The severe damage to yachts during this year's Volvo Race, about which we have written repeatedly, has caused some semblance of panic at the regatta headquarters. Just a few days ago one of the leading designers of racing yachts, the enigmatic Juan K., was forced to make a statement, but it only added fuel to the fire, causing a lot of outrage at the designer's arrogance.
Yesterday he had to make a statement (the second in the last three weeks), which was delivered by the regatta manager Knut Frostad. Beginning with a traditional «blah-blah-blah», extending kudos and respect to the new interim port of regatta, he then addressed the heart of the matter, admitting that the situation with the breakdowns in the current race course is intolerable and unacceptable. Moreover, this is the first time such a high level manager has publicly admitted: «VO70s aren't seaworthy enough» (literally: «VO70s aren't seaworthy enough»), which is exactly what we've been talking about all along. The main point he drew attention to in this regard was the lack of mast reliability: in the last race not a single mast was broken, while in the 2005-2006 race only one was broken. It seemed that the problem of spars reliability was solved forever - but it was not .
Unfortunately, there's no answer to this question yet. The reasons of mast breakage are still a mystery - only in one case presumable culprit could be clearly identified: it's a defective fitting on one of the masts.
However, after a careful analysis of the statement it seems obvious that it is precisely these issues that Knut Frostad would prefer not to look into in detail: so far, he has clearly failed to say anything optimistic about the reliability of the yachts. It is therefore more than welcome for the regatta manager to move on to what this statement is all about, the question of what the next regatta will be. Frostad's task is not an easy one: he has to convince current (and future) sponsors that investing in the Volvo Race is profitable and prestigious. At the same time, his challenge is to get more boats on the start line, and that can only be accomplished by cutting costs. The top teams have already gone as high as €25 million - with such costs and constant breakdowns there will be few people willing to risk their money.
The key points he makes are as follows: first of all a significant change in the construction of the yachts. Once again - this time on an official level - the idea of a mono-tip (and this time in 65-foot length) is voiced. (And here the concerns of a number of designers become clear, since if there is a single project for all participants, there will be no chance to make money on individual design). There may also be a significant change in the rules of the 70-foot class in order to reduce design and construction costs - the desired value of the budget of the teams called the figure of 15 million euros. According to Frostad, specific proposals for the next regatta will be announced in the next four to five months. Secondly, the format of the race will be obviously revised in order to reduce costs: it is recognized that the large number of intermediate stops will result in higher expenses for the work of the coastal teams. So, we will almost certainly face a reduction in the number of stages and a move of some intermediate finishes to Europe to reduce logistics costs: it is stated practically directly.
Some speculation about a possible route for a future regatta from Alicante seem fantastic, from Spain to Tel Aviv, then by the Red Sea to Kuwait (ahem, what would the Arabs say about a visit to Israel?), then on to South East Asia (China is no longer an option), then on to Hawaii and San Francisco. From there the yachts will cross the Atlantic via Panama Canal and after visiting Caribbean and Bermuda will return to Europe. The route, of course, is simply unbelievable - but in the absence of any «roaring forties» and «furious fifties» (as well as all three Great Capes) yachts reliability will be practically no threat.
Frankly, I don't recall a time when such a significant change in one form or another has been announced months before the finish of the current race. Perhaps the speculation that there is panic at regatta headquartersis much closer to the truth than we think.
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