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Evolution rather than revolution for the Volvo Ocean Race says Australia’s Chris Nicholson

Veteran Australian ocean racer Chris Nicholson is currently competing in his sixth Volvo Ocean Race as watch captain aboard the Dutch-flagged entry team AkzoNobel. He has just arrived in Cardiff, Wales after setting a stunning Volvo Ocean Race 24-hour distance record of 602.51 nautical miles on the race’s ninth leg – the nine-day transatlantic sprint from Newport, RI. This distance smashes the previous 24-hour record set by the Volvo Open 70 Ericsson in the 2008-09 edition and makes the team AkzoNobel crew the first team in the history of the race to sail more than 600 nm in a 24-hour period.

Nicholson made it to the United Kingdom just in time for the announcement in Cardiff yesterday that the ownership of the hallowed 45-year old around-the-world race will be passing from Volvo Trucks and Volvo Cars – owners for the last 20 years – over to Atlant Ocean Racing Spain, a management company owned by the race’s current leadership team Richard Brisius and Johan Salén, both from Sweden.

While this and the subsequent news that the next race is scheduled to start in 2021 are both encouraging steps towards a hopefully bright future for the race, there still remain more questions than answers. In particular, which boats the team at Atlant might be considering for the 2021-22 edition. It is no secret that a move to a monohull IMOCA-style foiling development class has gained a fair degree of momentum over recent months.

For his part however, Nicholson believes serious consideration should also be given to retaining the existing fleet of one-design Volvo Ocean 65s for another lap of the planet. Particularly, he says, given the super-close racing the fleet has been enjoying in the 2017-18 edition. “As long as I have been involved with this race, the racing has never been closer and more competitive than right now,” he said.

“You only have to look at the condition of sailors coming back to shore: they are more tired and worn out than ever before – even though the boats are a fair bit easier to sail. The sailors are working so much harder because the racing is neck-and-neck the whole way around the world.”

Nobody knows this better than Nicholson. Team AkzoNobel won Leg 5 from Hong Kong to Auckland by just a couple of minutes after weeks at sea and finished second in Cardiff by only a few hundred yards following 24-hours of boat-on-boat match racing across the Irish sea and into the Bristol Channel versus eventual winners Team Brunel. “When you look at what the VO65s offer it is a pretty compelling package that you would struggle to find in a new custom-designed development class,” Nicholson asserts.

“First up, when it comes to the levels of efficiency around the maintenance programme – a key factor on an eight-month round-the-world race – the VO65 scores very highly. “We arrived here in Cardiff at three in the morning. I go back to the hotel to sleep and come back for a meeting a two in the afternoon, to find the boat in the cradle, the mast on the ground and the shore crew beavering away at full pace on the overhaul work. If needs be, I’m confident we could turn this boat around and be ready to race in three days.”

“People have got to consider this sort of stuff when they look at the business cases for different future classes and then ask themselves whether it can actually happen in a cost-effective way?” When it comes to two other important factors – the boat’s durability and reliability – Nicholson says the VO65 scores well again.  

“Aside from being competitive and keeping the crew safe, this is about having a boat your sponsor can be reasonably comfortable will make it to all the stopovers,” said Nicholson, who all too clearly remembers nursing the badly delaminated and close-to-sinking Camper VO70 though the Southern Ocean to Chile in the 2011-12 race.

Back then Nicholson was one of three skippers in the six-boat fleet to suspend racing due to damage. The Camper crew repaired the boat themselves and eventually arrived in Brazil under their own steam, while the other two retired and were loaded on cargo ships. This scenario was largely what prompted Volvo to bankroll the building of the current fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s for the 2015-16 race, with the design brief given to Farr Yacht Design effectively being to make the boats bulletproof.

Now, six of those boats are still going strong on their second lap of the world, with one new one built for team AkzoNobel.  “In this edition we had one of the hardest Southern Ocean crossings I have ever experienced in the race and all the boats got through relatively unscathed,” Nicholson points out. “Right now, at the end of Leg 9 the boats have come out for the first time since the start of Leg 7 from Brazil – that’s 10 weeks and a lot of ocean miles ago. Pretty impressive.” The final piece of the Volvo Ocean Race jigsaw, Nicholson believes, is the thorny subject of the cost involved in putting a team in the race.

“Right now, it is possible for relatively low budget teams to compete because there are no really big budget campaigns,” he said. “A 65 campaign needs a 10 – 12 million Euro budget. For a new development design you are getting back towards the Volvo 70 numbers of 20 million plus.”

Despite his firm stance in favour of the existing one-design fleet Nicholson stresses that he is not opposed per se to the custom-building of ocean racing boats. “I’m not saying one is better than the other,” he said. “I would just like to see more open discussion centered around what we already have, i.e. the most accurate one design fleet that has ever been built and one that is providing the best racing and media content we have seen.

“I would love to go sail a new design of boat again. I loved my time when we were building and designing Camper for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race and I loved racing a custom-built boat. But to go out and raise that kind of money today is a huge ask. “Back then, with the big teams we had, you couldn’t drive the level of efficiency that we see now,” Nicholson observed.

“I think we are really very efficient with the way we use these boats today. For instance, at several of the stopovers we don’t have to pull them out of the water at all because they can keep going with relatively minimal maintenance.

“That is not going to be the case with any new design that has a custom aspect to it – and that needs to be taken into consideration.”

Reflecting on the way the level of competitiveness has ramped up over the last two editions since the introduction of a one-design class, Nicholson had this to say: “In the last race you had two boats really that were super-competitive, simply because people didn’t know how to sail the boats as well yet. Now in this race, it’s four or arguably five teams at that level. If there is another race in these boats I’m certain there would be a whole lot more really competitive teams.

“Keeping the racing close is all upside,” Nicholson said. “For the fans, for the sponsors, for the race organisers, and for the profile of the race and the sport of ocean racing. But we have to make sure we keep the playing field level. “There are a couple of parties right now pushing for a new class of boat because they understand they can make an enormous jump simply by having the funding in place to be first out of the blocks with a new design. “I think we need to make provisions to stop prevent that being such a huge advantage – otherwise it will put off many of the lower funded teams.”

The final tenet of Nicholson’s philosophy around the future of the Volvo Ocean Race centers on the importance of maintaining the momentum generated behind initiative to include female sailors in all the teams. “It’s a subject close to my heart,” said Nicholson. “I believe this should driven at a World Sailing global level so that any of their yacht racing events should stipulate a certain percentage of the crew be made up of female sailors.

“In the Volvo Ocean Race, the truth is at this point that an all-male team would likely be more competitive than a mixed crew,” Nicholson admitted. “But we need to get our heads out of the bushes and realize that if this sport is going to get better and compete globally then we need more mixed crews and more all-female crews. The only way to do that is to train more women to sail like the men.

“At the moment we have created 14 or more women that here-and-now know how to go and race around the world at the level required. In time these women will be picked by natural selection, but for now we need to force it so that more women can gain the experience that gets them to that point. “That’s only going to happen if we have the right style of racing and the right size and type of boats to race in.”

Nicholson believes open and honest dialogue between the interested parties involved is vital to secure a solid long-term future for the race. But with a variety of key decisions to be made and sponsors to reassure it is worth them staying involved, he maintains those conversations cannot come too soon. “A lot of discussion needs to happen in a short period, because time is critical,” Nicholson said.

“Those discussions need to be all-encompassing in terms of: raising the money, the profile of the sport, the mixture and age of the crew line ups, the quality and reliability of the boat, the closeness of the racing. “There are so many aspects that are all potentially key to making a successful race, but when it comes to the class of boat to be raced I hope the approach will be steady evolution from where we are now – rather than a potentially risky revolution to some unknown and unproven brave new world.”

 

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1 hour ago, Editor said:

For his part however, Nicholson believes serious consideration should also be given to retaining the existing fleet of one-design Volvo Ocean 65s for another lap of the planet. Particularly, he says, given the super-close racing the fleet has been enjoying in the 2017-18 edition. “As long as I have been involved with this race, the racing has never been closer and more competitive than right now,”

Thanks ed, for choosing this for the FP and here. SA redeemed once again. 

OD has been a success, economically, for fans (well, at least one data point here ;) ) and as far as the racing has been for the sailors. 

His costs argument is also pretty compelling. 20 million for a development class boat vs 10 million for an OD.

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It's remarkable how the racing has got more compelling this time even compared to the last edition. In Formula 1 and other engineering driven series there is a pattern where when the rules first change it is wide open and smaller teams with a good concept can have success. Then everyone converges to the best solution within the rules and the big teams spend more and more money making smaller and smaller advances. So the racing gets more and more predictable, most obviously where you see each row of the grid having cars from the same team, obvious evidence of how the cars are farther apart than the drivers. So they have to change the rules every few years and that has actually become part of F1 history itself. In the VOR by contrast boat speed seems to have converged or at least the racing is less predictable and this has been great and it needs to continue. I'd love to see this level of racing one more round but with more boats. Am I right too that there was an argument for 6 hour tracker updates as it would be bad if the teams knew what was going on all the time? But we've had continuous tracker updates on the last couple of legs and it's fine. And important for fans because the racing is so close. 

As a final point, I think various series, especially America's cup, undervalue the importance of rules stability in the series and change degrades brand identity. The VOR70 and 65 aren't so different as to confuse the average punter but going to a two boat fleet with foiling IMOCAs and VOR65s would add complexity that might degrade what we currently have. I do like the original Whitbread concept of glorious diversity with plucky Brits, the French defense establishment and unexpectedly efficient Mexicans going head to head in different boats, but that romantic era, which would probably be actually quite dull to watch on a tracker, is not coming back. Nicholson is talking a lot of sense here. 

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46 minutes ago, stief said:

Thanks ed, for choosing this for the FP and here. SA redeemed once again. 

OD has been a success, economically, for fans (well, at least one data point here ;) ) and as far as the racing has been for the sailors. 

His costs argument is also pretty compelling. 20 million for a development class boat vs 10 million for an OD.

The one-design boats have been great.  Three more boats out there would be even better, and that's unlikely with a new foiling creation.  And durability would plummet.

They could, however, add some in-shore-only sails to make the boats more agile around the buoys.  Painful to watch tacks w/ the off-shore MHO and the crew looking like duffers trying to kick battens through.  

(Now, if they could only fit a plastic bubble to keep the cockpit dry and warm, Random would be happy too.)

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the other od class could be a multihull - mod 70!?

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17 minutes ago, Trovão said:

the other od class could be a multihull - mod 70!?

Doubtful. From what Salén said in his interview with Tip and Shaft (here's an attempt to link to the Portuguese translation), the 'other fleet' will most likely be IMOCA, or Guillaume's Super 60.

Quote

Which boats will be departing in 2021? We know that you have been discussing for several months with Imoca ... 
It is no secret that we are in discussion with Imoca, it is going very well and it will be easier now with the sale. Our ambition is very clearly to find an agreement quickly : we are not there yet because we were until then very focused on closing the future of the race and it was longer than we thought.After, the Imoca is a class especially suited to navigation solo or double, it will be very important to find a good implementation to navigate crew Imoca. It's a job we have to do together and it's very important for it to work. It may take a few months, we are not in a hurry. 
 
That means that it will be necessary to modify the gauge Imoca? 
Yes, you have to adapt part of the Imoca gauge to crew navigation. And, at the same time, it is very important that boats that exist or are under construction, can make the Volvo Ocean Race. If they are completely different boats with the same tonnage certificate, it is useless , we lose all the synergies we are looking for. For this to work well, it is also necessary that the boats of the teams of the Volvo can make other races in double or solitary. The Volvo Ocean Race has always had a boat a little 'isolated', it's always been a weakness. 
 
What becomes of the Super Sixty project? 
The project of Super Sixty as originally planned is abandoned, it was dependent on the financing of Volvo. At the same time, a lot of work has been done, so it would be a shame not to use it. The drawing is available for someone who wants to build an Imoca on Verdier plans. Guillaume is convinced that if he were to make an Imoca today, it would be the same boat as the Super Sixty .For us, it would be a shame not to use it. Volvo Ocean Race owns the plans, but the riders have to discuss directly with Guillaume, with whom we have a royalties repayment agreement if he sells the plans. 

 

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Just now, stief said:

Doubtful. From what Salén said in his interview with Tip and Shaft (here's an attempt to the link to the Portuguese translation), the 'other fleet' will most likely be IMOCA, or Guillaume's Super 60.

 

well, one can only hope! but yeah, i doubt it will be a multi.

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1 hour ago, Left Shift said:

They could, however, add some in-shore-only sails to make the boats more agile around the buoys.  Painful to watch tacks w/ the off-shore MHO and the crew looking like duffers trying to kick battens through.  

(Now, if they could only fit a plastic bubble to keep the cockpit dry and warm,

Hmm. No doubt the crew feedback will involve fire hosing if the design goes through another evolution.

But, in-port racing could easily be improved by modifying the crew selection rules to allow an extra hand or two in-port, and yet still keep the core crew for the offshore legs. After all, all the teams had extra crew ready to sail the next leg. Allowing one or two to help out might be cheaper than developing more in the wardrobe and the North part of the budget.

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I'd like to hear what some of the sponsors have to say, about the future of RTW racing - apart from keeping costs down of course.

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On 6/2/2018 at 5:43 AM, stief said:

Hmm. No doubt the crew feedback will involve fire hosing if the design goes through another evolution.

But, in-port racing could easily be improved by modifying the crew selection rules to allow an extra hand or two in-port, and yet still keep the core crew for the offshore legs. After all, all the teams had extra crew ready to sail the next leg. Allowing one or two to help out might be cheaper than developing more in the wardrobe and the North part of the budget.

I agree with adding more crew numbers to the inshore races. I think being under staffed makes them take less risks. Why not grab some of the shore crew and throw them in the mix.

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On 6/2/2018 at 5:43 AM, stief said:

Hmm. No doubt the crew feedback will involve fire hosing if the design goes through another evolution.

But, in-port racing could easily be improved by modifying the crew selection rules to allow an extra hand or two in-port, and yet still keep the core crew for the offshore legs. After all, all the teams had extra crew ready to sail the next leg. Allowing one or two to help out might be cheaper than developing more in the wardrobe and the North part of the budget.

Agree in principle, but allowing a limited seperate inshore wardrobe to be supplied by other sailmakers might be an interesting idea, either as a one-design fleet-wide solution put to market by the RO, or by letting  teams choose inshore sailmakers themselves.  Would put innovation pressure on North and also better set other sailmakers up to be able to support the boats in their post-RTW race careers.

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On 6/2/2018 at 4:13 AM, Foiling Optimist said:

It's remarkable how the racing has got more compelling this time even compared to the last edition. In Formula 1 and other engineering driven series there is a pattern where when the rules first change it is wide open and smaller teams with a good concept can have success. Then everyone converges to the best solution within the rules and the big teams spend more and more money making smaller and smaller advances. So the racing gets more and more predictable, most obviously where you see each row of the grid having cars from the same team, obvious evidence of how the cars are farther apart than the drivers. So they have to change the rules every few years and that has actually become part of F1 history itself. In the VOR by contrast boat speed seems to have converged or at least the racing is less predictable and this has been great and it needs to continue. I'd love to see this level of racing one more round but with more boats. Am I right too that there was an argument for 6 hour tracker updates as it would be bad if the teams knew what was going on all the time? But we've had continuous tracker updates on the last couple of legs and it's fine. And important for fans because the racing is so close. 

As a final point, I think various series, especially America's cup, undervalue the importance of rules stability in the series and change degrades brand identity. The VOR70 and 65 aren't so different as to confuse the average punter but going to a two boat fleet with foiling IMOCAs and VOR65s would add complexity that might degrade what we currently have. I do like the original Whitbread concept of glorious diversity with plucky Brits, the French defense establishment and unexpectedly efficient Mexicans going head to head in different boats, but that romantic era, which would probably be actually quite dull to watch on a tracker, is not coming back. Nicholson is talking a lot of sense here. 

Kinda, but I'd argue that rules volatility could be a good thing.  In F1 if you're right, it opens up competitiion to those smaller teams with good ideas, and stops the better funded team getting into the "diminishing returns" zone where, as you rightly point out, big sums are spent on small gains.

In sailing, rules volatility also puts pressure on teams to adapt.  Success goes to teams with strong and broad on and off-water skill sets combined with inspired leadership who can respond to new rules rapidly and creatively from first principles and come up with something compelling out of the box - a la Team NZ in the last AC.   Assembling these sorts of teams has to be good for the sport and the industry together as it creates demand for design, engineering, construction and sailing skills wrapped in strong management all at once.

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On 6/2/2018 at 3:40 AM, stief said:

Thanks ed, for choosing this for the FP and here. SA redeemed once again. 

What does it cost?

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Looks like the entire concept was so fucking successful ... that they sold it!!!!!

200.gif

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28 minutes ago, charisma94 said:

Random's head is gonna explode!

 

Bit late...you obviously missed it...however still smokin though.tenor.gif.2bbd2dbe0054113735d6184d43afe60b.gif

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Volvo were so fucking stoked ... they unloaded it like school bag at 3:00 p.m. for a song to some people who think they have the answers!

The Ankles Brigade have taken over.

AOYCiIiZ5ASI_E7AuYEjYJd82_X8ALujcbpz4803

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6 hours ago, DickDastardly said:

Agree in principle, but allowing a limited seperate inshore wardrobe to be supplied by other sailmakers might be an interesting idea, either as a one-design fleet-wide solution put to market by the RO, or by letting  teams choose inshore sailmakers themselves.  Would put innovation pressure on North and also better set other sailmakers up to be able to support the boats in their post-RTW race careers.

Good point.

On 6/1/2018 at 10:07 AM, Editor said:

“Keeping the racing close is all upside,” Nicholson said. “For the fans, for the sponsors, for the race organisers, and for the profile of the race and the sport of ocean racing. But we have to make sure we keep the playing field level.

How to keep evolving an OD class for the betterment of all and, above all "keeping the playing field level."

 Sail choice needs the once/twice around test, to avoid the 'single-use plastic sails and boats' problem. IMHO, that's been the real success of the VO65 platform

Rather than just having an inshore wardrobe, perhaps an alternative would be to open, say, one or more of the headsails to a North competitor. Likewise, perhaps the reaching poles could be opened to another carbon shop. The OD platform could be used to test durability and evolve so much kit. 

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I've got a good idea to pull more clicks and shit!

Get a wet boat, one designed to slide green water over the decks on any more than 18 knots, stick a photographer on it and send endless hours of video and thousands of images where the water prevents us from even seeing who the crew are!  People love that shit and there's just not enough of it around.

You will make fucking millions if you follow that simple formula!

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Thanks for the Downvote Bakunin, I'm going for gold here, going for 1000 VOR sock downvotes!   By my calculations I have about 150 to go.  Al donations grreatfully accepted.

Help me out mate.  Don't stop now!

Edit: Anyway, didn't you like my formula for success?  SO what's the new series going to be called?  I've got a suggestion ... Team Ankles around the World!

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1 hour ago, stief said:

Rather than just having an inshore wardrobe, perhaps an alternative would be to open, say, one or more of the headsails to a North competitor. Likewise, perhaps the reaching poles could be opened to another carbon shop. The OD platform could be used to test durability and evolve so much kit. 

Wow, so you talking to them already!  Mate, you don't fuck around, Norths will be pissed with you!

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That's fucking awesome yl75, another Team Ankles member.   But thanks for edging me closer to the 1000 VOR downvotes.  I will wear them with pride.

Sexy-Ankles-353x210.jpg

There are only two requirements to be a member of Team Anles, you have to connected with Dingfong and you have to be three feet lower than a cunt ... and your in!

Oh and one more thing.  You have to infiltrate what was otherwise a sailing forum to further your own commercial interests by shit posting circle jerk stuff to increase the hit count.

That makes three things ... sorry.

Oh I forgot there's still another one, you have to make a living on shore, from other people being at sea risking their lives and sometimes dying.

I think that's all.

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The laws of extreme pressure indicate one has a choice of either their ankles blowing off or their head. However if the pressure is so great where both go kaput, well that does not leave too much in between is my guess.

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Randum, it's time you consulted your jerk buddy, Handcock. Last time I looked he'd had a change of hands. Maybe you should try and keep up?

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2 hours ago, Sailbydate said:

Randum, it's time you consulted your jerk buddy, Handcock. Last time I looked he'd had a change of hands. Maybe you should try and keep up?

So you were watching another man jerk off?  Jeeeezus H Christ.

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5 minutes ago, random said:

So you were watching another man jerk off?  Jeeeezus H Christ.

Yep. Every time you and your buddy open your mouths, or hit the keyboard.

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jZqvO_s-200x150.gif

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