FRO, MHO, J1, A3... It might already look like sail names are made by an enthusiastic toddler eating alphabetti spaghetti – but we promise there's a method behind the madness.
If you're not a sailor, then the sails can be one of the most mysterious parts of the sport. Different sails suit different conditions – and any combination of them can create a new effect on the speed of the boat.
The reaching and running sails are the A3 (from Asymmetrical Spinnaker), Mast Head Zero (MH0) which, like the A3, goes from the top of the mast to the end of the bowsprit and the little brother, the Fractional Zero or FR0.
In the 2014-15 race the next biggest sail was the J1 – but now there's a new top dog in the world of jibs... the J0.
Dee Caffari, skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic, saidd: “It’s the first time we’ve even seen a J0, and I think it’s my new favorite sail. It’s a really interesting space that it fits into so we’ll have a look at that in more detail. It’s a big change for the sail wardrobe for this edition of the race.”
The naming system is admittedly a little confusing because the MH0 and FR0 are technically also called code zeros too, but what you need to remember about this new 171m² weapon is that it's a light wind jib for sailing upwind and for fast reaching in fresh conditions.
“The most important feedback we got from the last race was that there was a gap between the J1 and the masthead zero," said North Sails designer Gautier Sergent who worked closely with the dominant Groupama Team in 2011-12 and has subsequently run North's 3Di development programme takes up the story.
This meant that sailors were constantly changing between the J1 (which was often too small) and the MHO (which was often too big) – a lot of work for already tired sailors.
This new J0 sail from North Sails bridges that gap. It's a bit like a half shoe size – and it's the perfect fit for the Volvo Ocean 65.
"It should really allow the driver to really play with the waves and easily surf fast," adds Sergent.
It might seem counterintuitive, but bigger sails can actually slow the boat down when surfing fast, as the extra volume required in lighter winds collapses and creates drag. Remember the small jibs, and lack of gennakers, on the America's Cup catamarans? Same idea here.
Pablo Arrarte, watch captain on MAPFRE, said each team must decide how best to use the J0. “It is a critical sail, new for everyone, and we have to test it intensely,” he said. “Each team will make their own conclusions while training about how to use it to their best advantage.”
Annie Lush, SCA veteran and now trimmer and helmswoman on Team Brunel, is excited about the new addition. "When you’re using a big over-lapping sail like [the MH0] you start to worry about the mast, so last time it was a lot of stress and sail manoeuvres."
She's looking forward to giving her new sail a spin – but not the amount of sail changes required in a One Design marathon around the planet.
"Reaching with the J0 will be fun, but now you’ve added another sail into the crossovers… more sails, more decisions, more sails to stack and stacking is NEVER fun!" she laughed.
So – bigger, faster sails, newly polished hulls and a longer, more powerful keel will make the Volvo Ocean 65s faster than ever. The fleet hits the water on Friday, ready for the final push to the start line.
What’s the story with the rest of the sails on board? Here’s a brief summary that will help you decode the alphabetti spaghetti...
Main sail: 161.8 m² That’s the big oblong one at the back of the boat, always hoisted but can be reduced in size by reefing when the wind increases. For perspective, about the size of a volleyball court.
A3: 375 m² or more than two volley ball courts in size, this is the boat’s engine when sailing downwind in up to 25 kts of wind.
MHO: 305 m² Big and flat, this Mast Head Zero will help power the boats through the doldrums and other light wind zones on the racecourse. Used in close reaching in light winds and broad reaching when the wind picks up.
FRO: 235 m² of pure downwind bliss. This is probably the most fun sail on the boat because it only comes out in the sailors’ favourite conditions, strong downwind conditions!
J0: You should really know what this is now!
J1: 132 m² The only sail, aside from the main ofcourse, that doesn’t furl. It clips to the forestay and its hard to put up, but is a powerful sail for upwind sailing in less than 15kts of wind.
J2: 86.6 m² and we’re down to about half a volleyball court now. A really flexible sail that is used when sailing upwind in up to 25 kts or downwind inside the A3 for extra oomph!
J3: 44.5 m² A small sail for when things get spicy. Look for this one to be used upwind in horrible (35kts) conditions or, like the big brother J2, hoisted inside the J0, J1 or MHO. Basically, this one will be used in all types of condtions.
Storm Jib: A tiny, intensely orange jib for when things get really exciting. Only sees the light of day in more than 40 knots.