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Volvo Ocean Race: Four times winner talks the next edition

by Doyle Sails 9 Jul 2018 02:47 PDT 9 July 2018
Stu Bannatyne trimming in light winds, he finds it as stressful to sail in light wind than strong winds. Leg 9, from Newport to Cardiff, day 07 on board Dongfeng. 26 May, . © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race

Doyle Sails is incredibly proud that a core member of their Grand Prix Sales and Projects Support Team, Stu Bannatyne, and the Dongfeng Race Team have just won the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).

The ultimate round-the-world yacht race is known as one of the industry’s most challenging and Bannatyne’s involvement is credit to his reputation as one of the world’s most respected and experienced offshore sailors. An eight-time veteran of the race, with four wins to date, Bannatyne has officially earned the title of the most successful Volvo Ocean Race sailor in history.

“Those last few hours of the race were the best and made the whole campaign worthwhile,” says Bannatyne with a wide smile. A fair statement considering the Dongfeng amazed everyone with their change of course on that last leg to win the VOR’s closest race ever. “It was all a part of our pre-race plan with the onshore navigation support of Marcel van Triest [well-known meteorologist who also worked with 2014/2015 VOR winners Abu Dhabi] if the weather cooperated we knew it would work out.”

With a background in engineering coupled with his extensive on-the-water experience, Bannatyne has been an invaluable addition to Doyle’s team and Grand Prix customers. Bannatyne’s insight into the demands of offshore sailing directly translates back into Doyle’s product development.

“I’m excited to be back at Doyle and continuing on with all the new developments we’ve been working on,” says Bannatyne after his first day back at Doyle Sails Headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand. “We’re making major leaps in our sail technology and I’m looking forward to sharing the progress with our customers.”

In fact, many of Doyle’s innovations (including the newly successful Cable-less Code 0) from a conceptual standpoint, come from their in-house team of Grand Prix sailors. In addition to Bannatyne, many of the Doyle team have had historic involvement with the VOR including Head of Design, Richard Bouzaid winning on Yamaha in the 1993/1994 edition, Sales Rep and Designer Justin Ferris with four VOR campaigns, most recently on AkzoNobel in 2017/2018 race, and CEO Mike Sanderson, a two-time winner of the race and recipient of the ISAF World Sailor of the Year Award following a win in 2005/2006 on ABN Amro I, when he became the youngest skipper to ever win the VOR.

This kind of world-class expertise will be pivotal in the next edition of the VOR which is scheduled to commence in 2021 – two years shy of its 50th anniversary. The new management team of Richard Brisius, Johan Salen and Jan Litborn have announced future IMOCA teams will be responsible for commissioning and owning their boats. While the decision may be a difficult transition for some it will be a welcoming change for others.

The idea that sailors can now be hands-on involved from concept to competition opens the door for exciting possibilities. Getting the best integration between all major facets of the campaign including sails, rigs, boat design, crew selection and rating optimisation is likely to give the teams that speed edge. This holistic approach is where the Doyle team anticipate making the winning difference.

"The return to a development class signals an exciting opportunity once again for the sailors and designers to play a significant role in defining the performance of the boats. This race will provide several avenues available for the sailors to have considerable input into the design with only masts and keels as one design components. The sail designs, hull, deck layouts and foils are all areas that will see intense scrutiny and development. It will make for some very exciting and interesting times!" Bannatyne says.

Building high-performing sails is just one part of it, as the Doyle team knows, having been involved in the past three Vendee Globe’s with Alex Thomson and IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss. The R&D and extensive on-the-water testing have given Doyle’s team of designers and engineers an advantage in this event which they can contribute to the Hugo Boss campaign. Thompson has repeatedly paid tribute to his sail inventory, citing it as key influence to his performance during the Vendee Globe circumnavigation and one of his main advantages over the other competitors. “Aside from our foils the one place where we are completely different to the other IMOCA 60’s is our sails, which obviously play a huge part in this race,” praised Thompson.

We look forward to seeing the story unfold! Watch this space...

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