Foil-assisted 60ft offshore monohulls, flying inshore catamarans, and tearing up the conventional round the world route map are among the major changes announced today for the 2019 Volvo Ocean Race

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Volvo Ocean Race organisers promised the most radical shake-up of the race since its inception in 1973, and the raft of changes announced today for the 2019 edition will bring about some fundamental shifts in what the Volvo Ocean Race represents.

A huge topic of discussion has been the choice of new yacht class, which organisers had previously confirmed would be a one-design by Guillaume Verdier, but not revealed whether it would be a monohull or multihull format. Volvo Ocean Race CEO Mark Turner has confirmed that the ocean legs will be sailed in a foil-assisted 60-footer, in many ways the least surprising announcement of the day following the adoption of foils by the IMOCA 60 class over the past two years.

More intriguingly, Turner now sees potential for the new Volvo one-design 60-footers to potentially compete alongside the IMOCA fleet. Speaking exclusively to Yachting World in Paris ahead of today’s announcement, he explained: “We found ourselves looking at the fact that the best boat for the Volvo Ocean Race, which is a combination of performance, safety, technology development, actually can also be used as a platform – with a change of rig and keel – on other circuits. That’s a bonus to what we’re doing.”

Offshore 60 foot (18.29m) foil-assisted monohull

While the new one-design will not be specifically designed to fit the IMOCA box rule, Turner says that the wealth of data and experience Verdier and others have in designing and building foiling 60-footers will be invaluable, and was a key reason in not going for a larger design such as a 70-footer.

Assuming that the IMOCA class rule in, say, 2020-21, remains open to ex-Volvo Ocean Race boats, this plan achieves several things which fit with recurring themes in Turner’s new vision for the race, including improved sustainability credentials – building large composite yachts with a short shelf-life no longer sits well with the event’s green ethos – as well as giving sponsors and sailors wider platforms with more longevity to promote their message across, and joining some dots in the sport.

“It’s a small but important step towards linking some eco-systems between the Anglo Saxon world and the French world, which have never really been linked,” he said.

Meanwhile a second, inshore fully foiling multihull class has also been announced, between 32 and 50ft long. This will be raced at stopovers by – at least very largely – the same crew who are racing the offshore leg to prevent teams from forming two separate squads. Again this will be a one-design, taking the best elements from existing foiling multihull classes, such as the GC32 and rapidly developing AC50s.

Whilst this has many of the hallmarks of the innovative Extreme Sailing Series, which Turner developed with OC Sport as a stadium event and marketing platform, he says that the intention behind this element of the competition is to challenge the sailors, rather than to emphasise the crowd-pleasing or corporate entertainment potential of foiling catamaran racing.

“The winner of the Volvo Ocean Race in the future will be the one that masters sailing best around the world across the big oceans, but we are going to put a little bit more value on that inshore skill-set, using the right tools for the job. So we’re going to be on foil-assisted monohulls across the ocean and fully flying catamarans on the in-port races, to win the Volvo Ocean Races just got a whole lot harder, because you’ve got to master both those disciplines. You’ve got to be the best all-round sailor.”

Offshore 60 foot (18.29m) foil-assisted monohull

Eight 60-footers will be built, and the multihull one-design drawings will be put out to tender, a process starting this week. Despite the move to foiling designs and the requirement for each team to run a two-boat programme, Turner says that the final bill will be very similar to that of a current campaign. “Today the average budget, and there’s a spread, is between €10-12m, over a couple of years. We expect to be in the same place.”

Two factors will keep team outlays down: the new yachts will be leased. “So we’re not asking teams to come and fund what might be a €4-5m asset cost at the beginning.”

The other element is the increasing amount of additional support provided by race organisers, suggesting that Volvo is comfortable with making some very substantial investments into the event.

“We are providing an enormous amount of central services. We’re reducing the stuff that goes on the outside, the logistics operations, team bases, ribs, all these things that we’re providing in the 17-18 race. The end result will probably be similar budgets but with a lot, lot more packed in,” says Turner.

New look course

The changes most likely to upset purists will be major alterations to the traditional round the world route. Details are yet to be confirmed, but Turner has revealed that they are considering a radical overhaul of the course, starting with plans to run events more frequently, through to routes that include everything from around-the-world non-stop, to starting and finishing in a different hemisphere or continent, and even a non-stop race around the bottom of the earth.

“We are certainly considering moving to a two-year cycle in 2019 after this edition,” Turner explains. “What going to a quicker cycle does is allow potentially that we shorten each race a bit, we don’t have to go to all of the markets every time, and it opens up some pretty interesting choices on the course.

“So we can imagine over this next decade different formats of races. We can imagine a format where we start either in Europe, or in Asia, or in the Middle East, or in the Americas, visiting markets in that area and then head down to the south to a city in the southern hemisphere and race non-stop around Antarctica, for example. A non-stop at some point might be possible,” Turner explained.

With the faster ocean crossings of a foiling design and wider choice of routes there will also be changes to the stopovers, with future Volvo Ocean Races incorporating more pitstop and short weekend-style stopovers.

Future proofing

Other announcements include a plan to create Volvo Ocean Race academies in some countries to help younger sailors step up from an Olympic campaign or similar to round the world racing. Turner has also been closely involved in recent discussions about the potential introduction of an offshore component to the Olympics and today announced a partnership with World Sailing.

There is also a strong sustainability element planned into future Volvo Ocean Races, in partnership with the United Nations’ Clean Seas campaign and organisations such as 11th Hour Racing. The VO65s will themselves be recycled after the 2018 finish, with a leadership and development programme for Volvo Ocean Race affiliated companies, with an on-water component for employees and clients racing in the 65s.

Read more in the July issue of Yachting World, out on 8 June 2016.