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The anatomy of a 12-tonne ocean racer

The big girls in action (Photo) David Ramos/Volvo Ocean Race.
Roar Guru
10th October, 2014
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This Saturday the seven teams competing in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race leave Alicante on the first leg of their 38000-nautical mile round-the-world odyssey. First stop, Cape Town.

Before we look at what the crew will go through, let’s have a look at the yachts themselves.

Firstly, remember that for the first time all yachts are identical, whereas in previous editions the race organising committee has issued the parameters for the design, and each team has designed their yacht to fit within those parameters.

The result of which was some yachts were fast, some slow. This time as all yachts are identical, the crew and weather will be the difference.

The Volvo 65 is just over 20 metres long with the hull constructed from hi-tech carbon fibre. They weigh around 12.5 tonnes unladen, the keel bulb alone weighing 5241 kilograms or the equivalent of three rhinos. It is this weight in the keel that keeps the yacht upright in even the most challenging of conditions.

This is no ordinary keel though, it is a canting or moveable keel. The keel can be shifted hydraulically up to 40 degrees to windward from the vertical, allowing the mast, which reaches a little over 30 metres above the deck, to carry a maximum of 578 square metres of sail. Retractable daggerboards are also used to counteract the drag of the sails and the lift created by the canting keel.

The crews themselves will be put through the ringer over the approximately three weeks that this first leg is scheduled to take. Their daily routine once the race settles down will be two cycles of four hours on watch, four hours on standby, four hours sleeping, repeated day after day. Even when they are on their sleeping period, they can be woken to assist the rest of the crew as needed, such as during a major sail change or reefing of the mainsail. This is no event for those who like their eight hours beauty sleep each night.

Each yacht has a desalination unit, which can produce about 50 litres of freshwater each day, however none is used for washing, it is for drinking only. There are no showers unless it rains, and only one change of clothes per person, so don’t get too close to the crews when they first arrive in port.

These men and women are highly trained athletes so nutrition is very important to them during the race. Each sailor will need approximately 5000 calories per day, the equivalent of about 12 steaks. Unfortunately cooking facilities are extremely limited, so there won’t be any steaks, it will be mainly freeze dried meals, muesli bars and the like. Despite the high calorific intake, each person can expect to lose about 11 kilograms in weight over the first leg. Weight watchers has nothing on this program.

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Many casual viewers see sailing as an elitist sport, but as these crews will show over the next nine months, there is nothing elitist about this event. It is physically and mentally challenging and their vessels will take a pounding from the elements. Their reward? The glory of winning, there are no multi-million dollar pay packets for these men and women.