It's not just about the boatWell, the article is, but not the race. Not anymore.
Until the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, the result was always settled by a combination of three factors:
- The race organisers would regulate the major speed-defining parameters, controlling things like length, weight, and the sails. Then the team’s designers would 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 build it 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 what’s called a one-design. That is, built to a single, tightly controlled set of plans from the internationally regarded boffins at Farr Yacht Design. No longer do the teams need designers; the boat is designed for them.
All the boats came from the same group of four world-class boat builders – Green Marine, Decision, Persico and Multiplast. The teams didn’t need boat builders; the boat was built 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. However, the only people really interested in this fact were the team’s accountants.
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 mile.
The speed differences between the boats were 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.