Stand By For Launch

Gaining Bearing from our May 2011 issue.

As this issue hits newsstands, we’re passing the six-month-to-go barrier for the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race. Which means it’s time to bring you up to speed on PUMA Ocean Racing’s progress.

One question I get all the time is how the boat will be different from the last race and why we need a new one when the one we own is only two years old. Let me ask the question in different terms: When was the last time you got a new car and it didn’t drive more smoothly or have a new gizmo that made the experience more efficient? Designers and engineers in all industries are always figuring out how to make things better. Custom raceboat design is no different. When you get a bunch of smart people together with a massive super computer and an assortment of ideas, you get better results.

In our case, we assembled a crew that has raced around the planet a combined 20 times, including 11 in the Volvo Open 70. That kind of experience breeds ideas, which are then vetted between Juan Kouyoumdjian’s design team and our sailing team.

Our team is 100-percent sailing-team driven, which means that we have the last call on anything related to the boat and the race. Mix that with the fact that we work with a design team with as good an array of computerized tools as any in the world, and you get change. Hopefully, change for the good, but I’m sure there will be a few things we’ll have to revisit before the start.

Of course, all major design teams have access to very powerful tools, and all the sailing teams have great sailors. So we’ll see an interesting new generation of Volvo 70s, which is exciting, not only for the teams competing in the race, but for all sailors and fans studying and trying to pre-judge the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Another common question pertains to the fact that our design team is working for three different teams. Juan K’s office has Groupama, a yet-to-be-named Spanish team, and us.

In the era of the Volvo 60 Rule, Farr Yacht Design had a near monopoly on the Volvo fleet. In the 2001-’02 edition, Farr designed six of eight boats, including race winner illbruck and runner-up Assa Abloy. Each boat had a different look to it, based on each team’s specific input. Somehow, Farr kept everything straight.

For the 2005 edition, the canting-keel Volvo Open 70s were introduced, and a new batch of designers jumped in, hoping to break Farr’s domination. Juan K drew a wide and powerful ABN AMRO, which resembled an Open 60 more than a Volvo 60. That boat dominated the race and started a trend of powerful reaching machines.

Another trend that picked up steam was having an exclusive design team. For the 2008-’09 VOR, Ericsson Racing Team signed Juan K to an exclusive deal. Other teams followed suit, each signing an exclusive deal with a major designer.

The exclusivity trend didn’t last long. Juan K’s designs won the last two races, which raised his credibility to the point that a lot of teams asked about his availability. Additionally, new rules virtually eliminated building two new boats and doing any two-boat testing. Budgets were minimized. Exclusivity was out. Design sharing was back in.

It’s sharing to a point though. In essence, the Abu Dhabi and Camper teams have exclusive arrangements with Farr and Botin/Carkeek, respectively, without, most likely, having to pay for it. Juan K, on the other hand, felt his office could handle three teams. We all abide by one simple rule: If the idea comes out of Juan K’s office, it can be shared amongst all three teams in the basic design package. If the idea stems from the team, it’s exclusive to the team. Separate servers and personnel within the office maintain the individual programs. It appears to be working, but I’m sure it’s not as easy on Juan’s guys. They must have to bite their tongues often.

As with our last boat, an amazing amount of time has gone into the graphics package. Some are subtle, and some will hit you with a hammer. The incorporation of BERG Propulsion, our second sponsor, brought some amazing creativity into the graphics. By the end of April you should see the final product emerge at New England Boatworks and begin sailing around Narragansett Bay. The hull shape is something like I have never seen before. The design and build project has been a blast, and as with all new boats, I just hope it’s as fast as it looks.