Juan Kouyoumdjian talks to VSail.info about the Volvo Ocean Race (Part II)

Posted on 02 July 2012 by Valencia Sailing

We continue our talk with Juan Kouyoumdjian, soon to become a three-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, focusing on the current VO70 yachts, their limits and the breakages they suffered in the current Volvo Ocean Race. Last but not least, we close our discussion by briefly touching on the issue of the America’s Cup and the breakage of the Artemis AC72 wing in Valencia [Click here to read the first installment of this extremely interesting interview]:

VSail.info: I think we covered the issue of the future one-design boat exhaustively. Let’s now switch our focus to the current race and the current boats. The entire fleet, with no exception, suffered severe breakages throughout the race, raising concerns about their seaworthiness. Do you agree that they have been designed too close to the edge, compromising seaworthiness for speed?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: I disagree with that although it all depends on your definition of the word “severe”. None of the boats we designed had to stop racing because of any damage. The most serious issue was on Telefonica that stopped for more or less 12 hours and I wouldn’t call that severe since she could have continued as she was although at slower pace.

VSail.info: Correct me if I’m wrong but both Puma and Groupama dismasted, forcing them to either retire from a leg or stop for a few days in order to make the necessary repairs. Wouldn’t you call that “severe”?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: We didn’t design the rigging on these two boats. However, what seems a little bit worrisome, at least to me, about this race, especially because it’s a very important race for all of us, is that this notion of reducing budgets is not new. Actually, budgets were reduced in this edition but this didn’t bring more teams. If we want to focus too much on the teams that want to spend less what will happen to the teams that don’t? There are such teams and, actually, there is a team that isn’t doing this race because precisely they were not specifically budget driven.

VSail.info: I don’t understand. Are you saying that a potential team didn’t enter the current Volvo Ocean Race edition because they wanted to spend more money?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, it was Ericsson. What they basically said was “We want to re-enter the race but we want to do it with our philosophy, which means two boats, two-boat testing, development and involvement from our part”. Knut Frostad’s reply was “No way, I’m not going to allow it” and Ericsson decided not to go ahead. At that time there was a notion of budget limit but that proposal was then withdrawn. There are teams that are not directly driven by budget.

Barring any last-minute disasters, Groupama will give Juan Kouyoumdjian his third consecutive victory in the Volvo Ocean Race. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race

VSail.info: You might be right but then it’s the old “existential” question in sailing. Do we want an America’s Cup or a Volvo Ocean Race with three or with eight-ten teams?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: You seem to think that smaller budgets will bring more teams. That’s the way it was presented and this is the bet Frostad himself decided to carry out. I wish him all the luck but it’s not going to work. If the intention was to drastically reduce budgets Knut Frostad should have done better than just 65 feet.

VSail.info: It is still possible that all three of your designs get the three overall podium spots of this race. As a result, I guess you have done many things well. Is there an area where you think you committed errors though? In hindsight what would you have done differently?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: You always learn and progress, every time you do something. I think that the day we think we can’t do anything better, we should close the doors of this office and go do something different. If you want, I could give you a list and there are plenty of things that we should have kept a bigger eye on. If this continues, I think that making very specific cases on quality control and making sure that some pieces on the boat are built the way they were designed; this is very important. If I can make a suggestion to the people that will be involved with the new one-design it would be exactly that.

Even in a one-design there will be rudders that will be built differently, resulting in breakages. That will bring again the issue of responsibility. What happens if Team A breaks a rudder and Team B, with the exact same rudder and under the same weather conditions, doesn’t break it?

VSail.info: You will never have the exact same weather conditions. At some stages, the boats are hundreds of miles apart from each other.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: The other day, Groupama and Telefonica were within meters of each other. One boat broke two rudders and the other one didn’t.

VSail.info: What caused the two broken rudders on Telefonica?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: It is currently being investigated and I don’t think I should get into that right now. There is a pending investigation and we can talk about that some other time.

There is a very important issue here though. You talk about seaworthiness but it’s not about the boat alone. It also concerns the group of people that sail her. While it might be good to try to reduce costs and lower the entry level for the teams, we should always be aware that these boats will sail around the world, achieving great speeds. They will need to have a very professional and highly prepared group of people onboard, which he have in this edition and the previous one. Imagine now the situation where the bar is dropped too low and you have teams that are not prepared in terms of not having enough time on the water, not enough budget, not enough controls on the boat. It’s the debate of quantity over quality.

VSail.info: Let’s assume there are eight teams next time and with a crew of just eight, the total number of sailors in the race will not be different from what we have in this edition, give or take a few. It’s fair to assume most of the sailors would like to race again, so the pool of available sailors will practically be the same. I think we’ll see lots of familiar faces again.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: However, the last entries will sail their new boat just two months before the start of the race. That team is going to break things. The last team to enter will be the one to have the least trained sailors and I still don’t understand why they keep talking about the breakages. The whole issue is wrongly explained by the experts and by that I mean Knut Frostad, because he did the race himself many times as a sailor. I’m surprised that a person that sailed this race doesn’t explain it to the public.

Let me give you very simple example. Take a rally car, the best rally car, give it to an amateur driver and ask him to race in the Finnish Rally, one of the hardest ones in the world. If he drives at 150km/h, jumps a crest and smashes into a pine how would you react? Would you claim that his car wasn’t safe enough? If he goes through a sequence of chicanes and smashes the car again how would you react? Will you claim again that the car wasn’t strong enough? This isn’t even debated in the rally world. If you jump a series of bumps, doing 150km/h and you break the car’s suspension will you blame Ford or Mitsubishi for that?

This is the point where it becomes a joke. Whoever thinks that because of doing a one-design the breakages will be reduced, is mistaken.

VSail.info: Then in your case, do we have to blame Telefonica’s crew for the breakages?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Not based on what I know today and pending an investigation of their construction, however when we design these boats there is a very clear discussion and exchange to what the limits are on the different aspects of the boat. You are very quickly facing the situation where you can design something to have more resistance or more reliability but this comes with a price that you will carry 99% of the race. So you tell the team “I’ll give you a pair or rudders that for sure there is no speed, no wave on this planet that can break them. Even if 95% of the race you’ll have more weight and more drag, in that 5% of the race that you will need it, it’s not going to break.” I can already give you the answer of 100% of the skippers.

VSail.info: Since you are now involved with both the Artemis Racing multihulls (the ORMA60 trimaran and the AC72 catamaran) could you envision the Volvo Ocean Race being sailed on multihulls?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, I think so. I think that multihulls, in the world of sailing, are much more efficient than monohulls. The flatter the water is, the bigger the difference in efficiency is but multihulls suffer from sea state and waves much more than monohulls. So, in the case of a round-the-world race you would have to condition the design of the multihulls in a way to withstand these conditions and as such it wouldn’t be as fast a multihull as another high-performance multihull of the same length could be.

VSail.info: I don’t disagree but they would still be faster than the current monohulls.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, they would still be faster than the current monohulls but the difference lies in the fact that a VO70 is today a very fast 70-footer, probably the fastest 70-footer there is. The fastest 70-foot multihull is probably the AC72 but you can’t race her around the world. The comparison isn’t applicable to multihulls.

VSail.info: Even if you don’t have the fastest 70-foot trimaran it will always be faster than a VO70 and it will allow you to cut the duration of the legs, let’s say from two-three weeks down to 10 days.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Multihulls is definitely a way to do that and it could be a good way of reducing costs as well.

VSail.info: Let’s now talk about the future. What’s in store for JYD after the end of this Volvo Ocean Race?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Our main focus, for sure, will be the America’s Cup. We will have to decide at some point whether we are involved in the next Volvo, even if it’s a one-design race, depending on the rules they establish. Maybe they write a rule which says that Juan Yacht Design cannot be involved. Maybe that makes it even easier for us. It’s sad to see that there is a possibility that we, as a design office, are not involved with the Volvo Ocean Race in the future.

The Volvo Ocean Race made the announcement about the new one-design and they now have to work to make it a reality. Making announcements is the easy part, making it work is the most difficult one. If it works, good luck to them but I still believe they is a big hole for grand prix offshore races.

VSail.info: Will you be involved with the IMOCA60′s?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: We have designed the new Cheminées Poujoulat and we have been offered the possibility to design another one. However, in that class as well they are talking about one-design and as a result we don’t know what the future holds. If the IMOCA60′s don’t go one-design, for sure we will be involved.

VSail.info: If they do decide to go one-design what will the process be? Will they invite bids from various designers? Would you make a proposal if asked?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: I don’t think IMOCA will be one-design because in my opinion one-design is not the way to go in these grand prix offshore races. One-design is not grand prix racing. It’s just a marketing event.

VSail.info: The MOD70′s are another one-design class that pretends to build a niche in offshore racing.
Juan Kouyoumdjian: It’s not grand prix either, it’s just a marketing event. They still haven’t raced and we don’t know whether it will be a successful class or not.

VSail.info: Last but not least, I can’t avoid talking about the Artemis AC72 and the breakage it suffered here in Valencia a few weeks ago. First of all, did your office design it?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: Well, the Artemis design team designed the wing and our office is very much embedded in the Artemis design team. What I can tell you is that we learned a lot from that experience. We are certainly applying that knowledge into what we are doing next and I truly don’t think this is going to be the last wing to have issues. We are in a very competitive world and, for the moment, I would to like to keep for myself what we have learned and I don’t want anyone else to benefit from that knowledge.

It is obviously, a setback because we would have liked to have the wing ready right at the moment the Protocol would have allowed us to sail the first AC72 boat. That’s not the case, so we will lose some momentum, we will lose some scheduled times we had originally but that’s how these projects go.

VSail.info: What kind of racing should we expect to see from the AC72′s?
Juan Kouyoumdjian: I think it depends a lot on what the organizers want. If they just want a parade of boats around some buoys for marketing purposes, we will just have that. If they allow enough runway and movement for the boats and crews to express themselves I think it will be very spectacular. Since the Challenger Series and the America’s Cup itself are match races the quantity of teams is almost irrelevant. At the end of the day you just need two teams. As long as you have two, you have an America’s Cup. Whether you have five, ten or twenty challengers at the end you’ll only need two. So if your question was whether a match race race between two AC72′s would be spectacular, I think the chances are it will be very spectacular.

7 Comments For This Post

  1. Darrell Says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you on any particular point about it no longer being a grand prix off shore race but the one design does offer some cost saving that may be able to be applied to grand prix style racing. If boats were allowed to be design as they were for this race but were made to share parts. If spares were made universal, by that I mean if the same sails, mast, rudders, dagger boards, etc. If replacement parts were spec and/or all from the same manufacturer there could be a cost savings for the individual teams. I feel a great deal of the expense of this type of racing is on shore cost. Hauling replacement parts and support crew from place. I VOR were to provide the replacement parts we see breaking in this could reduce the cost to the individual teams. Rally car was a good analogy. They all use a spec tire that are provided by a single manufacturer. It will be a shame to see the greatest designers in the world no longer able to compete head to head. I do blame you a bit for this. If you weren’t so good at your job and let someone else win every once in a while they may not have made this one design.

  2. TomH Says:

    I would like to find more information or discussion concerning JK’s comment about the “inflection points” he mentioned in his boats.

    Otherwise, to me his arguments (for open/development class versus one design class)are essentially good ones, and the case study of Ericsson is a valid example of why some companies would wish to participate in a development class as part of their corporate signature.

    I for one wish there were some more true development (non-handicap) races for us small boat sailors. Perhaps if I could get some help from JK on one scow design and one trimaran design for launching 20′ version of the great Italian “Classe Diecipiedi” class ( http://www.diecipiedi.it/ns/main/index.html ) it might bring interest to such accessible developmental racing.

  3. DJC Says:

    Farr might be smiling now, having pulled of a ‘political’ victory.
    They will for a long time be the but of the sailing community’s jokes.

    Q: How do you reconise a Farr design? A: its the one far behind.

    Sailors will talk about the good old VOR when we still sailed fast boats….

    JK arrogance is fine as long as he delivers, and I suspect he is not crying to fill his orderbook

  4. acdc Says:

    Two things: One-design offshore has proven a failure in the past for professional sailors, it might have worked with the BT global challenge, but that was not for pro’s….remember, Grand Mistral, solo oceans…

    And wasn’t the solo oceans attempt an alternative to the expensive open 60?, for people with less experience and budget?…the idea was good, but reality is another thing, there is no difference between 4 or 5 millions, the momentum you need to get it going is beyond that difference.

    Racing the volvo means the highest level and quality, can you imagine F1 being raced in all same cars?

  5. KLZ Says:

    VOR has moved to just a marketing event. They are not looking for safety nor low cost, all they want is to earn more money. Busines is no longer on the water but on stopovers and publicity. They just don’t need no more design development. Volvo is no longer associated with the idea of progress, perhaps some other big enterprise can take the challenge.
    GT Global Challenge is (or was) one of the most boring openwaters race ever run, IMO.
    Farr is a great designer, most of the last big improvements on the IMOCA60 came from him, and he made a very risky bet with Abu Dhabi, I really commend his boldness, this is the kind of attitude the VOR should be looking for. To be party of this new rules isn’t good advetisement for him.

  6. FibreOptics Says:

    I think the Volvo race has died. Going from open class to one-design was one step backwards, than choosing the worst designer… two steps back. And everything to get 8 teams at the start (we had 6 in this edition, not a huge difference). If I read correctly, bad management prevented Ericsson to participate in this edition, so we could have the 8 boats. Maybe instead of boat they should change management.
    I think is time for a new true ocean race to be created and fill this hole.

  7. G Young Says:

    I am an long time admirer of JK and not just the V70 dominance, but it seems that whatever challenge they take, the JK design office has been leading the way. I also like his passion (some would call it arrogance, but not I). I can only agree with his standpoint and honest appraisal from someone who actually “does” know.

    The cost of a VOR campaign is not dominated by the outlay of a single boat. As alluded to by Grant Dalton, the real costs lay in crew and campaign costs. In the case of a one design 65, JK will undoubtably be called on to optimize the new 65 design and remain involved. I hope so. All other points JK makes are entirely valid.

    Multihulls in the future? its inevitable.

    In this short term, I believe that Volvo should have prioritized and delivered in such a way to create massive and maximum interest and excitement. We have all enjoyed the “brutal” V70 performance. Length is hardly a factor in build costs. Its all about righting moment. So if the objective was to save some build budget, then I would have gone the other way…. Set the max righting moment (which would be lowered from the current V70 RM) as this will make an impact on build costs. Make length unrestricted. Inevitably this will lead to impressive slender vessels with clever variations on WS/buoyancy/polar/trim configurations (think “Speed dream” style….). Length while not a factor in build costs is vitally important for the status and “imagination” of this race. Lets do one design of key parts only (rudders, keels, some non critical system design that nobody really cares about). Restrict crew and rig configurations in such a way to keep it brutal for the media.

    I am biased, but believe having sponsors excited about “their” designer choice and “edges” all the way across the ballpark will inject much needed life…. so long as the cost controlling factors such as RM and campaign costs are understood and worked to achieve or better the “Volvo target”. The sailing public is smart and love the design challenges and solutions. Someone will win and someone will lose, thats the nature of our sport and why we love it.

    One design is a big turn off. One design parts “Yes”. Definitely. But lets keep the many “edges” within any campaign and give young teams/designers a chance and sponsors something to get excited about. If F1 went one design, it would fail in a heart beat….. We need the edges……. Unfortunately The dye has now been cast……. Like JK, I hope it is a success, but please – in the future – stop dumbing it down and restricting imagination and endeavor.

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