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T-Minus One Year

Twelve months can seem like an eternity, but when the long-range goal is an overall victory in the Volvo Ocean Race, there’s little time to waste. "Gaining Bearing" in our October 2010 issue

October 5, 2010

Ken Read (USA)

Ken Read (USA) skippers PUMA Ocean Racing to a first place finish in the In-port Race in Galway Bay Dave Kneale/volvo Ocean Race

How times have changed. Twenty-six years ago, when I got out of college and became a sailmaker, I wanted to do every race. I think I raced about 250 days a year in everything from Lightnings to J/24s to One-Tonners. I did every PHRF race on Narragansett Bay and every evening beer-can series. No race was too small, or too large.
That passion led to bigger and brighter moments, and has culminated with a second Volvo Ocean Race campaign with PUMA as our primary sponsor. The preparation for this next race is full on. If you went sailing around Newport, R.I., last summer, we might have almost run you over. Sorry— the boats are a bit out of control in small spaces. But, the sailing has simply been fantastic, and we’ve been ticking off a long list of projects that we wanted to get completed before we began building our new Volvo Open 70.

The sailing I do now couldn’t be any more different from my first few years in the industry. The last race I sailed was the 630-mile Bermuda Race in June. I can count on two hands and one foot the number of day races I have done in 2010. I haven’t been near a beer-can series in a while, and have forgotten most of the around-the-buoy racing rules. Offshore testing is where I spend my time these days. It’s not only where I need to be, but it’s also where I want to be.

The next Volvo Ocean Race starts approximately a year from now: Oct. 29, 2011, to be exact. In addition to the PUMA team, there are a handful of others also ramping up for the race:

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Groupama: The premier French team and current holders of the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest outright lap of the planet. They purchased the winning boat from the last race, Ericsson 4. This team will come out of the box at a very high level with Juan “Juan K” Kouyoumdjian designing the platform.

Camper/Team New Zealand: TNZ is widely regarded as the best inshore racing team in the world, with a strong track record in the America’s Cup and on the Audi MedCup Circuit. Now, they are spreading their wings for the VOR. With a 20-person design team led by Marcelino Botin and plenty of offshore talent from Australia and New Zealand, they will be a tough team to beat.

Team Abu Dhabi: The nucleus of the Green Dragon Team from the last VOR has landed in the Middle East and will represent Abu Dhabi. They just bought our old boat Avanti (ex-ABN 2) as a trainer and will take all their experience from the last race into a new Farr design for 2011.

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Telefonica: Rumored to be entering two boats in the race. If that’s the case, this will now be Telefonica’s third consecutive Volvo effort. The team is expected to sail one new Juan K design plus Telefonica Blue from the last race. With solid leadership, they, too, are among the pre-race favorites.

Volvo Event Management says they are going to get between 8 to 10 boats, which would be perfect. But, the rest of the entries are still unknown. We talk frequently to teams considering doing the race who want to purchase il mostro, which we sailed to second overall in the 2008-’09 VOR. First come, first serve to anyone out there wishing to own a great Volvo 70, which can be competitive in the upcoming race.

As for our program, we have settled in as a sailing team that gets along really well and brings a ton of different skills to the table. A major difference from the last race is that we are sharing a design team this time. Juan Kouyoumdjian worked exclusively with one team for the last two Volvo races, winning both: ABN Amro in 2005 and Ericsson in 2009. This time around, he is designing for Groupama, Telefonica, and PUMA.

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Developing and designing a boat for a race like this is a challenge, but also a ton of fun for a campaign that is still a year away from starting the race. I enjoy working closely with the designer on concepts and layouts and certain points of sail where we want the boat to excel. Having guys like Brad Jackson and Tony Mutter on our team has been invaluable; they were both part of the last two winning teams and are in charge of the technical side of our program—hulls, mast, and sails, and integrating all the pieces. Juan K appears to be doing a good job of keeping our ideas to our new boat and the other team’s ideas to theirs. We will see shortly. All three of his designs should be sailing next spring.

We are staying close to home with the build, and have tapped New England Boat Works in Portsmouth, R.I., to do the job. We will sprinkle in our own team of boat builders, led by Brandon Linton, who ran the build for il mostro. NEB has a great reputation for building fast offshore boats and also has a great track record of working with outside teams who want to come and help manage the build themselves. We are confident that the end result will be spectacular.

That brings me back to where I started: sailing day after day, testing and training on il mostro, and trying to figure out new ways to make high performance, canting-keel, 70-foot monsters go faster. It’s really fun. Especially when you get on to something cool and can prove its worth. It’s equally as frustrating, however, when something doesn’t work as planned.

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Instead of doing race after race, day after day—like in the good old days—we test sails, masts, and trim at all angles and wind speeds, all day. With two guys on deck and the rest trying to sleep, we then sail all night to where we want to start testing the next day, and start the process over again. If we need to test reaching sails in 15 knots, we sail to where we can find that breeze direction and wind strength. If we want to test downwind sails, then we go upwind all night, turn around at sunrise, and eat up miles at a high rate of speed. On one hand, it’s repetitive. But every day is different.

Our long-term goal is for our new boat to come out with all guns blazing, having done most of our testing with il mostro this summer. Next summer, we’ll hopefully be fine-tuning our new boat. Our ammunition is limited, so we have to be sure our aim is true. For example, the VOR rule limits not only the sails you can build during the race, but also the sails that we can build pre-race. So, we better be on to something concrete for it to pay off in the end. Plus, last-minute projects or modifications are costly to a campaign that is doing its best to get by on a very strict budget.

My career has taken a complete 180 from my rookie year—I should probably do a race or two one of these days.

Calendar

April 2010-September 2010 **Testing program using il mostro
September 2010-May 2011** Construction of new boat
May 2011 Launch of new boat
May 2011 through September 2011 Testing and training on the new boat
October 1 2011 Arrive at the starting city: Alicante, Spain
October 2011 Measurement and safety training
October 29, 2011 First in-port race day in Alicante
November 5, 2011 First leg starts from Alicante to Cape Town

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