A Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) scriptwriters dream finish is now set up for The Hague with three boats on equal points.

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Leg 10, from Cardiff to Gothenburg, day 03 on board Brunel. 12 June, 2018.

Nine-race veteran Bouwe Bekking was staring at defeat, sixth in the VO65 fleet, before the top of Scotland, then with the help of the Weather Gods, Brunel’s afterburners kicked in, and she ran down boat after boat on the long shy reach to Gothenburg to take the gun.

With such and intensely competitive finish, this race will be long remembered, but post-race will come the tough decisions. Richard Brisius and Johan Salén’s Atlant Ocean Racing Spain is taking over the VOR with the decision on a new boat to be very high on their agenda.

Rob Kothe has been talking to the current VOR champion Ian Walker (now the RYA’s Director of Racing) on the vexed issue of the boat for the 2021 race.

 

“While we would all love to see fully-crewed offshore boats as we have had in the past 20/30 years, the reality is there isn’t the commercial demand to pay the budgets required to do that. Having gone fully professional, it is tough to go back to the good old days of an amateur race with a big boat and handicap race,” Walker says.

“Times have changed, so it’s a difficult position. They need a bigger fleet. The only big boat fleet available is the IMOCA. Is the current IMOCA capable of being sailed ‘fully crewed’ whatever that means?

“Would a Volvo race team break those? I suspect they probably would just because of the way we push the boats and the way the single-handed sailors can’t afford to do that and aren’t aiming to do that so whether that’s realistic I don’t know.

“Going with IMOCA’s is a way of almost guaranteeing a bigger fleet because you have got a readily available boat which could potentially be used either fully professionally or more amateur.

“It is a different type of sailing. Even if you sail with six I would argue that’s not really fully crewed as we know it. It is almost certainly going to be furling sails and a lot of sailing from the shelter of the cabin or even down below, and that’s not what the Volvo Ocean Race has been about.

“You have got your kit on, and you have taken what’s been thrown at you, and you have pushed as hard as you could for your four hours on deck, and then someone else has taken over and done the same.

“It will be a very different race. But when we went to the Volvo Ocean 65s, I don’t think anybody thought they were the best boats in the world and still don’t. However, they were key to the race surviving then and if for the race to survive it has to adapt to being more shorthanded and utilising existing boats if that’s the only new way forward then that’s the way forward.

“I think just pick a crew number and you will work to it. If part of the move to IMOCA is to get with the foiling generation, you can’t put too many people on board because for every person you have got to carry the food, you have got to carry the clothing and you have got to carry their body weight. So, if you sail with five, you are going to be adding half a tonne or a tonne of weight to the boat and then will it foil in the same way we see the existing IMOCAs sail single handed?

“I think if they do that to keep the load down on the boat and enhance the value of the foiling I think they are going to have to go with a smaller number as they dare which of course takes you ever further away from the original Volvo Ocean Race. That’s the difficult balancing act.

“The IMOCAs don’t have a good track record of finishing races. It has improved a lot with the keel rule. We haven’t had a lot of keels falling off which was the problem. I suspect when you start putting them more fully crewed you will probably be breaking masts more often.

“But looking the future, you can still have at least two women. The biggest challenge is the stacking of the sails and so if all your sails are on furlers, and you haven’t got big stacks of sails its arguably going to be less physicality involved. You can do whatever you choose to write on the document and people will adapt to it.

“The crew rule of this race, which has helped spread the experience for women will be Mark Turner’s legacy. He drove that through. He had quite a lot of criticism from the stalwarts of the race thinking it was watering down the event and it should be the best of the best of the best and not based on your sex, and I think that has been proved wrong.

“At the start of the race there was a lot of talk about the boys and girls onboard, and I suspect by the end of the race there are just nine sailors on board. I imagine we have got some much more skilful females sailors who would be able to stake a spot on any boat.

“At the end of the day, you only get better by sailing with and against the best people. I got better by sailing with the likes of Justin Slattery and Neil McDonald, Damien Foxhall and up until this race the girls haven’t had that chance. Now they have had that chance, and that’s the key thing to getting better. Not whether you are a man or a woman.”

Back to the present race, the footage off the boats just keeps getting better, and you can see better than ever the challenges for the crew.

The iconic British technical clothing brand Musto, as well as being the official VOR clothing supplier is a strong RYA supporter and the official supplier to the British Sailing Team and Youth Sailing Team, and in his Director of Racing role, Walker is a Musto ambassador so added this comment.

“Regardless of the boat, every design is very wet when you are hooning around in 30 plus knots downwind. They have had a very windy race this time, and the VO65 bow doesn’t help. That spoons the water up a bit.

“Musto really take time over the Post-race debrief, this time it will be with Brunel, Vestas 11th Hour racing and Turn the Tide on Plastic.

“They will once again be getting really valuable feedback and looking at the vision and images from this race they have done a lot more hard running, and I suspect they are clamouring for more neck seals and more wrist seals.”

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