Research and Development on Open Waters: The Volvo Ocean Race
Helly Hansen’s award-winning sailing collection is a result of thousands of hours of research and development. How do you get from a basic sailing jacket to extreme foul weather gear? The answer lies in real-world testing at one of sailing’s most renowned competitions: the Volvo Ocean Race, or VOR.
Ever since the start of the race, Helly Hansen has recognized the VOR to be the one and only best testing ground for ocean gear. Beyond supporting athletes in this intense challenge, these partnerships have always been a one-of-a-kind opportunity for our own research and development. As one of the most demanding events in all of sport, the VOR is the ideal test tube for functional sailing gear.
After 140 years in the sailing industry and 40 years of working with the VOR, we have expanded the limits of performance sailing gear. We have the VOR to credit for some of our most classic looks, like the Salt Jacket, as well as our most extreme designs, like Ægir. Read on to learn about the research and development that allows us to truly say that we are trusted by professionals.
What is the Volvo Ocean Race?
Originally called the Whitbread Round the World Race, the VOR is a non-stop race around the world. The world’s most elite ocean racers will sail through over 40,000 nautical miles, across four oceans, touching six continents, and visiting 12 host cities . . . it’s a marathon of human accomplishment. The Volvo Ocean Race is often described as the longest and toughest professional sporting event in the world.
Helly Hansen has been involved with the Volvo Ocean Race for decades. From the Berge Viking in 1981-1982 to Team SCA in 2014-2015, we have benefitted from all the hard earned knowledge of VOR racers. As team sponsors, we take our responsibility very seriously in supporting these athletes to perform at top level. The Volvo Ocean Race is ultimately our test lab, and the sailors push our gear to the max.
The Start of a Collaboration and the Birth of an Iconic Design: The Berge Viking
In 1981-1982, The Berge Viking, sponsored by Helly Hansen, became the first Norwegian boat to take part in The Volvo Ocean Race. The Berge Viking Crew, skippered by Peder Lunde, sported the original version of the Salt Jacket, with the signature stripe across the chest and Helly Tech® fabric. The origins of this jacket have become the stuff of urban legends. It’s rumored that the Berge Viking Crew wanted to distinguish themselves as a Norwegian team in a sea of red jackets, so they added the stripe across the chest. Others say that Helly Hansen designed the stripe from the get-go. Either way, we know that Helly Hansen issued multiple versions of The Salt Jacket throughout the race . . . innovating even as the race was in progress.
Variations of the Salt Jacket have become a cult classic in Norwegian culture. Sailors of all stripes wear this time-honored jacket both on and off the water. Even though The Salt Jacket wouldn’t be used in the VOR today, its origin reminds us of a legacy of collaboration with sailing professionals that continues to this day.
Research and Development: Creating the Right Kit for the Right Boat
The Salt Jacket was only the beginning. After the Berge Viking, Helly Hansen collaborated with many incredible sailing teams including, Team Tokio, Innovation Kværner, and Team Sanya. Yet when we look back at the history of The Volvo Ocean Race, there were three major phases in the development of our offshore gear. From a three ply construction in 2001, to a five ply slick material in 2014, our work with VOR competitors has led us to where we are today.
2001-2003: The DJuice Dragons and Lightweight Construction
The demands for a sailing kit are built largely around the class of yacht. In 2001-2002, Helly Hansen partnered with the DJuice Dragons and their V60 class yacht. The Dragons’ primary requirement for their kit was that it was lightweight. Therefore, we used three ply construction sailing gear and focused mostly on the construction and fit. Although it was still an incredibly high speed event, the Volvo Ocean 60 yachts were designed to glide on top of the water, not through it. 2001 was the last year that the VOR was a Volvo Ocean 60 class. In 2005, all that would change with the introduction of the V70 class.
2008-2009: Team Ericsson Demands More Waterproof Material
The introduction of the V70 Class created the need for much more waterproof sailing gear, as the V70 sat much deeper in the water than its predecessor. In preparation for 2008-2009, Helly Hansen worked with Team Ericsson to introduce a multilayer membrane that increased the water column to 35000mm. The Ericsson kit had a five ply system with a center membrane consisting of three layers instead of one. The result was a super waterproof kit that could carry Team Ericsson through a wave, not just over it. The next generation kit for the VOR needed one more thing . . .
2014-2015: Developments for Team SCA Result in the Most Waterproof and Slick Kit
When Helly Hansen partnered with Team SCA, a ground-breaking, all-woman team, we had an agenda to make water roll off the surface of the jackets and still keep the kit as light weight as possible. SCA wanted a slick kit. In order to achieve this water repellency and keep the gear lightweight, HH retained the five ply construction from Team Ericsson, but also tightened the weave in the fabric. This tightly woven fabric resulted in a slick surface, and less water was able to permeate SCA’s kit.
Classic Styles and high-performance gear . . . resulting from decades of R&D
Today, the technology from The Berge Viking has evolved tremendously. Thanks to our collaborations with professionals in the Volvo Ocean Race, our offshore gear is coveted by sailing’s best. Our offshore collection, Ægir, is even setting records around the world. Yet, the classic look of The Salt Jacket is one of our all-time favorites. Some things never change.
-Hero image by Andres Soriano of Team Sanya in Volvo Ocean Race