Horses For Courses
Horses For Courses
These next six weeks will be a fascinating time in offshore sailing. The armchair watch captain can follow the Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race at the same time. This raises the obvious comparison between the two races and the boats themselves. Having sailed both, I can say the craft are substantially different, though from the same "family" of powerful, open-class monohulls. The larger difference, of course, is the format; singlehanded vs. fully crewed, and non-stop vs. with stops. These factors alone deliver two very different experiences.
The Volvo Open 70 is essentially a larger version of the IMOCA Open 60 sailed in the Vendee Globe. The Volvo rules are more restrictive in many areas, including the use of water ballast (six large tanks on the Open 60 vs. one small rear tank on the Volvo 70), construction scantlings (none for the 60s), rig dimensions (fixed for the 70s vs. open for the 60s), keel cant angle, and bulb weight. The 60s have very few rules, basically length and maximum heel when fully canted/ballasted. Thus, a number of ocean-racing innovations have been developed or fine-tuned in this arena, including canting keels, rotating wing masts, multiple water ballast options, and planing hulls. The Volvo 70 is a bigger boat, and the loads are much higher, but there are a lot more restrictions. In the end, the boats are more similar than one might think, especially in this second generation.
Jean Marie Liot/ DPPI
|Kapsch skipper Norbert Sedlacek gets to know his self-tailing winch in the 2008-2009 Vendee Globe.|
Far overshadowing the difference between the boats is the difference between the crews. The fact that Vendee skippers have only themselves to rely on drives many design decisions and dictates the fundamental approach toward the race. The most obvious consequence of sailing singlehanded is that the autopilot is steering the boat almost all the time. In typical conditions the skipper may hand steer two to three hours per day. Thus, the boat has to be set up to handle well under pilot, which means a balanced rig and some tolerance for course deviation. It also means that the boat will encounter bad waves that might otherwise be avoided by hand steering. The Volvo guys try very hard not to hit bad waves in the wrong way, while the Vendee guys accept it as a fact of life. The boat has to be able to take it.
Sailing alone also means one person has to perform all the boathandling maneuvers. Nearly all the sails are on furlers (or snuffers for the spinnakers) because this is the only way one person can get the sail up and down without damage. However, each maneuver still takes a lot of physical effort, so singlehanded racers try to be smart about the number of maneuvers they perform. Volvo teams, on the other hand, change sails more often-- because they can, and because of the performance increase from having the right sails up nearly all the time. Vendee racers will try to find a sail combination that will work for a long stretch, maybe taking a reef in and out, since changing sails every two hours would leave them irreversibly exhausted. In some conditions singlehanded sailors change sails a lot, but not as frequently as the Volvo teams.