The 2000 mile Qualifier aboard the VO70 by Luke Shingledecker

1:56 PM 0 Comments

In late July, I was fortunate enough to join the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for their 2000 mile qualifier about their brand new Volvo 70, AZZAM, which we designed. Under the rules for the Volvo Ocean Race, each entry must complete a nonstop passage of 2000 miles with the anticipated crew for leg 1 onboard. In this case, the qualifier was combined with a delivery to Southampton so that the team could compete in the upcoming Fastnet race against two other Volvo competitors, Groupama and Team Sanya.

On the Friday before departure, I met the team at their base in Cascais, Portugal and took time to familiarize myself with the boat’s systems and equipment. Cascais seems to be the perfect place for a team preparing for the Volvo Ocean Race. The marina is located immediately off the Atlantic, with virtually no sail from the dock to open ocean. Cascais is also a pleasant resort town with easy travel access to the rest of Europe.

This trip was the first chance to put some serious ocean miles under AZZAM’s keel. The direct distance from Cascais to Southampton is only about half of the required qualifying passage, but we had every intention of seeking out the best wind and testing our different sail combinations, so racking up 2000 miles was no problem.

We departed Cascais on Saturday morning (July 30). First thing on the list, we met a helicopter for a photo session just off the Portuguese coast. It was a great way to start the trip, as we had plenty of wind and big enough waves to sail the boat at boat speeds over 20 knots with plenty of water on deck. After waving goodbye, we headed west towards the Azores on a fast beam reach. On a Volvo 70, things don’t usually start to seem exciting until you’re going at least 20 knots, and this trip did not disappoint. We took advantage of the good conditions to try different sail, daggerboard and sail stack combinations, all the while recording data for later analysis. We also tried out different freeze-dried meals- not as technical as sail testing, but certainly still a big part of the race preparation.

Our trip took us nearly to the Azores before we turned north crossing a narrow ridge to reach some favorable reaching and downwind sailing angles. Most of the trip was reaching in conditions around 15-20 knots of wind. We maintained an average boat speed over 15 knots, until the last day when the wind lightened in the English Channel. We had occasional bursts of higher winds, and once reached a boat speed of 34 knots! After 6 days of sailing, we finished our trip by sailing up the Solent on a sunny day in mild conditions. It was the day before the start of Cowes Week, and there were scores of boats out practicing for the upcoming week of racing, or just out for a little cruise.

As a designer of these exciting boats, it is always a useful experience to get onboard and go sailing. Besides the obvious review to see how the systems work, it is invaluable to sail the boat with the race crew and to discuss its characteristics. This was particularly true on this trip, as we had 6 days of different conditions to demonstrate the boat’s performance and behavior. I was thrilled to see that the boat is performing up to expectations in a broad spectrum of conditions. It was a great opportunity to sail with Ian and the rest of the crew. I am extremely optimistic about this team’s chances to win the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race; it should be a great one to watch!