Tuesday, May 23, 2006

After the Storm

Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race has finished. But not all of the crew, and not all of the boats have made it safe ashore. It has been a long way and a long time since the first in-port race, back on 5th November last year.

And as the spray settles the questions get louder, asking why and how it happened, and in many cases whether it is the VO70 class that has caused all these problems.

It is worth looking at the two problems that cursed the last leg. Firstly the tragedy with Hans Horrevoets, with the events described at the press conference today here.

Lets be honest: off shore yacht racing is dangerous. Over the RORC season last year there were at least 3 cases of man overboard, two during night time. In all cases the crew member was recovered without serious harm. Yes we should clip on at all times as Paul Cayard says. But we have all taken risks, if only simply being unclipped for an instant when moving positions with a single harness.

When the wind rises from 12 to 25 knots or higher in moments, and when its dark, too dark to see the waves coming (as was the case), then these risks become visible, what ever boat you are sailing in.

In the current climate there is a temptation to look for someone or something to blame for everything. But sometimes it is just an accident. In this case Hans's loss was a accident, and a tragic one.

As to movistar, again we can ask where the problem lay. If it was the VO70 design all the boats would have been falling apart - but it was just the Farr boats that failed. As posted earlier, Farr Yacht Design accepted they are learning about the flows around keel boxes and the pressures involved.

At the same time the movistar team raised concerns about whether their shore crew was up to repairing and fixing the problems that arose so many times. And there's nothing for showing up sloppy fixes like wind speeds of 50-60 knots and wave heights up to 10 metres, as Matt Humphries on Brunel reported in the final storm.

Its worth listening to what the skippers and crew said in the interviews available on the Volvo web site. While mostly sombre in tone, there wasn't any voice blaming VO70. Maybe they are saving that for private, but there were definitely voices supporting the class.

Voices coming even from movistar - such as Chris Nicholson, saying yes he'd sail again on a VO70 "absolutely yes for sure". What was interesting is that he was most emphatic when discussing sailing on ABN2, which he described as a very different sail. He'd be back "in a heatbeat". It was he concluded "a good rule": they just needed more time.

So will the VO70 continue? There are definitely sailors who'd sail them, especially those that like going fast, that enjoy the adreneline rush of being on a 70 foot yacht going 35 knots, sometimes fully airbourne.

The question remains will the sponsors support it? Is the exposure positive, and does it represent value? That is a harder question, and again it is only with time that we will know.

Today all we know is the fleet is in morning for the sailor cut down by the cruel seas.

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