Should the next leg be delayed, should the boats be stronger do teams need more time? 24/1/06

What is needed to make the world’s fastest monohulls more durable? That was one of two questions posed at a forum conducted in Melbourne this morning.

With a catalogue of problems experienced by a wide range of boats in the fleet, Volvo Ocean Race organisers took the decision to invite teams, designers and technical staff from both sides of the fence to discuss what, if anything, could be done to improve the reliability of the boats.

But before the hot issue of reliability was dealt with, the organisers took the opportunity to review the safety aspects of the race. Among the suggestions from the teams were requests to make a portable satellite telephone stored in an emergency grab bag mandatory, along with a large capacity water pump and a minimum amount of spare hydraulic fluid was set.

But the real issue was of the boats themselves. Should the rules be changed to allow teams to increase the internal structure without having to take weight out of the keel? Should the stopover be extended and the start of the next leg postponed?

“We discussed a lot about extra structure and how much extra structure was required for each boat,” said Volvo CEO Glenn Bourke.

“The next component of the conversation was whether the rule constrained them from complying with the structural requirements to get the boat around the track. It became quite evident quickly that the rule didn’t preclude them from producing a boat that was robust enough.”

By the sounds of it, an endorsement of the rule?

“What came back loud and clear to us is, do not change,” he continued summarising the views of the group.

“‘What we have here is totally acceptable to all of us, any other proposition that you put forward is less equitable for all teams. We came into this knowing the rules, knowing what we had to do and please don’t change’, was the message I was getting.”

Nevertheless, one concession has been made in the interests of giving boats the best possible chance of being ready in time. All boats will be re-weighed before the start of the next leg, but teams will be able to declare their weights before the in port racing and the weighing proper will take place afterwards.

The confirmation of both support for the rule and the news that the Australian boat was to continue in the race was clearly a big relief to Bourke and his team.

“I’m as pleased as can be,” he said.

“I do think the boats will become more robust and I do think you’ll see more piles of lead outside in the boat park!