Volvo Ocean Race Stopovers

1:08 PM 1 Comments

by Mark Bishop, Design Engineer

While a great opportunity to get out of the office, travel and interact with the sailors and team directly, a Volvo Stopover is no vacation! For the current edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, having Farr Yacht Design exclusively involved with the Telefonica Team has meant the nature of the stopover visits have changed markedly. In the previous editions we were on site to support multiple teams and boats. One of the major difficulties faced was that of confidentiality and preventing the cross-sharing of information. For this reason, it was difficult to have a particularly close working relationship with any team. We believe there was a consensus of opinions that this really didn’t help anyone; opportunities lost, for the designers and teams, when trying to extract more performance and a better understanding of these boats.

This time it has been refreshing to be included very much as part of the team and while opinions sometimes differ as to where development should head, to be able to be part of the discussion has, I feel, helped everyone in direct contrast to previous experience.

Being responsible for the structural engineering of the boats, in conjunction with my colleagues Russ Bowler and Chris Cochran of Farr Yacht Design, the main purpose of these visits is to assess the boat’s overall integrity and help with any repairs or modifications the team may require. Thankfully, to date the boats have been performing well and despite some well understood issues with dagger boards and a pretty big wipeout from the boys on Telefonica-Black on the first leg, the boats have really been very “clean”.

The inspection process, while long and involved, is actually pretty straight forward. I basically start at the bow and work my way back looking initially for any obvious signs of distress in such areas as tape joins, frame junctures and high load points such as deck fittings and stay attachments. After that, the hull and deck come in for a close check over to make sure the skins are still bonded to the core. So far all has been perfect and this greatly reduces the stress on the shore crews as well as the entire design team!

Another early morning start; the coffee maker is perhaps the hardest working piece of equipment.

Aside from the composite structure, close attention is paid to the rams and the metallic keel mounting components. A visual inspection is made for excessive or unusual surface corrosion as well as making sure the juncture of metal to composite components are still tight and signs of “working” are not present. Singapore offered the team the first opportunity to take the keel off the boat and fully inspect all bearings and surfaces; this was certainly an event everyone was interested to see. Everything was found to be in good order, so there was no need to utilize additional non-destructive test methods to examine would-be areas of concern.

The site visit schedule itself is very fluid, since in many situations we are not aware of what we will find. In some case we are aware and prepped; for example the damage incurred by Telefonica Black in their “crash” on the first leg. In these cases we can do a lot of preparatory work before hand in determining the basic fundamentals of the repair requirements. Even so, there is no substitute for getting up close and personal with the damaged areas for a closer inspection as more often than not, secondary pieces of damage or other evidence can provide telling insight into what has occurred. This was exactly the case with Telefonica-Black in Cape Town. When the guys broke a rudder and wiped out, there was no suggestion from onboard that they had actually hit anything, which left us somewhat puzzled back at the design office in Annapolis. However when I was able to inspect the boat out of the water there were many visible signs that they had in fact hit more than one object and in more than one place on the boat! Being able to identify this enables both ourselves as designers as well as the guys sailing the boat to get a better understanding of events and what that means with respect to potential development; in this case, rudder strengthening.

Other than the structural review, which tends to occupy the first couple of days, is the important team debrief. It is vital to have the sailors’ feedback on the boat’s performance in conjunction with the sail maker and design team, as the modern Volvo 70 is an extremely complicated piece of kit. The overall performance of the boat is a function of all aspects interacting efficiently and not one single thing. It’s the way the hull deflects that effects the rig, which in turn affects the sails, which effects how they are trimmed, which effects the way the hull deflects……………..let alone the complexities of sail cross-over points and the individual design aspects of the sail’s themselves and the more than interesting hull/water interaction at 30+ knots.

While there is typically only one person from Farr Yacht Design on-site, the entire design team is very much an active participant in the development process. There is a staggering amount of data that is logged from the boats during each leg. This data; true and apparent wind speed, heading, boat speed, sail combination etc., is collated and sorted into a large database that is then used to compare performance against the VPP. This in turn gives an idea of strong and weak areas of performance relative to prediction, so areas where the boat may be under performing can be more closely addressed. The reasons for performance variables can be complicated sometimes resulting from how the boat is sailed, for example; fore & aft trim, heel angle or sail combinations; Other times it may be a compromised as a result of sail damage, hardware damage or a boat related problem. To get a clear understanding of what the raw data is really saying takes close co-operation between the sailors, sail designers and our naval architects to ensure that weaknesses are addressed without (hopefully) giving up too much from an area of strength. This information is also used to gauge performance in future legs against expected weather patterns and may influence routing and tactics as well as the sail combinations taken on board.

To bring of this all together takes an extraordinarily wide range of skills and expertise. When I look around the room during these meetings and think of the guys back in the office during the conference calls, the brain power on display is pretty staggering. Even with this, it remains a formidable challenge; this is where one of the real keys to success becomes apparent and that is TIME. It really takes time for everything to gel and to see what does and what does not work, despite all of the most advanced computational analytic tools available. If you can get a head start on the other teams, this is an advantage that is difficult to overcome simply because the learning and improvement never stops.

The net result, the stopovers are long hard days for all the team members. The sailors have just finished a grueling leg but key members are straight back into it; reviewing performance, sail modifications and further cross-over analysis, decision-making and prepping for the next leg. The shore team is running hard to finish the work list and have the boat and rig primed and ready to go. Amongst all this is the job of feeding everyone and finding accommodation – not easy! Now multiply that across all the teams – no small logistical feat, yet everyone simply, quietly and capably gets on with the task at hand. Being on site certainly allows a greater appreciation of the difficulties faced by the shore crews implementing changes; this is obviously invaluable to decisions made in the design office. Even being in such close proximity to other teams is not really an issue. Everyone from all the different teams are very professional and mindful of each other – not surprising given it is such a small community and friends are spread amongst many competing syndicates.

Being part of this is very satisfying but makes me laugh when friends comment to me about how great it is to “see the world” during the race. Well, I’ve been to Cape Town twice and have still only seen the V & A waterfront where the boats are docked. As I always remark to them, the inside of the boat looks the same no matter where you are in the world except a cold beer is certainly better when it’s warm outside. No holiday, but certainly an experience I wouldn’t miss and a truly great bunch of people to work with as well.

And why it all needs to “work” - tight reaching at 25+ knots

Farr Yacht Design: VOR support stopover schedule:
  1. Start – Alicante, Spain – Patrick Shaughnessy, FYD President

  2. Cape Town, South Africa – Mark Bishop, FYD Structural Engineer

  3. Cochin, India – (FYD trip canceled)

  4. Singapore China – Jim Schmicker, FYD Vice President

  5. Quingdao, China – Mark Bishop, Luke Shingledecker, FYD Naval Architect

  6. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – Russ Bowler, FYD Vice President and Luke Shingledecker, FYD Naval Architect

  7. Boston, USA - Mark Bishop, Russ Bowler

  8. Galway, Ireland - Mark Bishop, Russ Bowler

  9. Marstrand, Sweden - Patrick Shaughnessy

  10. St. Petersburg, Russia - Patrick Shaughnessy


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