Technical cost containment, improved safety and reliability, closer competition and maintaining the Volvo Open 70's status as the most spectacular offshore monohull are at the heart of the 2011-12 Volvo Open 70 Rule and Notice Of Race.
Both documents feature significant changes from their predecessors and are the product of an extensive analysis carried out over the past 12 months by the Rule Management Group led by technical expert Ken McAlpine and rules expert Bill Edgerton.
This is the first time the race organisation has had a process in place to draft the Rule together with the sailors and the teams to this extent, according to Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad. “What we have come up with, I believe, are the right changes at the right time,” he said.
“What this Rule does is limit what it takes to win the race, therefore making winning it more achievable and entry into the race more attractive to a larger number of teams. As healthy as the race is now, the Volvo Ocean Race has to evolve if it is to remain at the pinnacle of the professional sailing world.
“We undertook the evaluation programme during the 2008-09 race because we needed to gather the thoughts of those involved in the race and because we wanted to give ourselves as much time as possible to prepare for the 2011-12 edition of the race.
“We feel we have acted responsibly at a difficult economic time. We set the bar really high from the start but we have come to terms with the fact that this is as much as we could possibly achieve in the time we had.
“This process is ongoing. We will continue to work with the teams to look into other areas of the race where we might identify savings – the length of the race, the route, the shape of the stopovers, sharing resources in stopovers.”
The analysis which included a series of round-table discussions during the 2008-09 race stopovers, was overseen by Race Director Jack Lloyd. Throughout the evaluation process a broad range of race stakeholders – sailors, teams, designers – were canvassed for feedback.
Changes include a move to furling or hanked headsails – no headfoils are allowed, a reduction from 24 to 17 race sails per boat. A single-boat team can only build 15 new sails prior to the race, and a team using a new boat and a second generation boat can build only 23 pre-race sails.
Stacking of sails and equipment is restricted to the mid section of the boat below deck. There are also strict limitations on masts and appendages.
The total weight of the yacht has now been increased so that it may fit into the weight range of 14,000-14,500 kilograms, and a maximum keel fin and bulb weight has been set at 7,400 kilograms. “Everything has to meet the safety test,” Lloyd said.
“Nothing we have changed in the new fin arrangement and the weight of the fin and bulb will take us back to the keel issues of 2005-06. The biggest message that came back from the designers and sailors was ‘don't change too much'. The boat is fast and it is strong.
“The furling headsails we have introduced are aimed at keeping crew off the foredeck as much as we can. That is a major danger area given the weight of water coming across the bow.”
The limit of the construction of only one new boat per team is a new feature; however, a team is permitted to campaign an additional second generation boat.
There is a total ban on two-boat testing and if a single-boat team is using a separate second generation training boat during 2010, which they do not enter in the event, the team is limited to only 110 sailing days during 2010.
In addition to the 2,000-nautical mile qualification run, which has been a feature of the Notice of Race for some years, each team must now compete in a 600-nautical mile qualification race, which will be held prior to the race start in Alicante in the autumn of 2011.
The crew limit for an all-male or mixed team remains at 11, including the Media Crew Member (MCM). However, a female team can comprise 14 crew including the MCM. No additional crew members are permitted onboard for in-port racing, which this time will be held in each stopover port.
New this time is the requirement for three crew members to be born on or after 1 September 1980 an increase of one to the Under-30 rule of 2008-09. The points weighting system has also be amended.
Points are still awarded in accordance with the number of entries at the start of race, but points for offshore legs will be multiplied by five, and points for scoring gates multiplied by two. The in-port race series will not be weighted and points will continue to be awarded for the best performances over two races to be held on each in-port race day.
The new rule and Notice Of Race are posted on the Race Noticeboard.
In summary, the key points are:
– Each boat must complete a 600 nautical mile qualification race prior to the race start as well as the 2,000 nautical mile qualification run.
– Second generation boats with configurations from the previous race will be permitted to race with minimal modification.
– All boats sailed after the 15/03/2011 must be raced.
– One new boat is permitted to be built per team. A team is permitted to campaign one second generation and one third generation boat.
– New maximum boat weight of 14,500kg – an increase from 13,860-14,000kg
– Maximum weight of 7,400kg (keel/fin bulb combined).
– One new keel fin design.
– One new keel bulb design.
– New pre-race sails limited to 15 for one boat entered the race. Race sails reduced from 24 to 17 per boat.
– Furling or hanked headsails, no headfoils.
– Maximum of two new sets of daggerboards.
– Maximum of two sets of new rudders.
– Only like-for-like rudder change in the race.
– Maximum of two new identical masts and booms.
– No two-boat testing before the race.
– Total crew number kept at 11 including Media Crew Member.
– Female teams to carry 14 sailors, including the Media Crew Member.
– Under-30 rule: Three crew members to be born on or after 1st September, 1980. An increase of one from 2008-09.
– Media Crew Members will be permitted to carry out additional duties.
– No stacking beyond the aft or forward bulkheads below deck.
– Expansion of water ballast tank capacity to 1,600 litres to allow for changes to stacking regulations. In-port races
– There will be an in-port race in every stopover.
– No additional crew for in-port races.
– Points system revised: Leg points weighting – multiple of 5, scoring gates – multiple of 2, in-port race – multiple of 1.
The changes are designed to produce closer racing between the existing and future fleets of Volvo Open 70s and discourage the expensive research and long, slow builds that result in maximized bulb weights.
Teams with less time and funding have been compromised with the stability of their boats and hence competitiveness.
Frostad added: “Our key objectives when drafting the Rule and Notice of Race were to reduce costs for participating teams, to ensure improved safety and reliability of the boats, to ensure that the Volvo Open 70 class maintains its status as the fastest and most spectacular offshore racing monohull and to ensure that an entrant can be competitive with a second generation boat from the 2008-09 race.
“There were two ways we could have approached the cost containment. One way was to try and cap what a team can spend, the other way, the way we have chosen, is to limit what they can have in terms of equipment and limit their motivation for spending money.
“We have hired external consultants, we have also collaborated with other sports such as Formula One to understand and learn how cost containment can work. When it comes to the actual capping of a budget we have identified that this is an administrative task that is beyond what we are capable of doing currently.
Because of the depth of technical understanding required and the depth that you need to go into to have a Rule that is clear enough to be administered. There are so many grey areas which are open to interpretation and open to competitors taking advantages out of the regulations.
“If you set out to reduce everybody's budget you would not succeed. The budgets in the last race varied from 10m Euros to over 30m Euros per boat. Instead what we have done is ask ourselves, ‘what does it take to win the Volvo Ocean Race?' in order to come up with a level playing field'. “What this Rule does is limit what it takes to win the race.
“For example, we are not allowing teams to build more than one new boat which is a significant cost reduction. We have also taken out two-boat testing. These measures clearly reduce the motivation to spend a huge amount of money on having two operational teams to develop and test equipment against each other.
“However, that doesn't stop you spending money if you want to. If you want to pay sailors an enormous amount of money or you want to spend it building your winches out of gold, you can still do that. But we don't believe the way the Rule has been set that you are guaranteed to win the race by doing that.
“That is the most important aspect of the Rule. The incentives in terms of performance gains for spending lots of money has been reduced. We believe we have achieved a significant cost reduction. We now believe that somewhere around the 20m Euro-mark is a winning budget. Some teams will do the race well for 15m Euros and for others it will be 25m Euros. The difference between those two might not necessarily have a big impact on their result.
“We have focussed heavily on the period before the race starts because the difference in expenditure between the teams from the race start to the end of the race is minor. “In the pre-race period we have tried to reduce the costs to the absolute minimum and ensure that inexperienced teams have the possibility of training and being prepared.”
Frostad added that other savings will be passed on to the teams in the areas of racing services. “We are looking into sharing cooking and catering facilities with the teams. It's also important to remember that we as organisers supply safety, medical and communications equipment, satellite time, shipping, logistics and other race services to keep costs down for the teams. We intend to keep working on subsidizing the teams as much as possible.”
Apart from the technical focus on cost containment, Frostad said the wider objective was to increase the fleet size, increase the return on investment for sponsors and ports involved in the race, and to make the race enticing for the best sailors in the world.
As part of an agreement with the Spanish regional government of Valencia, the race headquarters will relocate to Alicante from January 2010.
Alicante will also be the start port for the next three editions of the race. The agreement will also see the construction of a race museum and interactive exhibition that celebrates the 36-year history and heritage of the race.
The first phase is scheduled for completion in 2010. As for the 2011-12 race route, the goal is have the full race route decided and announced by March 2010.
– Cameron Kelleher