Dec 14, 2011, 7:44 AM
Post #1 of 1
From Andy Steiner, Steiner Design:
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 - Mast Failures
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The rig failures on Abu Dhabi and Puma in the Volvo Ocean Race are devastating for crew and sponsors and in my opinion inexcusable. If this happens after the 4th or 5th leg, it’s another story, but one in the first night and the other in average conditions in the middle of the first leg, is prove of either wrong judgment or incapacity.
To develop a VOR rig is the biggest challenge for any mast maker, forget America’s Cup or the Vendee Globe. That’s why even the best have to do a lot of testing. During the time of the maxi’s Merit, and Rothmans and in ‘92/’93 Pierre Fehlmanns Merit Cup and Grant Dalton's Fisher and Paykel, we developed aluminum rigs with a high level of knowledge about the materials. For the standing rigging we used mostly cobalt rods but also pultruded Kevlar shrouds.
No matter how much we pushed the technology the first rule was, and is still today, you have to reach the finish line without major failures. In ‘89/90 and ‘92/93 we succeeded, none of the leading boats had notable failures. I don’t think we were better engineers; it was mostly due to the fact that the boats had sufficient test periods to observe the rigs before the race.
Now almost 20 years later, knowledge about carbon rigs is at a high level. With the budgets available to the current crop of competitors, there is no excuse. They have sufficient time to test materials and get the safety factors to the right level. With carbon fibres, the engineering is much easier than with metal to achieve a good compromise between weight and strength. There are no fatigue problems in a monolithic structure; in the lay-up plan you can add a few layers of reinforcing in the right place or add fibres to the rigging.
I think there are a few engineers out there who promise things they can’t deliver; maybe too much pressure from the company owners and the skippers? What bothers me is the fact that people who sponsor these boats may think twice about future sponsoring, or is the VOR 2011, with 6 boats the smallest fleet ever, spoilt with sponsors…...? Are these boats maybe just a little bit too expensive? Remember the start of the Volvo 60? Price was a big issue. Where is that philosophy now? Same problem in the AC….
As DC said a long time ago: no excuse to lose.
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