The new one-design class has been conceived to bring a minimum of eight boats to the start line for the next two editions and the man overseeing the project is confident it will deliver blistering speeds and exciting racing.
“Being freed from the restrictions of the previous Volvo Open 70 box rule opened up a wealth of performance improvement opportunities,” project manager James Dadd said.
“In the Volvo Open 70 we had very tight restrictions to ensure that people didn’t develop outside of the ‘box’. When we go to a single design we don’t have to apply those restrictions. This means that areas of development which were prohibited in the Volvo Open 70 can be fully exploited in the new design.”
Dadd said the weight saving and a powerful sail plan along with further speed improvements from a longer keel draught and an angled canting keel system would mean fast speeds.
“The new boat will be around three tons lighter than the Volvo Open 70 and this offers opportunities for significant performance gains, particularly downwind,” he said.
“The keel pin on the Volvo Open 70 was restricted to being horizontal and along the centreline of the boat,” he said. “There are performance advantages to putting that at a slight inclined angle -- it changes the angle of attack of the keel as it goes through its full range of movement -- and there are significant gains from that.
“So we are allowing that now with the new design."
Dadd said although the reduced overall weight of the boat meant a lighter keel bulb, this would be offset by the increased depth of the keel and the underwater hull shape.
“The draught of the keel is slightly lighter so we can have a lighter bulb and still get the same amount of righting moment,” Dadd said. “Also, the new design will have more form stability than the Volvo Open 70.
“One of the reasons we have gone for the lighter overall weight is that the new design -- with a lot of that weight coming out of the bulb -- is to make the boat more tender and twitchy.
“This means you won’t need to have so much raw physical power to be able to sail them, opening up opportunities for all-female teams in future races.”
When it came to the mast and rig of the new boat, Dadd said the approach had been to keep it simple and use the experience and development of the Volvo Open 70 class.
“There has been so much research and development into the Volvo Open 70 rigs up to this point that it would be a shame to throw all that away -- plus which, it is expensive to go back to the drawing board," he said.
“Taking all that into account the sail plan be very similar, but simplified slightly.”
The move to one-design eliminates the headlong rush to save weight and opens the door to a host of reliability improvements.
“One design takes away the need to keep pushing weights down to the absolute minimum and enables us to push reliability up,” he said.
“It allows us to use techniques and controls that we would not have used in the Volvo Open 70 purely because they are a little bit too heavy.”
“From a construction point of view, we will be using tried and tested materials and building techniques with the focus now on keeping the boats in one piece.”
Changing to identical boats also takes away the need to locate aft water ballast tanks in the centre of the boat, freeing up valuable space and allowing for less punishing upwind performance.
“The current Volvo Open 70s have 1600 litres of trim ballast in the stern so they can get the bow out in windy downwind conditions,” he said. “What we have done is divide that out from the centre of the boat -- exactly where we want to put other stuff like life rafts and steering cables -- and put it in little tanks in the back corners.
“We have just divided up the current allocation and put it in places where it is more out of the way.
“We have also put a water ballast tank up forwards. This may seem like a strange thing to do, but experience from other boats tells us that weight up forward in very rough conditions can actually improve the sea keeping abilities of the boat.
“It helps stop the slamming being quite so hard and makes the life on board a bit easier for the crews."
Dadd said the onboard facilities for Media Crew Members would be greatly improved, resulting in easier working conditions and improved media output.
“In the past this has been often been an afterthought in the teams’ designs -- a bit of an add-on at the end,” he said. “Now it is central to what we are trying to do and we have been talking to the current MCMs so that we improve the situation and give future MCMs a lot more freedom to do what they need to do.”
While many race fans may be concerned a smaller 65-foot Volvo Ocean Race class will struggle to serve up the blistering performance of the current 70 footers, Dadd said the new boat would be capable of breaking records.
“We have tried to use the knowledge we have the best way we can to make sure we have the safest and most reliable boats possible -- without turning them into cruising boats," said Dadd.
“Although smaller, they will be lighter and massively powerful. If the conditions are right, I am confident they can beat the record that stands right now."