Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson says that one of the biggest challenges of this Volvo Ocean Race campaign has been getting through the race’s stringent measurement process and that the most regular book he has read for the last two years is the Volvo Ocean Race rulebook.
With all six competing teams now in Alicante ahead of the start of the Volvo Ocean Race on October 29, Nicholson said he was keen to get the final measurement checks out of the way as quickly as possible. 'The measurement process is a huge part of getting ready for the Volvo Ocean Race,' he said. 'I would estimate that 30 to 50 percent of both my and co-skipper Stu Bannatyne’s time since the campaign started has been dedicated to it.'
According to Nicholson, the measurement process has been a key factor the since the very earliest stage of the Camper yacht’s design process. 'Measurement was a major consideration even before the designer’s pen hit the paper. Right from the point where the sailors give their initial ideas and concepts to the design team you have to be thinking about the measurement process. We brought ideas to the table that have subsequently required a massive amount of energy to ensure that everything is legal.'
To avoid problems further down the line, Nicholson says he and his team have constantly had to play devil’s advocate with every innovative idea they came up with. 'You have to put yourself in the role of an opposing team and say, ‘I don’t like this new concept and I am going to try and have it disallowed.’ That’s what we have done with every single component part of the boat.'
Nicholson, a sailing Olympian and veteran of three Volvo Ocean Races, believes the level of competition in this edition of the race has made it harder than ever to stay within the rules. 'It’s quite difficult to remain 100 percent legal when everyone is pushing the rules so hard. We are unbelievably focused on remaining legal. The worst possible thing would be to turn up at the start of the race and not be able to pass measurement. That would be a complete showstopper.'
The precise techniques employed in the construction of Volvo Open 70s mean that the boats are built to remarkably tight tolerances and Nicholson says this requires excellence in every area of the design and build process.
'The build tolerance with our boat was one millimetre on every single component,' he explained. 'For instance the designed draft [depth] of our boat was exactly 4.5 metres and it came out at 4.499 metres. To deliver that sort of accuracy across such a complex boat as a Volvo Open 70 is not a simple task. If you don’t have the right guys involved from the very beginning then it’s not going to happen.'
Camper’s design comes from Marcelino Botín working alongside the Emirates Team New Zealand design team, a successful partnership spanning the last six years. Nicholson says that Botín’s long-term relationship with everyone involved has paid dividends in his team’s quest to build a boat capable of winning the Volvo Ocean Race.
'Designers’ computers don’t just spit out fast boats. It is about relationships and how you get the best out of them. Every crew’s design team will have the same strengths, but success comes from how effectively you can harness all that talent. That drives the quality of the boat you end up with.
'When I sit down with the design team I feel like I should have gone to university and studied a lot harder. They are such an incredibly intelligent hardworking team. You also know that the same hard work is going on in all the other teams too. For the Volvo Ocean Race everyone has the best people you can get involved. You just have to trust in your team and what you are doing.'
Nicholson equates the challenge of building a fast Volvo Open 70 within the rules to that facing Formula 1 motor racing teams. 'I imagine it’s very similar in Formula 1,' he said. 'Theirs might be a bit more complex with regards to the actual mechanics, but then I would say that sailing steps into a different arena when you factor in wind, waves and race conditions. All of these things affect how you build your boat.
'The process is very complex. There’s core sampling of the hull and we have to submit documentation relating to the structure of the boat, the carbon, the Nomex, the hydraulic units, the mast weights, mast materials, the list just goes on and on.'
Recalling that in the past some teams had chosen a confrontational approach to the measurement authorities, Nicholson says that throughout his first Volvo Ocean Race campaign as skipper he has made every effort to be as open as possible in his team’s relationship with the Volvo Ocean Race measurers.
'Measurers are like policemen – you just don’t argue with them. There is absolutely no mileage in it. We have done completely the opposite, in that we have gone out of our way to involve them in our boat. We wanted to make sure from day one that we weren’t doing anything that we shouldn’t be. We submitted drawings to the measurers very early on, before the moulds had even been built for the boat and we have kept them informed every step of the way ever since.'
On October 7 Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand will join Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Puma powered by Berg Propulsion, Team Sanya, Team Telefónica and Groupama sailing team, for a 360 nautical mile qualification sail from Alicante to Palma de Mallorca and back.