Saturday, March 8, 2014

Volvo Ocean Race | How much faster can they go?

The Volvo Ocean 65 is a brand new boat, a one-design class specially built for the next two editions of the race. We did lots of calculations and ran velocity prediction programmes but who knew how fast that boat was really going to be? We wondered – you wondered. Not any more: Team Brunel has just sailed 540 miles in 24 hours between the UK and the Canary Islands last week.

Feike Essink/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race
22 Feb 2014, onboard Team Brunel for its first leg: Southampton - Sanxexo - Lanzarote.

540 nautical miles in 24 hours – that’s 56 miles short of the 596.6nm world record established by the Volvo Open 70 Ericsson 4 in 2008. 540 miles in 24 hours – that’s a speed average of 22.5 knots (42 km/h).

“That’s pretty good,” admitted even Bouwe Bekking, a man renowned for keeping a lid on his emotions.

With the team now based in Lanzarote for a few months, we’ve asked Brunel’s skipper a few questions. The Dutch expert is gearing up for his seventh Volvo Ocean Race participation and he knows a few things about training and performance secrets.

He doesn’t go into too many details and there is no way he would give you his boat’s top speed at this stage. But he's certainly satisfied with this first offshore trial with every good reason.

“We’ve had 45 knots of maximum wind on the nose and 35 knots downwind,” Bekking said. “The conditions were very tough but the crew held up well. There was no key damage to the boat. Overall I’m really happy with how it went.”

One of the new boat’s main performance factors appears to be the six degrees of incline axis of the keel. The vertically inclined keel lifts the bow out of the water to avoid nose-diving – a major issue in the past editions of the race. This means that the boat is faster and safer in running conditions with the wind behind it.

“It’s a completely different way to sail, and very pleasant when you bear away from the wind,” added Bekking.

“The Volvo Ocean 65 is slightly less powerful than previous Volvo boats but you can balance it with other parameters like your sail choices. We’ve learned a lot during this first long delivery, and it all looks very promising.”

Not only did these five days of sailing from Southampton to the Marina Rubicón helped Bekking to figure out the potential of his boat, but his guys got to know each other. The skipper has confirmed four crew members so far, including navigator Andrew Cape, and is triailing young candidates.

“You can hear it as I speak,” he said, struggling to talk loudly enough over the background laughter and banter in the team base. “There is a very good atmosphere here. We are all bonding and we have a real bunch of good guys onboard.”

Team Brunel are now going to sail and work on their Velocity Prediction Programmes (VPP) for the next two weeks before taking a break and train again in April.

Speaking of VPP, we asked our race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante what speeds the Volvo Ocean 65 is expected to reach. Our programme gives 11 knots as the maximum upwind speed and 30 knots as the maximum downwind speed, when sailing on flat water in 30 knots of wind.

These are theoretical numbers though, so you probably have to wait a few more months for the final answer. Only once the teams push their boats on the racetrack will these identical machines show their true potential. It’s still a game of patience – but it will soon be a game of speed.

By Agathe Armand
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