Firm has designs on '05 Volvo Ocean Race


September 21, 2005|By Annie Linskey

When the Volvo Ocean Race comes to Annapolis in the spring, G. Russell Bowler will have a particular reason to be thrilled to see the boats sail up the bay.

His firm, Farr Yacht Design, dreamed up the designs for four of the seven boats competing, including the only American boat - the Disney-sponsored Pirates of the Caribbean.

This year's boats will be different than those in previous Volvo Ocean Races. New design parameters announced in September 2003 allow the boats to be longer - 70 feet rather than 60 feet, and allow an unlimited number of appendages (advanced-sail-design speak for keels, rudders and other things that hang off the bottom of the boat).

Bowler and his Annapolis-based firm have been designing yachts for the Volvo Ocean Race since 1981, but with the new rule they literally had to start at the drawing board.

We talked to Bowler about the Volvo Ocean Race and his company.

How will these boats be different from previous years? The boats are anticipated to be faster this time than in previous years. With speed comes risk. There is a rule of nature about that.

What was hard about designing them?

One of the biggest challenges is to get all of the appendages right. The rule allows for a lot of unique things, including a canting keel that will shift the ballast sideways.

You also design America's Cup boats. What is different about the designs for the boats for each race?

One is designed to go upwind and downwind in an arena where you are looking for minute differences in speed. The Volvo 70 is for long distance, high speed and racing 24 hours a day.

But this year's Volvo race has an inshore race component to it, which means the boats will have to have some ability to compete in the smaller races during the stopovers. How did you account for that in the design?

The inshore races brought a new element into the race. You had to make sure it was fast on the long legs but not out of the race on the short races.

Can you describe the stopover in Annapolis four years ago?

We had the whole office down there, meeting the crew. We wanted to know how it went, and we were trying to find out how to make the next one faster.

After spending months racing in the boats you designed, are the crews happy to see you? Or do they wish you'd built a more comfortable boat?

The guys who were winning were grateful, of course.

They are not comfortable boats; none of [the crew] expects to be racing in comfort. They work in sleep-deprived conditions - it is either too hot or too cold. They are constantly, constantly changing sails. They live on freeze-dried food.

What other types of boats do you design? We do nice, large, custom-cruising boats. The clientele who come to us are generally people who want cruising boats that perform very well under sail.

We are also doing Open 60 designs used for people who race around the world, by themselves. That is one of the last big challenges on the face of the earth.

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