The Volvo Ocean Race is a marathon, 39,000-miles around the globe. Over 8 months, crews on the fastest monohulls in the world charge across oceans at break-neck speed. The objective is not just to survive, but to win.
The competition starts long before the starting gun, which will go off in Alicante, Spain next November. Volvo Open 70s must comply with a ‘box rule,’ and subtle differences can add up to miles of advantage. The 2011-12 edition of the race will be the third using these canting keel carbon fibre machines.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is a new international team, led by double Olympic medalist and 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ian Walker. The team started building a new Volvo 70 in August 2010, to a design by Farr Yacht Design. Jason Carrington, who has been building race boats for 25 years, manages the build. The boat is close to completion. Operations Manager is Mark Somerville, who has been involved with the manufacture of five Volvo Ocean Race and 10 America’s Cup entries, including the giant wing-sailed trimaran BMW Oracle.
The Persico facility in Italy specialises in extremely high-grade molding; their end-users include Mercedes Benz and Audi. Persico produced a female mold of the boat upon which panels and structures of carbon fibre infused with resin were laid. The whole structure was then cooked into its finished state. The result is a carbon fibre hull, interior and deck with incredible detail and no human error. The combination of Persico and a highly experienced build team is a potent one, and the yacht should be ready for June sea trials.
Meanwhile, the sailing team have been training. The UAE entry‘s crew includes a core of Volvo veterans and a UAE national, Adil Khalid. I was lucky enough to step aboard for a seventy-mile day trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai on their training boat, after which they would be offshore for a week. A ride on a Volvo Open 70 was a real treat for me as I’ve been starstruck by the race since I was a child.
The primary goal was to test the performance and reliability of new sails built out of 3Di, a material developed by North Sails. It is extremely stiff and has a high strength to weight ratio, but 3Di has not been used in the race before.
At first, a gentle breeze gave the team a chance to hoist the new Code Zero, a colossal sail that took all of the crew to haul it forward. When the new northerly breeze arrived, up went the genoa. The keel was canted to the windward side and soon we were shifting along at over 11 knots.
At sunset, four of the crew went below to get their heads down, reminding me they were heading offshore for a week. But the off watch were not down for long, as we had to shift the stack to tack into Dubai to drop me off. Feeling a tad guilty, I decided to help them and it was an energy-sapping experience.
I wanted to stay on board for the whole week of backbreaking work, with massive sleep deprivation and a diet of freeze-dried mush and de-salinated water. I am sure it would have been a trip to savour as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are building an impressive team spirit—something Ian Walker firmly believes is vital.
Watch the latest video on the team: