The VOR announce plans for bigger, faster, boats raced by fewer crew and a series of stopover races

Plans for a new-look Volvo Ocean Race in 2006 were announced in Auckland today by VOR chief executive, Glenn Bourke. Since the end of the last race, the race management has been working out ways of addressing criticisms that the race was too long, too expensive and that the Volvo 60s weren’t big enough or fast enough. Today they announced a number of reforms, at the heart of which is a new 70ft Open design. A concept drawing is shown, left.

To curtail the cost, crew numbers are to be reduced, though the VOR management has an interesting variation on the theme that allows a larger number aboard mixed crews or all-female crews.

The following is the VOR press statement: ‘ The open design will have a canting keel, a choice of one or two centerboards, and a choice of one or two rudders. Above all, it will be very fast and exciting to sail. The prescribed rule will remain relatively open, presenting a challenge and test for designers.

‘The new Volvo Ocean 70 will be an easier boat to sail, with fewer sails to handle and better living conditions for the crew. The race rules will favour imagination, creativity and sailing skills, and not an environment where the biggest purse necessarily gives a bigger edge.

‘Each boat will have certain common features: the canting keel and bulb, standardised carbon fibre mast and a reduction in the number of sails from 38 to 20, with approximately nine sails measured in per leg. Organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race aim to constrain costs to eliminate those areas where traditionally huge expenditures have made fractional competitive differences.

‘Recognising the importance of sophisticated media coverage, the new race boats will be required to have a dedicated on-board media center separate from the navigational equipment. The latest mini-cams will be installed on each boat to provide even more spectacular coverage of this great and challenging event.

‘Crew numbers will be reduced and women will be encouraged by new crew limits. An all-male crew will be limited to nine, a mixed crew, provided it consists of at least five women, will be increased to 10 and an all-female team may have up to 11 crew members.

‘Another new feature for the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 will be the inclusion of six in-port races, with points counting towards the overall result. These inshore regattas will provide an exciting atmosphere for the public, who will have the opportunity to see, first hand, these spectacular race boats in action with their world-class crews, and feel a real involvement with the event.

‘Crew limits for in-port racing will be extended to allow for one extra crewmember, perhaps the team manager, a star sailor, a fleet racing specialist or a local expert. In addition three non-participating crewmembers will be invited to race on each boat, comprising a syndicate nominee (who could be the owner), a member of the media and a Volvo representative.

‘In port racing will allow better access for the public, more opportunity for media coverage, and ultimately greater added value to syndicates and sponsors. It will also require the complete set of skills from the crew, not only the ability in long ocean racing legs, but also in the dynamic arena of nip and tuck fleet racing.

‘This edition of the event will also use a new system of scoring. On the long ocean legs, scoring gates will be included, where half points can be collected, with the same system for the in-port racing, accounting for 20 per cent of the total points on offer. This event will continue to use a high scoring system – ie in a 12-boat competition, 12 points will be awarded to the winner of each leg, the overall winner being the team with the most points at the end of the race. All legs will count with no discards allowed. There will be point-scoring gates at: Fernando de Noronha (leg 1), Kerguelen Island, Eclipse Island, Cape Horn, Fernando de Noronha (leg 4) and The Lizard.’

‘There will be fewer stopover ports and, with faster boats, the race will be shortened to finish within an eight-month timescale. To ensure the best conditions in the Southern Ocean, the event will start in early November 2005, from the Mediterranean.

‘The race-track will continue to follow the traditional clipper route around the world, with stopovers in Cape Town/South Africa, Australasia (the exact venue to be confirmed once the America’s Cup schedule is known), Rio de Janeiro/Brazil, Baltimore/Annapolis/USA, Southampton/UK, Goteborg/Sweden and a finish at a Baltic port. Pit stops, which will also be scoring gates, will be held in Australasia and North America and there will be in-port racing during each stopover.

During the race itself, onshore weather routing by meteorological experts will not be allowed.’

How these changes will be greeted by the top sailors and sponsorship rainmakers the VOR needs to attract will be interesting to see. To endorse the changes, the VOR produced Danish sailor Stig Westergaard, who said: “I think the new points scoring system is a perfect blend. It’s going to trick the inshore sailors and the offshore sailors. It’s going to be the world cup of sailing. I think it is going to be really, really fun.” Westergaard is a former Volvo Ocean Race crew.

A more cautious seal of approval came from Grant Dalton. “The announcement of the new format of the Volvo Ocean Race is significant,” he said. “It will create a lot of interest in yachting circles around the world. It is up to people now, like me, and others who have done this before and those that want to get into it – and I think that is very important – to go out and raise the money. We’ve been given the tools and we’ve been given the right event to raise the money, so that we can be on the start line.”