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Volvo OR: Vestas 11th Hour completes tight repair schedule

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 7 Mar 04:41 PST 8 March 2018
Vestas 11th Hour Racing rigging and doing final preparations before trialling in Auckland's Viaduct Basin © Kate Wilson / Vestas 11th Hour Racing


The collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a mainland Chinese fishing boat just 30nm from the finish of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race came within an ace of keeping the Volvo 65 out of a third leg (Leg 7) of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Only the omission to cut up the moulds for the Volvo 65 one design at the Persico Marine, Italy made the logistics work in a repair project which took over 2000 man-hours.

The 43-day repair saga concluded on Monday in Auckland as the repaired Vestas 11th Hour Racing entered Auckland's Viaduct Harbour and was hoisted into her cradle joining the other six Volvo Ocean Race contestants.

After the collision in which a mainland Chinese fisherman lost his life, Vestas 11th Hour Racing was taken to the Hong Kong United Dockyard (HUD) and hauled out.

"The insurance representative was on site in the HUD yard within two days of hauling out," says team manager Bill Erkelens, a veteran of two America's Cup campaigns and now on his second Volvo Ocean Race. "We had our team boat-builders have a look. They could tell us how much of a problem we had. And then Our shore team together with the team from the Boatyard (the Volvo Ocean Race shared service and support team) had a look. NDT checks were done on site, and immediately it became obvious that a part needed to be built in the mould.

"We were lucky that the mould still existed at Persico Marine (Italy) - as they had discussed chopping it up. Fortunately, they had the builders available to pull the mould out, dust it off and get it ready to go which they were able to start immediately."

If Persico had cut up the Volvo 65 mould, then Erkelens says "they would have had to build a piece section of mould, which would have taken another week, and pushed up against the leg start - so it just wouldn't have allowed us to rejoin the fleet for the NZ leg start worked."

"We joked about using the half-model that is in the Village. Or we maybe could have cut a piece out of Team SCA (the Volvo 65 not being used in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race). We also looked at chartering SCA and flying it over with the Antonov - but that was a million bucks and not an option!'

"We were also fortunate that we had very good insurance, and didn't realise how valuable our insurance rep, John Quigley, was going to be until we needed him. He worked with the underwriters to make them understand why they couldn't just send a couple of builders down and use locally sourced materials some plywood to put the boat back together.

"John was instrumental in educating the underwriter as to what was required to fix the boat properly and walking us though the claims process. The Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard were quick to contact Persico to see if they could do it."

"We did look at doing a temporary repair in Hong Kong and try to make the start, but in our opinion, there was no way to do it safely, and know that we were going to be able to sail out of Hong Kong and be 100% safe."

"Once we realised we weren't going to make the start of the leg, we then looked at whether we should stay in Hong Kong and get the part flown in from Persico and fix it, then sail to New Zealand. That would have saved the shipping cost, but the best case scenario was that we would arrive two days before the start of the Leg 7 and then go into the Southern Ocean, and decided that wasn't safe. And if we lost a few days, we lost the start again."

"There is a much higher quality of boatbuilders and facilities in New Zealand, materials - everything here is easier to get, and the level of experience is much higher in New Zealand. It was decided that here was the only place to get the repair done safely and knowing that we would make the start and could safely start a Southern Ocean leg."

"It took a couple of days to do that due diligence, but we feel we made the right call. We got a lot of advice from Volvo Ocean Race, Boatyard guys, our guys and people we know in NZ - all the advice pointed to NZ as the way to go."

"Everything lined up for us to be able to rejoin the race for the start of Leg 7. Everyone upped their game and made it all happen," he added.

Crisis management cuts in

It is an unfortunate sidebar to round the world racing, short-handed and fully crewed, that incidents and emergencies happen.

Every VOR team has to have their own crisis plan - with tasks, functions/roles and procedures all allotted. Volvo Ocean Race has a much more extensive plan as it deals with what happens in an incident when the boat is sailing, plus event related incidents, including the Village. That plan is shared with the teams, who have a representative from VOR attend their meetings, and for Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Erkelens represented the team in VOR meetings. A copy of the team's plan travels with Erkelens, wherever he is in the world. The first step in applying the plan is to assess the situation and then apply the processes. Communication is then by conference call, which anyone can run if the team leader is not available.

"Volvo Ocean Race, the whole organisation including Volvo Cars, have been very supportive during the whole process,” Erkelens says. “From the first hour, the crisis teams met - each has their own Protocol - and we all happened to be on the same site. That meant our team sat in on all their crisis calls, which reduced having to re-hash and go back to one another. Communications were excellent and very professional. Phil Lawrence (VOR Race Director) was very smooth and did a very professional job,” he adds.

"We were allotted a conference room in the Volvo Pavilion - so we didn't have to work out of our container. All the Police and inquiry interviews in there and the whole organisation was very supportive."

The not so secret repair

Most race boat repairs involve an extreme race against time – such as the two in the last America’s Cup – Land Rover BAR’s so-called “love-taps” on Emirates Team New Zealand and Softbank Team Japan, and Emirates Team New Zealand’s pitch pole in the Challenger Semi-Final.

Hull and deck repairs in composite construction have become a relatively routine process. Vestas 11th Hour Racing allowed cameras into the various repair facilities and been as transparent as possible with the process.

Once the damaged area is correctly measured and sized, a replacement panel is constructed using the original moulds if they are available or a new mould is built to the original plans. This is not such a difficult job in the world of computer-aided design linked to cutters and CNC milling machines - provided the devices and machinery for the end to end process are available.

However, there is a mix of design science and boat building art in the next stage of the repair.

The designers have to check the structural specification for the panel and the way that it will be integrated with the hull to maintain design and measurement integrity.

The boat builder's art is making the science happen.

For the Vestas 11th Hour Racing repair a large panel of the port bow section - approximately 3.5 metres long and just below full height was constructed at Persico Marine in Bergamo, Italy. That was supported by an internal frame while the part was airfreighted to New Zealand.

Although the composite panel is relatively thick and capable of supporting its own weight without distortion, an external frame was constructed to support the panel as it was offered into the damaged hull section that had been cut away.

The edge of the panel and hull were chamfered to a total width of 150mm - allowing the composite cores to be butt-jointed - and that joint to be overlapped - so the integrity of the hull was restored to the original specification.

The Vestas 11th Hour Racing repair was more complex as the bow of the Volvo 65 which collided with the fishing boat is monolithic construction requiring a separate repair.

With the structural repair done, the fairing and finishers, the plastic surgeons of the boat building world practice their art, making the repair appear to be imperceptible before the hull is painted and graphics are applied.

"Ultimately the boats belong to Volvo Ocean Race, and we need to return it as we picked it up,” Erkelens explains. “They wanted to make sure that we retained the one design status and that they get a boat back that was the same as they chartered to us.

"Volvo OR was obviously keen to make sure that we handled the repair properly, and they hired James Dadd to stop off at Persico during the building of the replacement part to make sure that the materials and laminates were correct. He also came to YDL during the install to make sure the boat was put together correctly.”

Corrector weights carried in the boat have been adjusted to compensate for the 10kg increase in hull weight as a result of the repair.

“We have been issued with a one design certificate, so we are officially class legal”, says Erkelens.

Rounding up the Kiwis

Aimee Famularo a New Zealander - responsible for logistics for the team, became a key person in the rebuild - finding and hiring the New Zealand builders. A former employee - also based in New Zealand - came up with a list of yards and facilities that were on offer.

"Yachting Developments were the best option for what we had to do. We were fortunate they had space - effectively the middle of the shed”, says Erkelens.

"It all came together very quickly", he adds.

The other key factor which worked the way of Vestas 11th Hour racing was getting a favourable shipping date out of Hong Kong. She left on January 28 arriving in Tauranga 10-11 days later. "That date allowed the repair to happen so that we could be sailing next week,” says Erkelens.

"The transit to New Zealand had to be cost-effective. It just happened that the least expensive quote we got out of 11 quotes was also the soonest ship we could make.

“That is where GAC Pindar stepped in and saved the day. Their option was the most cost-effective. It went directly to Tauranga (NZ) and gave us three or four days to prep the boat in Hong Kong for loading. It was a direct ship and got us here within 10-11 days - which is excellent time.

“Also, GAC Pindar found us a way of getting the part from Persico in Italy to Auckland, and the part arrived a day or two after the ship arrived from Hong Kong - so the plan all came together!

"GAC Pindar was great - they dealt with all the customs. They quoted on different options for us to put to the insurance company. There was a good balance of timing and cost - and GAC Pindar worked daily with John, our insurance rep."

There are a lot of moving parts in the logistics of getting Vestas 11th Hour Racing from Hong Kong to Auckland - including getting the packed down boat onto a lighter barge in Hong Kong and craned aboard the ship.

In New Zealand, there was a long road trip out of Tauranga, south-east of Auckland with two trucks required to haul the hull, mast, keel to the YDL premises in Hobsonville, West Auckland. Shipping and airfreight from Hong Kong to New Zealand was arranged by GAC Pindar's office in the UK, with TNL Pindar taking over for all the shore-based logistics once the yacht arrived in New Zealand.

"Richard Thorpe from TNL Pindar helped locally - it all went really well despite being a big hustle on everyone's part. Once we got the boat into the yard, it has just been a work-fest, to not only get the repair done but also to come out running so that we are up to speed with everyone else."

The arrival of Vestas 11th Hour into YDL was the beginning of a regular 12-hour day for the six-strong repair team, with five NZ builders being engaged complemented by another from Persico Marine. Three painters were also on the team - at times working longer hours than the builders - doing fairing as well.

"It's amazing that it all worked out," Erkelens reflects. "But it was not the first time any of these guys have seen this situation - they have all been through it before.

“John Quigley was involved with Team Vestas Wind, last time, as was the insurance company, and the freight forwarders. The Boatyard is run by Neil Cox - who was Shore Manager for Vestas last time. He is used to the emergency damage control."

"Nothing surprised anyone. Except maybe the shore team didn't get as much time off as they had planned!"

The plan now is for the team to sail in the In-Port Race, this Saturday, and the practice, the day before. An overnight shakedown sail is also planned for the week before the start of Leg 7 to Itajai on Sunday, March 18, NZT.

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