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Volvo Ocean Racers Turn to Ceramics to Solve Wear Problems

Yacht designers have turned to ceramic technology to solve long standing durability issues with winches in the Volvo Ocean Race. The nine month event that covers 39,000 nautical miles during which competitors sail the world's most treacherous seas demands robust equipment to survive the harsh, corrosive marine environment. This year, the first winches to be coated using Zircotec's extremely tough ThermoHold based ceramic will be trialled in the event starting in October.

The ceramic coating, specifically developed by Zircotec, has been selected to minimise wear issues and to enable the crew to switch to harder and smaller ropes that are easier to handle and grip better. Additionally, the coating has provided a means of rapid resurfacing in preparation for the race.

"Aluminium winches typically found on this class of yacht display a rough finish to enhance grip and friction," says Lou Varney, managing director of Diverse Yachts. "This surface is rapidly worn away, leading to poorer performance and a safety risk. One solution is to refurbish them but this takes time and is expensive. We think that the Zircotec ceramic coating will solve these issues even in the harshest ocean race environment. Carbon composite materials are also used in this series, though these provide limited grip, are easily worn and are not easily refurbished. Zircotec can apply its ThermoHold coating to composite winches, even used winches, and in this case the coating provides a very significant improvement to both grip and friction. The Volvo race offers the ultimate test for these products."

With a temperature range that stretches from -5 to +40 degrees Celsius and constant exposure to salt water, Zircotec has developed an anti wear coating that is resistant to salt water and provides excellent adhesion to the underlying substrate, irrespective of whether it is aluminium or carbon composite. This adhesion is crucial as one of the key benefits of applying ceramic is to use harder and smaller diameter ropes that put greater strain on the surface contact area. "The technology has been tested in national yachting competitions but the Volvo Ocean Race will be a true test of its ability," adds Graham.

Zircotec's coatings are applied via plasma-spraying, a process it has perfected since introducing it for protecting parts used in nuclear reactors. Using a gas powered torch, molten powder is fed into the flame and fired at the work piece. A true solid ceramic coating and not a paint, Zircotec's coatings are already relied upon by F1 teams, car manufacturers and industrial users to solve heat and wear issues in harsh environments.

The Volvo Ocean Race is described as an exceptional test of sailing prowess and human endeavour which has been built on the spirit of great seafarers. Each entry has a sailing team of eleven that race day and night for up to 20 days at a time. Truly extreme, no fresh food is taken onboard and each crew member will only take one change of clothes.

Zircotec has worked closely with specialists Diverse Yachts to specify, develop and test the coating to date. Should the success continue, Diverse Yachts is keen to offer the benefits to other classes of yacht competitor and enthusiasts. As the race progresses we propose to provide periodic updates on the performance of the coated winches.

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