Date — 5 June, 2012
The Volvo 70 yacht is one of the most complex and demanding structures ever presented to any design team. Its core values have key contrasts: as a high performance racing yacht it must be fast, meaning the overall hull shape and weight are extremely critical, but with its intended racetrack circling the earth, the Volvo 70 must also be strong enough to encounter anything that the world’s oceans can send – from twenty meter swells in the freezing Southern Ocean, accompanied by winds that roar unimpeded around the bottom of the planet – to navigating glassy conditions in equatorial baking heat. The task of designing a yacht for one set of conditions is relatively straightforward. But the challenge of designing a racing yacht for every possible sea state is simply enormous.
There are multiple factors involved in this complex engineering equation. It is not just a hull; it is a home. Eleven of the worlds finest sailors must live, work, sleep and eat on board during the nine-month race, and though comfort is minimal, the link between fatigue and failure is well documented – and so, even though the bunks are designed to be built out of ultra-light carbon fibre and weigh just ounces, they must provide the opportunity for rest and a brief recharge for a soaking wet sailor, exhausted after multiple sail-changes on the foredeck, deep in the Roaring Forties in the ice cold darkness of pre-dawn.
Meet Azzam, the IWC Volvo Ocean Race’s team ticket to victory. Our boat, designed by USA’s Farr Yacht Design and built by Persico S.p.A in Italy, is one of the most sophisticated boats ever constructed
For the Abu Dhabi Volvo 70 Azzam, the design challenge was given to Farr Yacht Design – internationally renowned as the most successful offshore design team in history. Farr began with a close look at the Volvo 70 Race Rule for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, clarifying the absolutes the design had to comply with – yacht dimensions, safety regulations, hull thickness, bunk sizes, specific minimum weights of the keel, mast, hull and other components – then the designers looked at the 2011/2012 Volvo Ocean Race course, full of contradictions and contrasts. Starting in Europe, the yachts race down the gruelling north and south Atlantic into Cape Town, then turn north to Abu Dhabi, encountering light and variable winds with extremely high temperatures. Sanya in southern China is the third port in the race, then south again into Auckland before dipping into the punishing Southern Ocean and the infamous Cape Horn, before turning north to Itajai in Brazil, then on to Miami, before crossing the north Atlantic to return to Europe; over thirty nine thousand miles, four equatorial crossings and exposure to the most brutal sea conditions known to man.
The design stage is where art meets science. The Farr Yacht Design team called on its wealth of historical data recorded from previous round the world races, then ran multiple course and weather simulations to check how a particular hull shape would perform on all the race legs, including long stretches of the Indian Ocean, the swirling tides in the Malacca strait, the punishing north Atlantic, or heading south towards Cape Horn, deep below the roaring forties, furious fifties and screaming sixties.
One of the main tools Farr Yacht Design used to predict the hydrodynamic performance of hull, keel, daggerboard and rudder shapes is CFD: Computational Fluid Dynamics. They used elaborate software on their own supercomputers to analyse aero and hydro development, whilst also running sophisticated finite element analysis tools on the boat’s structure to analyse volume distribution, stability and drag in both flat and wave conditions – the ultimate goal to produce a hull that blended high speed downwind handling and performance, without sacrificing the ability to perform well upwind and in light airs.
Having confirmed the design component of the Volvo 70 Azzam, the next phase was the intensely critical one of construction, and the Persico boatyard in Italy emerged as the main contender to be trusted with this massive – yet meticulous project. The human and technical components of the Italian boat builder the key, with a world class team providing the technical workmanship and engineering excellence with their in-house multiple axis CNC milling machines, used in the relentless search to guarantee accuracy without compromise.
A resurgent Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – the Abu Dhabi-backed entry in the nine-month Volvo Ocean Race – has powered to the 3,590 nautical mile trans-Atlantic Leg 7 lead, after a number of deft tactical decisions saw the team outmanoeuvre the five-strong chasing pack.
Meet Ian Walker, Skipper: Ian Walker, a two time Olympic silver champion, is one of Britain’s foremost sailors and sailing managers, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s skipper
Construction of the hull took place in a female mould, with external components such as propulsion units, rudder heads, daggerboard bearings and keel dillets milled into the mould, all focused towards combining the accuracy of component placement – with the relentless pursuit of the maximum weight saved. With this extremely high level of finish straight out of the female mould, sealing the yachts hull surface took only two coats of epoxy urethane, giving a finishing weight of 120 grams a square meter – less than 20 kg for the entire 150 square meter hull shell.
The close partnership between designer and builder means that more innovative ideas are generated, giving the race crew the edge. The designer’s history and experience is critical in the understanding of the lightweight yet immensely strong exotic composites involved in the construction of the Volvo 70 race yachts. A standout example on Azzam is of their innovative water shedding foredeck design, incorporating the benefits of Kevlar honeycomb over standard commonly used Nomex. As Kevlar is difficult to bend after forming, the foredeck on Azzam is faceted, making the structure the lightest, strongest and most efficient in the fleet.
For the design team over 26,000 combined man-hours of meticulous and precise research and development was involved in planning, engineering and supporting Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam project. For the builders, what they have created is a precise blend of functionality, extremely high-performance engineering, craftsmanship and synergy of exotic materials to produce a yacht capable of winning the toughest of ocean races.
As always, it is a balance, blending lightness with strength, speed with safety, elegance with endurance. The Volvo 70 is a marvel of engineering and a puzzle played out on the toughest oceans of the world.