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VOR: Did this morning's big announcement live up to the hype?

THERE WAS A MUCH-HYPED big announcement this morning about the future of the Volvo Ocean Race. The announcement lived up to the hype, at least I think that it did. The big question – would future races be held in monohulls or multihulls. VOR CEO Mark Turner (GBR) split the issue quite nicely when he stated, “We had a lot of debate about multihull versus monohull – strong arguments in both directions. We decided on three hulls – a monohull plus a catamaran.”

What he means is that the offshore part of the event will still be raced in monohulls, but the increasingly popular inshore races will be mini America’s Cup-style events – stadium racing in foiling catamarans. While I have been vocal about switching to multihulls I think that this announcement is probably on track. Turner left open the possibility for multihulls in the future, and even hinted at them being along the lines of the French Ultime class – massive multihulls that can knock off close to a 1,000 miles in a single day. That’s what I would like to see and I am sure that one day it will happen. If they had announced unimaginative slab-sided 60-foot monohulls, this would be a very different article.

For years I have expressed the strong view that there is nothing cutting-edge about the current VOR boats especially when compared to the IMOCA 60’s. A solo sailor racing an IMOCA 60 has been able to knock off as many miles in a 24-hour period as a fully crewed VOR 65 which I don't think I need to point out is also a larger boat. IMOCA has been the bleeding edge for over two decades, and I am thrilled that Turner and his team apparently have been reading my blog and are taking my points to heart.

The new boat, which will be introduced for the 2019-20 race, essentially will be an IMOCA 60 on steroids. Fast, foiling and sexy as hell. Better yet, as the VOR press release points out, “The boat will have an option built in to the design for the platform to be convertible, relatively quickly and inexpensively, to a short-handed, rules-compliant IMOCA boat able to compete in other major events on the IMOCA circuit such as the solo Vendée Globe and two-up Barcelona World Race.” Now that’s smart thinking. And it's great that they have engaged the talented French designer Guillaume Verdier to draw this new boat. He is an incredibly innovative thinker and I can’t wait to see what he and his team come up with.

None of this should really come as a surprise. Mr. Turner made a name for himself when he managed Ellen MacArthur’s (GBR) Vendée Globe campaign back in 2000-1. He knows what an extraordinary event the Vendée is and how it has captured the imagination of the sailing public, not only because of the exceptional sailors but also because of their amazing boats.

Turner also promoted if not created the idea of stadium-style fast-paced inshore racing in catamarans with his event the Extreme Sailing Series. The ESS recently changed to foiling catamarans and remains one of the most exciting sailing events anywhere. So that’s the news regarding boats but there was a lot more divulged at the announcement.

Another announcement from this morning that I really liked is the move toward Zero Emission races. The technology is already there to use only solar and wind power for the boats, but their vision goes beyond that. From the VOR press release, “The race has three pillars of action on sustainability – to reduce its own footprint, to maximize its impact using its global communications platform, and to leave a positive legacy wherever it goes.” All laudable goals in my opinion.

When you participate in a sport like yacht racing you become one with the elements, or at least you should because that’s what it’s all about. These elements – wind and water – are slowly becoming trashed and it’s time to do something about it. I am glad that the VOR leadership have taken notice, and are taking action.

In the past I have been critical of the modern-day VOR. I feel the right to do so having participated in three races back when it was known as the Whitbread Round the World Race. There is no criticism from me today. These are bold steps that will hopefully reinvigorate the event and attract those all important ingredients: sponsors and teams. Without sponsors you have too few entries, and without entries you have no event. Congratulations to Mark Turner and his team on taking action, and being clear-eyed about the future of our sport.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Hancock, our later SI contributor, is one of TFE's Facebook friends cum renaissance man: sailor, sailmaker, author, blogger, public speaker, loving father. Born and raised in South Africa, Brian now lives in Marblehead, MA. His latest endeavor: SpeedDemon. "I am currently working with my good friend Vlad Murnikov. We have a project called SpeedDream - a quest for the world’s fastest sailboat. It started, like many of these things do, as a sketch on the back of a napkin. Now three years later we have investors, a sponsor and a working prototype. Next step will be a larger offshore prototype and then a 100-foot record setter."

[Opinions are those of the author, and not necessarily shared by the staff, sponsors and advertisers of SAILING ILLUSTRATED. Indeed, we have several Dear Readers who are not amused with today's announcement for various reasons – didn't go far enough (should have gone to offshore multihull for the next event); having different boats for inshore and offshore makes the event far too expensive for the teams; it's now just a carbon copy of the Vendée Globe. We welcome other views pro and con. And join the debate in the VOR section of our SI Forum. –TFE]

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