Telefonica Blue training off Alicante, Sept 2008
One of the big questions to be answered on Saturday, 4 October - the start of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09 - will be how different are the new generation VO70 compared to the VOR 2005/06 first generation. Telefonica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking is is quite certain of one thing - they will be fast:
'when I first saw the theoretical numbers from the designers I knew we had something very special compared to the previous boat. And, so far the new boats have been as fast as we expected them to be, and I can't wait to line up for the first time with the competition, for then we will really know just how fast!'
This time around, Bekking is leading a team made up of two boats meaning an altogether different approach to the campaign. Both Telefonica Blue and Telefonica Black boats are Farr Yacht Designs, one built in Valencia and the other one in New Zealand.
'Training with two equal boats gives the whole team a huge boost,' Bekking explains. 'First of all, you always have someone to compare yourself against, so the crew is focused all the time. If we make adjustments to the trim and/or hoist different sails on one of the boats, we immediately see the results just by looking at the other boat sailing alongside. If you sail alone you only can look at data, and there are too many variables involved to trust the numbers in isolation. Then of course, we have the advantage that we have twice as many smart brains to exchange thoughts and ideas.'
Even with the benefit of two boats, there must be the possibility of error, so how soon do you know that you have taken the correct path?
'Immediately!' laughs Bekking, 'after a couple of sails you know absolutely whether or not you are on the right track. If there are big changes to be made, you haven't done your homework properly. In our case, it has been a question of small refinements and tweaking, and, very little downtime. Exactly as it should be so we can focus on the sailing.'
Of course, organisationally, a two-boat team is harder to keep on track. You have more people and more equipment to deal with. The Telefonica Team consists of 52 people. The unifying factor according to Bekking is simple,
'everyone wants to improve and we all have the same ultimate goal.to win. It also helps to have a new toy to play with. One that is fast, responsive and robust. The VO70 is still a beast, but everyday we get closer to taming her and we're all looking forward to seeing what the second generation can do this time around.'
The Volvo Ocean Race 2005/06 was the first edition for a new class of boats: the Volvo Open 70 or VO70 for short, specific changes for the 2008/09 generation include:
Maximum keel, fin and bulb weight of 7,400 kg - compared to a 'no max weight limit' previously.
Overall weight range of the boat is between 13.86 and 14 tonnes compared to the wider 12-14 tonnes before.
Other amendments include enabling all spinnakers to be furled and banning the use of spinnaker poles.
The stated aim with these changes has been to reinforce the safety and reliability of the VO70, without serious performance penalty.
Telefonica Black test sailing in Alicante, Spain