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Volvo Ocean Race - Getting faster - Five days aboard team AkzoNobel

by Tom Martienssen on 17 Jul 2017
On board team AzkoNobel - July 2017 Team AkzoNobel
Volvo Ocean Race on board reporter Tom Martienssen was on board the team AkzoNobel VO65 during the recent five-day training run from England to Portugal and sent this report on his observations from the passage.

“We’re really struggling at the moment to make the boat go as fast as it’s meant to.”

That was the team AkzoNobel navigator Jules Salter soon after leaving Falmouth, England.

Four days later I find him lying asleep at the nav station, reams of data streaming across one of his two laptops. Just above him sit the ‘magic numbers’. Our speed over ground has been faster than our true wind speed for about 20 minutes now. Already we’re seeing the edge of what the boat is capable of.

For the team AkzoNobel sailors, abandoning their plans to cross the Atlantic was a setback, but it has given them a huge boost in terms of testing the performance of the boat.

Joca Signorini, a veteran of the Volvo Ocean Race joins me at the bow and sits on a stack of sails that the crew has managed to test every one of since leaving England just a few days ago. He sums things up for me like this:

“The forecast didn’t look good for crossing the Atlantic. It’s a very tight schedule as it is, and at the end of July we need to be back to England to start the pre-race calendar. All we know is it’s a real positive getting some proper testing in and having time to fix the stuff that we feel is important.”

On a boat like the VO65 there’s a huge selection of sail configurations, different shaped sails, different sizes – all of which perform best in certain circumstances. What the crew are doing here is identifying exactly when one sail becomes less effective than the next.

Brad Jackson returns from deck, another sail change and another bout of broken sleep. He explains what they’re trying to do: “We’re just trying to sweep through a wide range of angles and sails to confirm some points on our crossover charts,” he says.

The crossover chart shows when one sail crosses over to the next in terms of performance and the angles he refers to are quite literally the angle of the wind to the boat.

What sail is best when the wind is 50 degrees off the bow at ten knots? What’s best 50 degrees at 20 knots? These are the questions the crew are trying to answer.

We’ve been zigzagging about 100 miles off the coast of Portugal as the crew use a system of strong winds to put their boat through its paces. According to Jules Salter, it’s a common European weather pattern that allows the crew to really get to grips with the boat.

“Most of the race is in oceans, with big waves and between 12-18 knots of wind,” he says. “It’s really important to make sure you’re comfortable in those conditions, but it’s also important to push the boat hard to find leaks and generally fix things. There was a leak above the nav station that we’ve managed to fix, we’ve also got one in the bow that we’ll need to sort out”

“Being able to hang around in these winds has also meant we’ve calibrated all the equipment and sailed on every sail on the boat. That wouldn’t have happened had we gone to New York. We have to sail to get ready for the race so yes, this has really helped our race preparation.”

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