Volvo Ocean 65: The Need For Speed

By Rich Armstrong

Volvo Ocean 65s are designed and built to handle wild rides through massive ocean swells and breaking waves while rocketing at 32 knots.

Volvo Ocean 65 yacht design illustrationThe Volvo Ocean 65 can reach speeds approaching 45 mph. Illustration: Volvo Ocean Race

Unlike the early days of ocean racing in the Whitbread Round-The-World Race, when the fleets consisted of a mixed bag of slightly modified off-the-shelf sailboats, Volvo crews sail identical one-design, foil-assisted monohull yachts custom made for going fast.

The Volvo Ocean 65, designed by Farr Yacht in the U.S., were built by a consortium of boatyards with comfort a distant afterthought to lightweight, durability, and speed.

The 65-foot boats have an 18-foot beam, but weigh only 27,500 pounds due to their carbon fiber, honeycomb construction. For perspective that’s about one-third the weight of a Jeanneau 64 fast cruising sailboat.

They are optimized for performance and can sail at a blazing 38 knots per hour. During the race, the AkzoNobel team beat a world-record for 24-hour sailing — 601 nautical miles across the Northern Sea, averaging 25 knots per hour.

The Volvo Ocean 65 has two aft water ballast tanks and one forward water ballast tank that, coupled with the canting keel that swing side to side, provide righting force when heeled over.

The carbon-fiber mast stands 98 feet above deck, and each boat carries on board eight sails and one storm jib. Each team can use a total of 16 sails throughout the race. The upwind sail area is 5,000 square feet; downwind nearly 5,800 square feet.

While the boats are prohibited from using engines in racing, they all have a Volvo Penta D2-75 with S-drive, which is an essential part of life on board. The diesel power on board produces electricity for the communications equipment, computers, lights and heating, as well as a potentially life-saving back up in emergency situations.

The entire fleet is equipped with the most sophisticated communications equipment on the market, so organizers can track and analyze the fleet's position and sailing conditions throughout the offshore legs from Race Control in the Alicante, Spain, headquarters, as well as communicate instantly with the crew through both video and audio channels.

Cobham SATCOM supplied the satellite communications hardware on board, while Inmarsat’s fleet of satellites deliver the communications technology and bandwidth. Together, they enable an "always-on" connection for teams allowing applications such as Internet access, emails, calls, weather reporting and telemedicine.

The presence of five fixed HD cameras and two onboard microphones on board means that every moment is captured. A crash cam on the stern records the action on deck 24/7, keeping four minutes either side of an incident to ensure that nothing is missed.

Additionally, the Onboard Reporter has access to slow-mo, night vision, POV and wide lens cameras, while drone and 360-degree cameras were in regular use. The onboard media station features a video editing suite, a camera and a mic controller. Each piece of hardware can be operated remotely from Race HQ if necessary.

Safety is at the heart of every design and build decision in the Volvo Ocean 65 yachts. Each boat is extensively equipped to cover nearly every possible emergency with the satellite communications, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons or EPIRBs, Personal Location Beacons or PLBs, Search and Rescue Transponders (SARTs), and handheld VHF radios along with aviation frequency emergency radios.

There is also a long list of other safety equipment that includes life rafts, Jon Buoys for man overboard recovery, extensive medical equipment, flares, a man overboard alerting and positioning system and, of course, lifejackets and harnesses.

Additionally, B&G delivers complete navigation and instrument systems, technology integration solutions and on-site support to the race organization and competing teams. 

— Published: October/November 2018

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