It could well be that we are witnessing the last Volvo Ocean Race. Before I go any further let me stress right away that this will not be the crews’ or the skippers’ fault as I cannot think of a more courageous bunch of sailors. The blame of this debacle is to be laid squarely at the foot of the organisers who are blinded by the P of publicity.

For those of you who haven’t closely followed this race, let me recapitulate: During the first leg from Spain to Cape Town only 3 boats out of the total of 6 manage to sail the distance without help, 3 boats broke. Here I think, we can see that there’s possibly something wrong with the design of these 70 foot racing craft although they cost a lot of money to build them out of the most modern materials. Undoubtedly these are the strongest masts, hulls and sails ever built in yachting history, yet, in this race only 3 yachts have not needed outside help, 3 of them could not make Cape Town by themselves.

The boats’ construction cannot be blamed, certainly not their crews, what then goes wrong? It can only be their success and by that I mean their speed. The shallow design of these craft with 7 or 10 tons of lead suspended underneath by a thin bit of carbon fibre or steel allow speeds of up to 25 knots and they can maintain speeds of 20 knots for long spans of time. However, these brave fellows are not sailing their craft anymore, they’re fighting the sea and that one will always win.

When water is hit at a speed of 20 knots, it has the same consistency as concrete and a small 70 foot boat, when surfing, keeps on falling from a wave into a trough that feels like concrete but a little more slippery. All the hull failures are in the fore parts of these yachts.

About 130 years ago, sailing cargo ships were built that managed to sail for long distances at 17-18 knots but these vessels displaced at least 3500 tons and the length of the hull allowed these speeds without any surfing nonsense. Incidentally, the building of such a 230 foot wooden vessel would probably have cost in real money a tenth of one of these volvo craft.

To come back to the race and I won’t talk about the funny legs to Arabia and China, the Southern Ocean has hammered the fleet from New Zealand to Brazil, past Cape Horn. Only 2 yachts are still in this race without outside help, the others had to repair their foreships. Again, the crews are without blame but the stupid publicity stunts by the organisers in Arabia and China were the cause that these hard-driven boats had to tackle the Southern Ocean at the end of March when the equinoctial gales like to express themselves. When this race had not yet fallen into the grasping publicity fingers, the Southern Ocean was tackled during the southern summer, in December and January and that, at times, could already be bad enough. To send these brave fellows down under, during the March equinox, makes me think of those renowned, senile generals of WW1 that gaily sent the troops over the wire into withering machine gun fire.

What happens next in this farce of a race has no importance, I think the Frenchies in their Groupama should win because so far she is the only boat that has sailed the distance on her own breath in the toughest legs. Then, sailing boat designers ought to have a good think also. So far they have designed a kind of formula 1 racing boat that works fine in flattish water. If you put a formula 1 car on a corrugated dirt road I don’t think the thing will last 25 km. The ocean is made to break formula 1 racing yachts, which are useless craft anyway, you can’t fish with them, neither can you carry cargo. Not bloody green at all!

How about designing a 3500 ton sailing cargo ship and find out whether such a vessel could be a payable proposition?


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One Response to R.I.P. Volvo Ocean Race

  1. Peter DekkerPeter Dekker says:

    IT is just a waist of money, thar Volvorace. Give it an usefull cause that can inspire people. Then new designs are coming forward and at the end those ships, after he race Will ge used for usefull purposes.

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