Saturday, 23 October 2010

VOR: VO70 Designs and Designers, delving into the past

PUMA. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Andi Robertson

When the Volvo Open 70 class rule was introduced for the 2005-6 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, it effectively opened the door for a new generation of designers to start with an entirely blank sheet of paper, to apply their thinking to what would get round the planet fastest, safest and in one piece.

History records that this 2005-6 edition of the race was a baptism of fire for many of the new, relatively unproven designs, especially pushing the newly introduced canting keel systems and their supporting structures. At this time, the engineering and its application to the new class was still pretty new.

This epic first race in VO70s really brought the name of Juan Kouyoumdjian to global prominence.

PUMA. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

First-time sponsor ABN AMRO adopted a strategy similar to the blueprint previously drawn by past winners, EF Language and illbruck: funding in place early, selecting key sailors early, building two boats and developing from one to the other, and maximising training and development time; however, their choice of the Argentinian designer displayed something a leap of faith by Roy Heiner, who got the project off the ground for the Dutch bank.

With no signature high-profile global success to his name, Juan K received strong support from Heiner during the pitch for the ABN AMRO project.

"Roy knew of me from Star boat sailing and that kind of thing - we knew each other, but were not friends," he recalled, "but he was convinced all along that we could do a good job. He was especially impressed with the tools and the set up of the office that we had then. He never hesitated and asked us very early on."

The bank also did not hesitate. "They trusted Roy and asked us to go in and do a presentation of how we were going to provide this winning boat. I presented my philosophies and they said, ‘let's go'."

As the race got underway it became increasingly apparent that ABN AMRO 1 - ‘Black Betty' - was a real weapon in the hands of skipper Mike Sanderson and crew. ABN AMRO 1 categorically dominated the race, winning six of nine legs, while ABN AMRO 2 set the world 24-hour record of the time and Juan K's concepts set the template which has become the benchmark for the VO70 - very wide, powerful stern sections, a hard chine aft, twin rudders.

Throughout the race, the designer was very clear and up front on the performance profile of the two boats, their relative advantages and disadvantages. Kouyoumdjian has invested heavily in developing his own CFD programming since he set out, and he has endeavoured to retain that advantage ever since.

"Back then, the world of yacht design was very tank testing related and experimental," he explained. "Since 2001-2002 really we took it full-on from a CFD point of view, developing seven core tools."

Ericsson 4. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

The design house invested heavily in the development of those tools, which allowed them to take an accurate look at many different options including the hydro and the aero packages.

"This was a real transition time, going from the Whitbread/Volvo Open 60 to the Volvo Oopen 70," he said. "It was in effect a generation change - Marcelino Botin was doing well at this time too - and it was very exciting to have this opportunity, a project I took to with all my heart."

Botin Carkeek, the Santander-based firm of Marcelino Botin and Shaun Carkeek, came into the last Volvo Ocean Race as PUMA designers on the strength of an acclaimed track record. Botin worked in the 33rd America's Cup as lead hull designer with Emirates Team New Zealand, while their IMS designs had won at least six of Spain's key Copa del Rey regattas outright and many IMS world championships.

Shaun Carkeek maintains that in an event as complex as the Volvo Ocean Race, prior experience in the race is a vital element of success. "To win as a designer from a start-up situation seems very unlikely," he said.

"We put together a proposal for PUMA which drew on our very extensive experience and success at grand prix and IMS level and in the TP52 class," he explained, "and PUMA bought into our commitments to delivering a winning design in six months."

Telefonica Blue. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

"That was largely based on the very strong methodology, processes and skills that we had built up. Having no previous data or practical experience of the race was a disadvantage, but what we were very strong on was delivering an optimal package. And we came very, very close to delivering."

"But without a doubt it is huge, massive to have previous experience and data to fine tune everything, from the naval architecture, CFD, VPP, weight info, and how that all translates makes a huge difference."

The next race will once again pitch three key design teams against each other: Juan Yacht Design, which is unbeaten in the class, Botin Carkeek and Farr Yacht Design. Carkeek is unfazed by the competition.

"We're not too concerned about other design offices and tend to focus on our game plan," he asserted. "The most important factor for us is a client's trust, belief, shared vision and work ethic."

"A top design office can handle two, maybe three teams without compromising the quality and support. Although we initially prepared for multiple teams we're feeling good with one and believe it's advantageous in some respects."
Juan K feels they have a clear advantage in their winning track record, both from their database from the racecourse and from two-boat testing programmes of two successive well-funded and successful Volvo Ocean Race campaigns.

Telefonica Blue. Joakim Rechnitzer/

"We have just finished designing our sixth generation of boat," he revealed. "After four or five, you feel a lot more comfortable."

"There is data rolling forwards, of course, and we are lucky that both the previous programmes were nice, well-funded programmes, particularly Ericsson. You learn a lot from that, like why some specific sails work or not, and the level of resolution from two-boat testing is much higher."

Just as the sailing teams do on the water, Juan K thrives on the competition between the designers and would love to see more design teams in the race.

"I think the rule does now favour designers who have the experience, benefiting us," he said. "I would like to see it giving a lot more chances to younger designers. I pushed really hard for Guillaume Verdier to get into it. He showed interest and I promoted him to teams. It would be great to see more designers."

"We take yacht design and compete prior to the race as well as during it. It's part of the high tech evolution. The more we are all out there competing, the better it is, and the better the winning feels!"

Volvo Ocean Race