The Volvo Ocean Race is known to be the most demanding sailing event in the world. Held every three years, it is an 11-leg round-the-world yacht race that covers more than 80,000 kilometres. The seven teams taking part in the current edition left Spain on 22 October, and are expected to cross the finishing line in The Hague, the Netherlands, next June. By any measurable means, the route can be described as challenging and, depending on the weather, even tortuous. Look, for example, at this year’s seventh leg from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajaí, Brazil, which entails sailing more than 14,000 kilometres in the treacherous Southern Ocean and around the infamous Cape Horn.
In terms of sailing design, the Volvo Ocean Race is of significant interest. It is a one-design race, with all teams required to use the identical 22.14 metres (overall length) Volvo Ocean 65 monohull racing yacht. Because of this, participating teams do all they can to constantly improve every aspect of performance, both in the pre-race preparations and during the race itself.
As well as having the global paint and coatings company as its principal sponsor, Team AkzoNobel, one of the two Dutch teams in the race, is working with a consortium of companies, governments and research institutions to reach higher levels of performance. One notable member of this consortium is C-Job Naval Architects. One of the company’s founding partners and current commercial director Job Volwater has taken on the additional role of Sailing Team Director for team AkzoNobel. He has described this position as a coordination point between the various divisions of expertise within the team. “C-Job is a proud partner to skipper Simeon Tienpont and team AkzoNobel,” he says. “This is a very special race; it is the Formula One of sailing. Every sailor dreams of winning the Volvo Ocean Race.”
The involvement from the commercial side of the Dutch maritime sector continues with Damen Shipyards Group. Damen, in cooperation with its extensive supplier network, is providing team AkzoNobel with two onshore workshop containers that will serve as mobile technical operations areas for the team’s supporting shore crews.
Damen project manager Olivier Stuip explains the company’s motivations behind the sponsorship: “There are a lot of parallels between this sailing race and our own business model. In many aspects, including focus on performance, innovation and safety, we share very similar principles. Especially regarding the subject of service, these containers will allow the team to give the greatest attention to repair and maintenance as the race progresses. This is a very important aspect of maintaining performance, and this is why we decided to support to team.”
To guarantee that team AkzoNobel always have a workshop container available during the race ‘pit-stops’, Damen has supplied two workshop containers. “Everything has been planned to ensure that there is the correct equipment, enough equipment, and redundancy of equipment. What’s more, the Volvo Ocean Race is a round-the-world race that requires worldwide support. This support package is an opportunity for us to apply our understanding of global service to support team AkzoNobel with the experience we have gained over the years.”
In addition to companies and government departments, the consortium also comprises two Dutch research institutes: Deltares and MARIN (Maritime Research Institute Netherlands). Broadly speaking, team AkzoNobel is utilising Deltares’ knowledge of global tidal and current circulation and MARIN’s knowledge on sail assisted propulsion in waves to achieve maximum performance from their Volvo Ocean 65 yacht.
“The idea is to use our knowledge of surface currents to help the team make better informed decisions regarding their navigation strategy,” explains João de Lima Rego, environmental hydrodynamics expert at Deltares. “And in return, we will use their current measurement data and operational feedback to improve the quality of our modelling software.” Because the Volvo Ocean Race also consists of North Sea legs, Deltares has been using two different applications of its Delft3D FM software to support team AkzoNobel. These are the so-called Global Tide and Surge Model and 3D Dutch Continental Shelf Model.
“Of course their situation is rather exceptional – a team of sailors in a very competitive race trying to sail as fast as they can around the world. This means that they will need to make clever decisions in difficult situations, but this is also a characteristic situation in the shipping industry.” In this way, Deltares can use the team’s feedback to develop new products. “Our open source software is typically used for other purposes – in the coastal safety, shipping industry or dredging sector, for example.”
This cooperation between sailing team and research institute does not stop at evaluation and improvement however, as he goes on to say: “The format and delivery method is also very important for real-time decision making, therefore we have to make this software tool as intuitive and portable as possible.”
De Lima Rego notes that Deltares has been working with the team since June 2017, and since then has already received a lot of data and feedback. “Our aim is to apply these results to improving coastal safety, minimising impacts by global contractors and optimising operations within the shipping industry. Our contribution to the low emissions shipping initiative, for instance, will be accomplished when a cargo ship or a tanker uses knowledge of surface currents to use less diesel and reduce emissions.”
MARIN’s participation in the consortium is part of its ongoing research programme investigating sail-assisted propulsion in the commercial shipping industry. “This includes both numerical simulations, model testing in our seakeeping basin, and full-scale measurements,” informs Erik-Jan de Ridder, senior project manager in MARIN’s renewable energy team.
In highlighting the challenges of modelling a wind-propelled vessel, De Ridder, himself a competition-level sailor, points to the substantial amount of variables involved. “The Volvo Ocean 65 yacht is like a Swiss army knife in that the keel and dagger boards are all movable. The canting keel can be positioned in a 40 degree canting angle, and dagger boards are also fully retractable,” he says. “There are also various water ballast tanks in the vessel, and on top of all that, the storage of the sails has an influence on performance.”
The MARIN team’s research started off with complex CFD simulations in still water situations. This was then followed up by looking at operational conditions in wave conditions in their 170x40x5 metres testing basin. “We used a 1:6 model in simulated wave conditions, and with this data we could fine-tune our numerical models, extrapolating to thousands of different conditions,” adds De Ridder. “And, to measure the wind forces acting on the sails, we used a winch system that simulates these forces as realistically as possible. Using these winches, we can change the dynamics of the wind conditions.” Interestingly, MARIN uses the same winch system to investigate the wind forces acting on floating offshore wind turbines.
“Of course the Volvo Ocean Race is on the extreme side, but our work with the AkzoNobel team is a good way to verify our existing calculation tools and continue our research into sail-assisted propulsion for the commercial shipping sector. This has been a very worthwhile cooperation which has generated a lot of data in a relatively short period of time. These data can then be applied to less extreme conditions – for example, the operational performance of commercial sail-assisted ships,” concludes De Ridder.