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Volvo Ocean race- Top designer speaks out on structural issues

by Juan Kouyoumdjian on 12 Apr 2012
Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 4 Finish - Telefonica © Richard Gladwell http://www.richardgladwell.com

Top designer in the Volvo Ocean Race, Juan Kouyoumdjian, has spoken out in the midst of the controversy surrounding the structural issues that have occurred in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race, on Leg 5.

He writes from Valencia, Spain:

With our three boats safely in Brazil and under the risk of sounding arrogant, I’ll break away from my golden rule of not speaking until the end of the race to put the record straight since I believe we are presented with an intentional manipulation of the truth.

There is a common, spread notion that ALL the participants of this VOR have structural problems, that the situation is unacceptable and that something needs to be done for the future. A fundamental distinction needs to be done between the mast breakages and the rest, and whilst I think it is very important to understand what caused so many mast failures, it is a travesty of the truth to put ALL designs in the same basket when it comes down to the 'other' structural issues.

This generalization might suit a specific Team, or person to push any agenda he might have for the future, but out of respect of the hard and serious work done with my Team I need to speak up.

In the first edition of the VO70s, we had two triumphs to celebrate that as designers we are very proud of. One is obviously that our design was driven to victory by a very good crew and the other one is that our two boats [both ABN AMRO] were the only ones that completed the full circumnavigation without major structural problems. This celebration was faded by the public generalization that because one boat sunk and others had structural failures, then ALL of the boats had problems and the rules had to be changed. Which in fact they did, for the worse!

I didn’t say anything publicly then and moved on. However, seeing the same generalization occurring now, I’d like to stick to the facts and so allow for conclusions to be made without generalizations.

• A VO70 cannot be designed not to break. In fact, any boat in a round the world race cannot be designed not to break. So ultimately, breakages are in the hands of the crew.

• Puma won Leg 5 without a major structural problem and this due to the excellence and experience of its crew.

• Telefonica finished second in leg 5 with a hull delamination in port mid bow which did not prevent her from racing.

• Telefonica’s pit stop in Cape Horn was not a necessity but rather a very clever strategical decision based on having third place assured and a weather window to exploit.

• Groupama, notwithstanding of an excellent management of the boat during leg 5 to see misfortune hit them with a broken mast, has sailed on her own means to Brazil without structural problems.

So, while we focus in understanding why there have been so many problems with the rigs, I’d beg not to generalize and avoid putting in the same basket the good work and brilliance of some engineers with that of others which are clearly not the same.



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