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January 17th 2014. By Louay Habib.

Volvo Ocean 65: One Design for Ocean Racing

When the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 starts in October, all the boats on the line will look exactly the same.

First held in 1973, the Volvo Ocean Race (previously the Whitbread Round the World Race) has always been revered by sailors as the toughest fully crewed race around the planet. The next edition will feature identical one design yachts for the first time in its history.


The race has nearly always been won by the best designed yacht and in recent years by the team with the biggest budget. For the 2014-15 race, all of the teams will have identical yachts and the outcome is more likely be decided by tactics and boat handling skills rather than financial clout. Credit: Rick Tomlinson.

VO65 galley

VO65 GALLEY: BESPOKE KITCHEN Like every part of the yacht, the galley is custom built and minimalistic to the extreme. Virtually the entire diet for the crew is freeze-dried rations. Using water from a desalination plant the twin Jetboil units produce two litres of piping hot water in minutes and after standing for about two hours…yum yum… the freeze-dried is ready. The galley unit is fully removable for total disinfection between legs of the race and once out of the way, the hydraulic rams for the keel and the single-point lifting gear for the entire boat can be easily accessed.

VO65 head

VO65 HEAD: NO EN-SUITE Made entirely of carbon-fibre the single head is located in the first part of the bow section and is easily removed between legs (of the race!) for disinfecting. A simple garden hose is ideal for washing en route. The head has a holding tank for waste, obligatory on some parts of the route around the world.

VO65 watertight bulkhead

WATERTIGHT BULKHEAD: The VO65 features eight bulkheads with three water-tight compartments, one aft and two forward. The most forward is also a crashbox, designed to keep water out of the rest of the yacht in the event of a major collision with a UFO (Unidentified Floating Object). It is estimated that 10,000 transport containers are lost at sea every year. Note the circular ID tag at the bottom right of the door, these tags are used all over the boat to identify important parts, including the batch in which they were produced and to correctly identify the actual part.

VO65 Stability test

VO65 STABILITY TEST – THE FLIP SIDE: Capsizing thousands of miles from land is probably the worst scenario that an offshore sailor can imagine. Crew trapped below on the VO65 can escape through the aft hatch and the liferafts are in a position to be deployed even in a capzise. Note the fixing designed to hold emergency rudders on the transom, should the main rudders fail. (Photo taken during stability test). Credit: Rick Tomlinson.

VO65 helm station

DASHBOARD CLOSE UP: The large red button lower right is to alert a Man Over Board (MOB). When pressed, the GPS automatically marks a waypoint at the current location. The coloured squares display the cant of the keel from side to side. The grey display can be used to repeat any boat telemetry from the on board computer. Forward in the cuddy, other repeaters are in easy view of the helmsman and trimmers. When all else fails, the compass needs no electrical power. Note the driver’s tether point at the centre of the wheel. Credit: Rick Tomlinson.

VO65 team SCA

GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: Team SCA will be the 5th all-female team to compete in the race and the first one since Amer Sports Too in 2001-02. For the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, all-female teams will race with 11 sailors, compared to eight in all-male teams, in an attempt by the organisers to encourage more female involvement. Only one female (Adrienne Cahalan aboard Brasil 1) has competed in the race since 2001, and that was for just the first leg. Team SCA has sound financial backing and the crew has been undergoing a rigorous selection and training programme since October 2012. Few would argue that Team SCA has a real chance of winning a race dominated by the men for 40 years. Credit: Rick Tomlinson.

VO65 cuddy, pit and twin companionways

VO65 COCKPIT – TWO DOOR COUPE:  The VO65 has done away with the complex coach roof structure and replaced it with an Open 60 style cuddy. The central halyard and reefing pit layout is a bonus in rough seas and two companion ways allow access to the high side of the boat. Note the ‘up-and-over’ hatchway closers, which drop leaf down to form a water-tight hatch cover. Credit Rick Tomlinson.

VO65 pipe cots

VO65 BERTHS – NO REST FOR THE WICKED: Pipe cots either side of the nav-table allow up to six crew off-watch to sleep on the high-side. Sleep is a luxury in the race and the noise from the winches and rush of water past the hull is a constant deterrent to catching some shut-eye. The nav-table in the foreground has an identical seating arrangement port and starboard. A central display console can be swivelled around to keep the navigator’s weight up to weather. The aft seat is for the media crew member with a similar set up. Note the all-carbon fan in the top right corner: the heat below can be unbearable in the tropics. Note also: for the freezing cold in the ice fields of the Southern Ocean, no heating is installed at present.

VO65 Team SCA

THE NEXT CHAPTER:  The VO65 is not a ground-breaking design but it is designed not to break! The carbon fibre hull and deck come from a computer-cut female mould producing a yacht with incredible precision, the workmanship is second to none. I could not see any secondary bonding or filler used to cover any defects whatsoever. Credit: Rick Tomlinson.

Yes, the VO65 is not going to be as quick as the Volvo 70 but it will be a lot safer for the crew and the speed and power of the yacht will still be utterly terrifying. Racing in identical yachts will really level the playing field, the intensity of the Volvo Ocean Race is about to go up a notch. Seven or eight teams are expected to start the race in Alicante 4 October 2014.

Watch Team SCA VO65 helicopter footage.

Louay Habib
Louay Habib is a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in the UK who writes for some of the most prestigious magazines and clubs all over the world, including the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Volvo Ocean Race.