Following Saturday’s overwhelming victory of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the in-port race in Alicante, VSail.info talked to Patrick Shaughnessy, president of Farr Yacht Design, about his office’s design in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
VSail.info: Abu Dhabi’s performance in today’s very light and tricky conditions was undeniably exceptional. Were Ian Walker and the crew geniuses or simply very lucky?
Patrick Shaughnessy: I am always very hesitant to use the word genius. Obviously the team has put in a lot of effort into research, design, boat building, maintenance and training and as a result it’s a team effort but I think that everyone in the team is cautiously optimistic. Of course we feel strong and it was a nice result but it is just the beginning of a very long race and you have to be cautious about that. Certainly, the conditions were very difficult and I think the team was fortunate, I think that’s a better word, to be in some relatively clean air and be able to extend their lead.
VSail.info: Did this race serve as your first real opportunity to assess your boat and the rest of the fleet?
Patrick Shaughnessy: I think it’s difficult to draw comparisons against the other boats because most of them weren’t sailing in very close proximity to each other but for us it’s affirmation, winning the Fastnet Race and then this race, it’s a piece of good solid momentum and the team is really excited. Some of the areas where you feel you maybe made some tradeoffs in the design process where the boat should or shouldn’t be strong are coming through and it’s a good quality feeling.
VSail.info: It’s good to see you’re positive because according to Juan Kouyoumdjian, in an interview in Valencia a couple of months ago, Abu Dhabi and Camper were the clear favorites this time. Do you feel you designed the favorite boat to win the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race?
Patrick Shaughnessy: I think that, with all due respect to Juan, there is a little bit of gamesmanship there in his comments and, certainly, in our team we took them in good part. We have a strong team, we assembled it very well and we have done a lot of the right things but I don’t believe we are the favorites. We were one of the last boats in the water, if not the last one, we had a very short training time and feel more the opposite. We feel we have to push very hard to achieve more with less. I would never say that we’re favorites, definitely not.
VSail.info: Despite this short time since you launched your boat do you think Farr Yacht Design has done a good job?
Patrick Shaughnessy: Yes, I think that so far we had good confirmation on some of the choices. You make choices in your race modelling and in how you choose and pick your concept and you do that relative to a sort of theoretical fleet of boats and when you come to sail against the actual boats of the fleet they will, obviously, stack up a little bit differently. We feel that the choices we’ve made are the correct ones and I don’t think there is anything we feel at this stage we could have done differently. We feel confident.
VSail.info: In your modelling did you favor a particular type of conditions or did you aim for an all-around boat, if that can exist?
Patrick Shaughnessy: The teams always ask for a theoretical all-around boat which is of course quite difficult to create. We tried to address some of the perceived weaknesses from our past design work in the last race and build upon some strengths. I think that we do have a better, more well-rounded boat now and certainly it favors the offshore sailing a little bit more than the in-port racing. So, it is satisfying to have a good in-port result but it certainly is an offshore boat. It’s been a difficult race to conceptualize the boat for, because of the sail restrictions. It’s a very difficult choice when you have three masthead sails and one of them is almost certainly a Code 0. So, you make a choice about how much reaching-oriented the other two sails should be and it’s very possible in that process to mode the boat for a given leg and some of the boats will be making that.
What it forces you to do is look very hard at the legs and the sails and have a very good match between the sails that you model in the VPP tools and the aero coefficient. A lot of effort that we have done has been in building sail coefficients and sail testings so that we can make these decisions very well. In the design sense this is now behind us but it still living for the sail selection. So, you still have a number off sail cards to play and difficult choices to make.
VSail.info: This edition of the race has a number of short legs in Europe that carry the same weight in terms of points as the long oceanic legs. Did that make any difference from your perspective compared to last time?
Patrick Shaughnessy: It did, in the race model. When you do the weather routing of a particular leg with your candidate boat you get a result, a time result, you compare it to other candidates and then you have to choose how you are going to value some legs differently or relative to each other. Certainly, in those legs it’s going to be difficult for a boat to stretch and do very well or recover. A boat may have a strength that only comes apparent at the end of a short leg and will not have the time to make up the ground that may have lost earlier. You do have to look at those legs quite carefully and then tune how to make your choices.
VSail.info: Two aspects of your boat that stand out are, at least in my view, the full bow and the clean deck. Could you elaborate on these two issues and the philosophy them?
Patrick Shaughnessy: Quite a few of the boats, from different designers, have different takes on how much volume forward you should have. That volume forward in the hull shape and in particular as you see in our stem area is about high-speed reaching and running and bow up attitude in those conditions. The CFD work we have done pointed in that direction and you have to balance that with some dynamic negatives you have in waves and short chop but I think we’re pretty happy with where we placed it. On the deck we had a number of goals there. First of all, because we were quite late and we had a lot of pressure, we put our pressure on the boat-building team as well to build very quickly. We spent a lot of effort trying to simplify the geometries we were making so that they could be easily achieved by the team. So, it’s a simpler geometry and its primary goals, taking away the cabin, are about water management, so when you have a lot of water on the deck not having a cabin means that the water becomes ariborne as it comes into contact with something and can be easily moved from the cockpit area away from the crew and treated like that. Then it also allows to move all of the lines under the deck, so it’s very clean, very simple and everything is hidden.
VSail.info: If I’m not mistaken this is something you had already done on Telefonica Blue in 2008.
Patrick Shaughnessy: The Telefonica cockpit was very similar and this is a development of that work but forward of the cockpit, in Telefonica we were pursuing a low vertical center of gravity solution with little deck camber and a pronounced cabin. We were working on water management there but we have done a lot of work now on how to better manage it and we think that by removing the cabin the water that comes along the deck doesn’t get broken up and thrown and create a lot of debilitating spray for the team.
VSail.info: You previously mentioned that your work on Azzam was based on building upon the strengths of the Telefonica boat but also addressing her weaknesses. What were the major weaknesses of the Telefonica VO70 in 2008?
Patrick Shaughnessy: As a total platform we had a weakness in high speed running and that was coming from a number of areas. Some of them were hull-shape related, some of them was how the hull was trimmed, some of them were sail design and some of them were due to the way the team trained based solely here in Alicante. A number of these issues improved over the course of the Telefonica campaign, so when you start over you try to address each individual component in a more careful way. A lot of the work this time was spent on hull geometry.
VSail.info: Another new factor in this edition of the race is, unfortunately, piracy in Africa. The boats will sail to some harbor in the Indian Ocean and then shipped to another port in the Arabian peninsula from where they will sail to Abu Dhabi. Did you know that when you designed Azzam? Is it a factor that needs to be taken into consideration?
Patrick Shaughnessy: Our race modelling at that stage looked at the entire leg so we went back and re-analyzed and shortened the leg to what we thought it would be sailed. It doesn’t substantially change the results and, of course, there is nothing we can do about at this stage.
VSail.info: Of course, it’s totally beyond everybody’s control but had you known it at that stage would you have done something radically different?
Patrick Shaughnessy: I don’t think it would have been radically different, it’s just removing a chunk of miles from the entire race and it doesn’t have a drastic effect on design choices.
VSail.info: Is there a particular leg that in your opinion could be more difficult or more demanding than the rest?
Patrick Shaughnessy: I think that the legs that will be difficult for the teams are the high-speed running legs because they just won’t have the sails. If a sail is damaged and you’re low in your inventory or if you make a sail choice where you don’t have the real running sails it will be a very difficult leg. They show up a little bit more than they really are because even if the points are the points, in the heavy-weather running legs the disparity on time is enormous and that could have a big psychological effect, bigger than what the points might indicate.
VSail.info: If we switch our attention to the rest of the fleet here in Alicante, Camper is the only one to have her keel in front of the mast. What is your take on that?
Patrick Shaughnessy: They have obviously gone for a longitudinal center of buoyancy that is further forward than the other boats. It’s a choice and I think the fullness in their bow isn’t as noticeable at the stem itself but obviously they have more total volume forward of the mast than some of the other boats. It’s a difficult choice to make that.
VSail.info: Is it something you looked into during the design process?
Patrick Shaughnessy: We considered several relationships between keel and mast and I think we’re happy with the longitudinal center of buoyancy we ended up with. I don’t think we would have necessarily made the same choice and I consider them brave to go in that direction. We’ll see how it works out.
VSail.info: Conventional wisdom, or at least that’s what I’ve been told a few times here in Alicante, wants that the winner of the first leg is, usually, the winner of the overall race. Do you also believe it?
Patrick Shaughnessy: It’s clear in the statistics that this is normally true, so it’s difficult to argue with. I think that what really happened traditionally was that there was a very strong team that always did well in the first leg because they were better prepared and organized for that. It doesn’t mean that the conditions in the first leg necessarily indicate a winner, it’s that a very strong team can prevail there and then continue winning. In this race you have five teams, arguably of very similar strength without any clearly dominant team and this will be less likely to be true. However, if Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing wins the first leg, I hope this tradition holds true.
VSail.info: Last but not least have you set a goal below which the result will be unacceptable? Of course every team wants to win but will you consider it a failure if you finish, let’s say, third?
Patrick Shaughnessy: Our sponsor has, obviously, goals, our sailors have goals and as a design team we have our goals. Certainly, as a design group our goal is, clearly, to re-establish dominance in the race. This is the kind of work we like doing, we believe we are good at it and well suited. We had some tough luck in the past races and some of that was stuff we look at ourselves and we can change and correct while some of it was something beyond our control. Clearly, as a design group, victory is our goal.