Behind the Scenes: Gear Development for MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race
What do you wear to sail through every climate for weeks on end in the harshest environments on the planet? How do you equip a team to sail around the world in one of the longest and toughest events in the world? When we were given the honor of outfitting MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race, we kitted them out in the best possible gear that we could create. But, we knew we couldn’t stop there.
The Helly Hansen team saw a unique opportunity in our partnership with MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race. We would use Volvo Ocean Race stopovers to assess our gear’s performance and make improvements in real time. We worked continuously and unrelentingly to improve our gear throughout the Volvo Ocean Race and give MAPFRE every possible edge in their race for first place. And we’re not done. MAPFRE will sail into Hague in a different kit than they started with in Alicante. It’ll have undergone countless rounds of tweaks and improvements.
The tricky thing about sailing offshore is that you want to stay dry when it’s rough.
The Closest Team in the Volvo Ocean Race: Helly Hansen and MAPFRE
Throughout the Volvo Ocean Race, a small but dedicated HH Crew has greeted MAPFRE to receive feedback and modify their gear. Over the course of the race (and the long preparation), these Helly Hansen developers and project managers have become incredibly close with MAPFRE, a sort of team behind the team. And this close working relationship was key to the long road of continuous collaboration in the development of their gear.
Our team is a few people who take care to give a lot of good feedback … You can see how the feedback we give is being implemented and changed in the clothing.
With Every Volvo Ocean Race Stop, Another Improvement in the gear
Long before the race even began, MAPFRE knew that they wanted the most lightweight and breathable gear possible. So, we took our existing Ægir Offshore Collection (developed after previous Volvo Ocean Races) and began tweaking it.
We changed the construction of the Ægir collars to make them more lightweight and comfortable. Helly Hansen developers reduced the construction by removing the neoprene layer. Instead, MAPFRE sailors would wear a neoprene balaclava when conditions were harsh, but they didn’t have the extra weight all the time. In addition, we updated the Cordura® on the reinforcements to be more lightweight yet just as abrasion-resistant.
These updates were distributed to the team in Portsmouth, still months before the start. Then, the Helly crew wanted to perfect the latex cuffs and neck seals, so MAPFRE tested materials from three different manufacturers in blind tests. After we determined the best possible material, we personalized the latex cuffs and neck seals for each sailor. The result was softer and stretchier seals in custom sizes for each sailor.
As October finally arrived, the gear was updated and delivered to MAPFRE in Alicante, ready for Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. But the improvements didn’t stop there. MAPFRE arrived victorious into Cape Town, and they received another updated kit. Over time, MAPFRE’s feedback has helped us make the kit lighter and simpler. The Helly crew worked to reduce seams and simplify the construction. With fewer seams, there is less tape, less weight, and fewer vulnerable places on the gear.
In Hong Kong, MAPFRE visited the factory where the Ægir Offshore Collection is constructed. With this visit, the sailors developed a more thorough understanding of the process behind their gear, enabling a two-way feedback loop to optimize our working relationship.
At the factory, the MAPFRE team could see how their feedback was incorporated into the 2019 collection. We also finalized fit updates and executed small design details like the placement of velcro to make it more manageable (closures on the cuff, hood, facemask) and the shape of the facemask and hood for the rest of their journey around the world.
The variables involved in the Volvo Ocean Race go beyond just sailing through every climate on the planet, the team has changed as well. After the fitting in March, MAPFRE sailors lost significant weight. On leg 7, the team was stuck off the coast of Brazil. Exhausted after more than two weeks at sea and running low on rations, they sailed into Itajai thinner than ever. Throughout the race, we have had to change cuffs, collars, and construction to fit the changing team.
In Newport, we will get more feedback on the R&D from fabric testing. The final kit in Newport is identical to SS19 line. After that, in the last checkpoint in the Cardiff, we will collect the MAPFRE feedback that will affect the last minute details in the Ægir 2019 final production line.
The 2019 Ægir Offshore Collection
The work that we’ve done with MAPFRE won’t stay in the Volvo Ocean Race test tube. Our collaboration will be reflected in the 2019 Ægir Offshore Collection. Overall, the product has been made lighter with a clean, minimalist design. The 2019 collection will allow for the most freedom of movement ever. The Ægir Smock Top, launching in 2019, is a real example of how minimalist a jacket can be. Lightweight and ultraprotective, the smock top became a real favorite with MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race.
In addition, everything we learn from MAPFRE trickles down to all Helly Hansen sailing gear. So, the sailor who’s out on a pleasure cruise will benefit from cutting-edge construction, the best fabrics, and finest details . . . all thanks to our partnership with MAPFRE in the Volvo Ocean Race, your personal gear testers.