Kite surfing equipment on Volvo Ocean 65

Published on November 18th, 2014

James Dadd has been the project manager for the Volvo Ocean 65, insuring the boats remain strictly one design for the Volvo Ocean Race. In this excerpt from a column in Seahorse magazine, James describes one of the sail solutions for the 2014-15 edition…

One area that I hope will be a good development moving into the future for all is the introduction of what we call ‘Rescue kites’ for the Volvo Ocean 65 fleet. In practical terms the standard trysail is never used by these types of boat unless as part of a jury rig arrangement. Add to this the difficulties of fully dropping a square-headed mainsail, and the reality of the teams ever using a trysail are so small that we decided to have a rethink. Also, the Volvo Ocean 65s have deck-stepped rigs. So if a rig drops then the most likely scenario is that there will not be a stump left to fly the trysail from in the first place.

The first issue is whether these boats need a trysail to use in extreme conditions. To get the crew on the coachroof wrestling a square-headed mainsail off the mast and getting a trysail hoisted in the conditions in which this is needed was not something we wanted to require. As such all of the VO65 mainsails have an effective fourth reef that will mean that they can make this transition from race to survival mode without exposing the crew more than necessary.

Then the problem of a jury rig. To resolve this we have made sure that the boom can be plugged into the mast step. But there is always a possibility that the boom has either gone over the side with the rig, or that the mast step itself is badly damaged.

So we wanted something that could actually be used in such a situation. Looking back at the last race we had too many masts tumble, but it gave us some real scenarios to consider. Along with the insurance experts it was agreed that the situation that Puma found themselves in during the first leg – dismasted and stranded on a remote island – was one that we should be able to resolve. Enter the rescue kite.

This is basically a development of current kite surfing equipment, only on a somewhat larger scale. We have managed to get some testing and training during the lead up to the current race that has proved the process. And now, along with the teams’ insurance provider and with considerable efforts from John Quigley of the Volvo Ocean Race, each team has now been provided with a kite, lines and control system that will allow them to hopefully get themselves home at a reasonable pace if we see a repeat of the Puma scenario. This would hopefully reduce costs considerably as well as get the crew and boat to port safely without outside assistance… and keep them in the race without needing to get a lift from a container ship.

Let’s hope it is not needed. But if it is then we may have a new development that could be of use to the whole sport of offshore racing and for distance cruisers alike at around the same cost as a trysail, but without the complexities of all the additional equipment that a trysail needs to be effective.

Will the kites be a good development? I hope that I don’t find out the answer to that during the forthcoming opening leg. But I am extremely glad that we have had the opportunity to learn and do some real testing rather than just talk about it.

At some stage I am sure a kite will be tested in anger, whether that is in the next nine months or the next nine years. Only then will we see whether we have made a step forwards. But at least we will know.

NOTE: This column was re-published with permission from Seahorse magazine. Information about Seahorse can be found HERE.

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