The top four IMOCA60s are from Farr Yacht Design. Here Farr's Senior Naval Architect Britton Ward gives a view on their IMOCA 60s and life with two big ocean races going on
Since the Volvo Ocean Race started in October the daily routine in the Farr Yacht Design office changed with everyone pouring over 3 hourly scheds to check the progress of the Volvo Ocean Race. Even the slightest slow down or unexpected maneuver has our team looking at news feeds and watching for text messages and emails while hoping it is just a cloud or an obstruction or a tactical decision and not some major damage or crew injury. Most the time these blips have been minor issues with the exception of the Team Vestas Wind grounding, which within hours was about as serious as it gets.
Then the daily routine and productivity level took another hit on December 31st with the start of the double-handed Barcelona World Race. Four of the eight boats in the fleet were designed by our team in 2006 – 2007. With the combined fleets, we have 10 of our boats at sea sailing at breakneck speed in the worst conditions imaginable. Two sets of tracker updates to monitor for the smallest sign of problems and a lot of nights hoping not to receive that late night phone call or email about a serious problem.
In reflecting on how much time we spend with our fingers crossed as each sched comes up and watching the dramatic video feeds coming off the boats, it underlines how important structural design is, how large the dynamic and fatigue loading these boats face is, and how remarkable it is that so many boats complete these races intact.
As designers it is often easy to be removed from the reality of the ocean. We spend hours behind monitors and computers trying to find that percentage improvement in performance – a new keel fin, a more optimized water ballast arrangement, strakes or trim tabs or new daggerboards to improve performance on a particular point of sail. In the IMOCA class, perhaps more than any other, the pressure is always on reduce the displacement of the boat. Our naval architects are consistently pressing the structural engineers and builders to achieve a boat that is a light as possible, but still strong enough to survive. Finding the right balance is what defines a successful design and is something we take very seriously in all our projects.
Since 2006, when these boats were designed, the IMOCA rule space has been significantly altered and our understanding of the design features required to produce boats that can sustain high average speeds has evolved dramatically. Over their histories and various owners we have worked with many of the teams on aspects of the boats to improve reliability and performance based on each team’s budget constraints. Some of these are minor – additional reinforcements and repair specifications for minor damage. Others are more significant changes: A number of the boats have new rigs, some have simplified onboard systems and accommodation to save weight while others have had water ballast layouts and capacities altered to better reflect usage profiles. Importantly, all of these boats have received new keels in recent years both in an effort to improve performance and reflecting the potential for keel fatigue damage after such long life cycles.
Cheminees-Poujoulat [the 2008 Vendee Globe Winning Foncia] has had the most aggressive modifications firstly in daggerboard orientation and keel geometry and most recently with a full bow replacement to add buoyancy and dynamic lift forward to improve trim at speed. Of our four IMOCA 60’s competing in the BWR a number of the boats are attempting their fourth circumnavigation. A quick estimate indicates Cheminees-Poujoulat, Neutrogena, GAES Centros and We Are Water have each sailed well over 200,000 nm since they were launched.
Each of these boats are systems of thousands of parts, each has had breakages of varying severity in past attempts that have been repaired and enhanced and so far [knock on wood] these boats seem to be holding up well after 2/3rds of a lap of the planet. While our 2016 concept IMOCA 60 looks significantly different to this generation of boats in many respects, and we think would be significantly faster on many points of sail, there is something to be said for a tried and tested boat that has been refined and enhanced to be as reliable as possible.