Gladwell's Line: Grant Dalton welcomes new Volvo 65 concept

A profile rendering of the new Farr-designed, 65-foot Volvo One Design class

Emirates Team New Zealand CEO, and many time round the world sailor, and skipper, Grant Dalton, describes the new concept for the Volvo Ocean Race as a positive move.

Speaking from Lorient, France, venue awaiting the start of Leg 9, of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, Dalton believes the concept for the boat and the next two races do address the central issue, which is cost. 'Yet to be seen, is how they address the people problem, which is about 65% of the cost.'

Dalton believes economic conditions will remain tough for the next five years. 'This is the mechanism to keep the Volvo Ocean race alive and healthy for the next two editions.'



The underlying message from organisers is their focus on getting sufficient boats on the start line to make a commercially viable race. From comments, and question responses, made at the announcement their preference is believed to be eight teams, racing one boat each.

To achieve that goal budgets have to be reduced, while not taking away of the media appeal of the event – and hopefully improving on an event that is keenly followed by media and fans (daily print media excepted in NZ).

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Chris Nicholson from Australia, in rough weather, on the approach to the finish of leg 8, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Lorient, France, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race)
aim is to have a fleet of at least eight 65ft one designs, capable of doing two races, on the line for the start in Alicante, Spain 2014.

That move, together with some other cuts to budgets, plus the fact that a lot of the infrastructure created for the 2011/12 race will be able to be rolled over, should get the overall cost down significantly.

Balance that against a tanking European economy, and it is still a big ask.

A key question will be how many of the current teams, who have all had a part to play in the development of the new boat, will be able to convince their backers to go again. If Volvo can start with a base of five to six teams from the 2011/12 race, then the eight looks viable, particularly if two boat teams (one male crew and one female crew) are allowed.

Many will be disappointed that the outstanding Juan K Yacht Design was not selected. The option of taking, say a Volvo 70 such as Telefonica, and re-jigging that as a one design did not make the cut. That obsoletes the current fleet, with organisers preferring the prospect of getting two events out of the new Volvo 65.

The new design from Farr Yacht Design is promised to be with 2.7% of the potential of the Volvo 70. At 25kts that is a speed difference of just over .5kt. To be honest, most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Rather than speed, the real issues will be of quality control, one design integrity and reliability.

The Volvo 65 will be built by a consortium of four European yards, primarily for reasons of logistics. Quite who takes responsibility for boat integrity in that design/build mix is an interesting matter. Certainly it is not the teams, as at present. But it is the teams that are responsible to their sponsors for performance and reliability.

Some minds would be a little more at rest, if a builder like Core Builders Composites were involved, with their AC45 experience to draw upon, and their ability to produce a very strong one design, high performance product straight out of the box.

Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Franck Cammas from France are greeted by family, fans and the media on the dock, after taking first place on leg 8, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Lorient, France, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)
announcement has been made on that other area of reliability – spars. Of which there have been three race suspending incidents in this edition of the race. Southern Spars are the only choice – their record in Volvo and Round the World races is second to none. While budgets are important, reliability is even more so, in a race of this type.

Part of the solution to this quality conundrum is to have open review of the various elements. Quite how many of the international marine industry would participate to effectively tune up their competitive rival’s product, and pass on IP remains to be seen.

Certainly the design blanket concept has worked well enough in the past – for instance, with the New Zealand Challenge in the 1987 America’s Cup and Laurie Davidson, Ron Holland and Bruce Farr being involved. But that was to do a task which none of the three could have done individually. It does require careful management and ego submersion.

Selling the pedigree of the Volvo 65 will be a crucial factor in the success of the Race. Having a name like Juan K Yacht Design attached to the new boat, would have added credibility. However given the boat is a one design the credentials of the design firm are less of a factor. The critical issue will be reliability and structural integrity, so that a situation as happened in Leg 5 of the current edition, where all but one of the six boats was forced to suspend racing, does not happen again.

Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain at the finish of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Photo Credit Must Read: PAUL TODD/Volvo Ocean Race)
don't forget, too, that with all the options on the table in terms of open design for the current edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, there have been four different leg winners. And a Farr design has won two Legs.

Overall the Volvo 65 concept seems fine. The move to make it even more media friendly is a step in the right direction, as is the move to provide more crew protection for high speed sailing.

The next test will be the choice of route, and the lesson there has to be to pick venues that pull the crowds and fans. Sorry, but that is virtually the only criteria. And staging an event in a stadium devoid of fans demeans the value of any game, no matter what the sport.

Of course while the move has been made to one designs, as any one design dinghy sailor knows the difference between boats, even from a single manufacturer can be very significant. Not that one boat is any better than another, but dogs are possible for reasons that are generally inexplicable. Similarly with sails and spars.

And once the boats have been taken over by the teams, the intense optimisation process will begin - maybe not too different from the 12 metre era and the perpetual search for that vital tenth of a knot.

There was no option really to what has been announced.

Offsetting the reduced cost is the knowledge of that even a team with excellent pedigree saying they can do an America's Cup program for EUR16million and with excellent pedigree, is as yet unable to push the Go button.

The moves announced by the Volvo Ocean race organisers are definitely a step in the right direction, several in fact. But are they enough?

We'll have to hurry up and wait.

To read what Juan Kouyoumdjian thinks of the new Volvo 65 http://www.vsail.info/2012/06/29/juan-kouyoumdjian-talks-to-vsail-info-about-the-volvo-ocean-race-part-i/!click_here
http://www.sail-world.com/99096