GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) - The Volvo Ocean Race will make a 50 million euro investment in new boats with 'foiling' and 'flying' technology for future editions as part of a plan organisers hope will strengthen both its sporting reputation and its commercial appeal for sponsors.
Organisers used an event at the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg to unveil the design for a foil-assisted 60-foot (18.29m) monohull boat that will be used for the offshore legs of the round-the-world race for teams. Foils effectively work like an aeroplane wing and lift the boats, helping them achieve faster speeds.
The monohull will be designed by France’s Guillaume Verdier and will be a faster version of the boats that are sailed solo around the world in the Vendee Globe.
Race CEO Mark Turner also said that ultra-quick 'flying' catamarans of up to 50 feet (15m) will be used for inshore harbour racing at each host city. 'Flying' catamarans, familiar from the America’s Cup, sail completely out of the water.
The Volvo Ocean Race, which has been run every three or four years since 1973, will fund the construction of eight of each new type of boat. That will cost at least 50 million euros (43 million pounds), according to a race source.
The new hardware will be in place in the 14th edition, potentially starting in 2019, and available for teams to lease rather than buy. The race hopes removing the need to pay for the boats up front will clear a significant hurdle for teams to enter.
Turner said the America’s Cup would continue to be sailing’s technological pinnacle, but he argued that the Volvo Ocean Race would present a unique challenge in mixing gruelling round-the-world sailing and short, fast racing in harbours.
“Teams will need a range of skill and experience that no other race requires,” Turner said on the fringes of the announcement in Gothenburg. "We’re creating sailing’s ultimate test of a team."
So far five teams have confirmed for the 2017-18 edition of the race, with five months to go before the start.
Organisers would like to get up to eight and Thursday's package of announcements are designed to make finding future sponsors who will bankroll teams to the tune of 10-12 million euros per campaign will be much easier.
Other announcements included a new pro-am race, open only to sponsors, and future races starting and/or finishing outside Europe.
Turner also said the race could switch to a two-year cycle from the current situation of having one eight-month race every three years.
“We need to provide more continuity for our stakeholders,” he said. “We’ll announce very soon whether the next race will be in 2019 or 2020 but whatever happens we’ll find a way to have race activity of some kind every calendar year."
Editing by Toby Davis