I was thrilled to read this week that the Volvo Ocean Race is considering changing from monohulls to multihulls for the 2020/21 race. They will make an official announcement at a big press event in Gothenburg, Sweden on May 18. The announcement, which they bill as one of the most radical shake-up’s in the events history, will also include changes to the course.
I have been a big advocate for multihulls for a very long time and while I can easily see both sides of the argument, I am fervently hoping that they choose multihulls; here’s why. The Volvo Ocean Race has long billed itself as the preeminent fully crewed offshore ocean race and they have to use the words “fully crewed” to distinguish themselves from the Vendée Globe which is, by most measures, the Top Ocean Race: period. There is more innovation, more excitement and more than three times the number of competitors in the Vendée. I appreciate and understand that the VOR has had to reel in costs by making the boats smaller and going for a One Design option, but I think that all has been at the expense of the event itself. Here is just one example. The longest 24-hour run in the last VOR was around 570 miles – I am not sure exactly but it doesn’t matter. In the recent Vendée Globe Alex Thomson, after 10 weeks alone at sea, sailed 536 miles – in a smaller boat. I’m sorry the VOR 65’s are just not that cool when compared to the IMOCA 60’s and the image of the event being the Biggest, Best and the Toughest ocean race is no longer true.
A change to multihulls would be a game changer for the Volvo Ocean Race. You can sail a multihull with fewer people meaning teams can save on crew wages which these days can really add up. When I did my first Whitbread back in the early 80’s we got $1000 per leg and there were four legs. That was $4K for a years work. Salaries are not up there with most other professional sports but they are steadily climbing. So that’s one place to save some money. I am told that multihulls are cheaper to build than monohulls. For one you don’t need all the complicated and expensive canting keel mechanism. I am presuming that the VOR will do as they have done in the past and front the bill for building the fleet and if you can save on each boat, you can end up saving a bundle. They are going with a new boat anyway so why not make the change?
Multihulls are significantly faster than monohulls which means that they can get around the course in a whole lot less time, a big savings for each team. The real reason for going with multihulls is because they are sexy and fast and fun to watch. Any boat that is not dragging all that lead around is fun to sail and to watch. Changing to multihulls, and hopefully going for a boat that is at least 70-feet in length, would allow the VOR to regain their Biggest and Best Ocean Race status.
In an interview with VOR Chairman Mark Turner on the race website he was very cagey about which way they were leaning, but I have known Mark for a number of years and if I were a betting man I bet he/they decide to shake things up and go the multihull route. Mark is a risk taker and an innovator. He was the founder of the highly successful Extreme Sailing Series and that event is raced in catamarans; foiling catamarans no less.
One of the arguments against racing around the world with a multihull is because there is always the risk of capsizing. I think Tomas Coville, the french sailors who circumnavigated the world alone on a 100-foot trimaran, put that to rest. If one man sailing alone can avoid capsizing then I am sure a fully crewed boat can do the same.
So that’s my ten cents worth. Frankly I don’t think that they have any other option. If they go with a new design and it’s a monohull then they will have to go bigger than 65 feet. Anything smaller would be a joke, but going bigger would cost more. There are not many places to go in monohull design so they would end up with boats that look like the current design unless they open up the boats to full-on out-of-the-water foiling. Nope, the VOR press release said that the upcoming announcement would be about a “radical shake-up for the event.” Going with the same old, same old is no radical shake-up in my opinion. – Brian hancock.