for them.
One benefit of this was the cost reduction made possible by just one set of plans, and one team of builders. The boats were much more affordable than the previous generation. Much more importantly, it meant that the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race was won and lost by the athletes, out on the water. With no one and nothing to blame, the crews embraced the fact that the buck stopped with them.
"If it hadn't been for the new one-design rule, then I probably wouldn't have done the Volvo Ocean Race again,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s skipper, Ian Walker.
As the race wore on, he probably wondered why he had bothered – as the teams battled bow to bow, the sailors grew more stressed and more tired by the minute.
It was incredibly close. Match-racing in the Southern Ocean. Teams in sight of each other for thousands of miles. The speed difference between the boats was smaller than ever before, but the speed on the water was just as fast as it ever had been.
The Volvo Ocean 65: one-design, high-performance, tough, affordable, world-class – let the best athletes win.