Whether crushing speed records, nailing ocean races, or pioneering new technology, Stan Honey knows his position precisely. (Parts of this interview appear in our May 2011 issue.)
How far south did you get?
The Horn (56ºS) is almost always the farthest south. In the big boats, the multihulls don’t need to get really far south, and you don’t want to get down there, because you don’t need that much wind. The Volvo 60s had the property that, no matter how hard it blew, you’d go faster, so those guys had an incentive to go really far south. The V70s don’t have as big an incentive to go so far south—they don’t need as much wind, and they start to slow down over 40 knots. And the multihulls are more extreme in that respect. There’s just no bonus to being father down there. And you’re so fast in the flat water that you’re happy to sail the extra miles.
Looking back, is there anything you would’ve done differently on the record run?
I would’ve far preferred if we hadn’t broken down on our November departure, because you never know what’s going to happen in the future, but we would’ve been days ahead (of the record) at Kerguelen. So that would’ve been great if we could’ve continued that trip. On the trip we actually did, we were a day behind at Cape Town, so we had a tough time in the South Atlantic. But then we had a great trip across the Indian Ocean and set a world record from Cape Town to Tasmania. I didn’t expect to beat (Orange II’s time for that stretch), because Orange had a really good trip there. Then we had a really good trip across most of the Pacific, except that the jet stream went zonal near the end.
What do you mean?
Normally the jet stream has big waves in it. For example, in the Transpac, the jet stream has that big Omega block. Those blocks kind of steer the lows. So when the jet stream goes zonal, that means it’s going straight east to west, and the lows start to move really fast. So we had a low behind us as we approached the Horn that we couldn’t stay ahead of. It was behind us, we had great wind, but it was going 45 knots. So we had to move north and let it pass under us and then follow it around the Horn. So we were on pace to set a record to the Horn, but we couldn’t stay ahead of it because the jet stream went zonal. We didn’t want to do what Bruno (Peyron) did on Commodore Explorer in 1993, where they let a storm go right over them and they got pasted. You don’t do that anymore. You just get out of the way. But that probably cost us a day-and-a-half.
Then, coming back up the South Atlantic, we had very light air, and we were a couple of days behind Orange even as we got near the southeast trade winds. When Orange got to this stage on their record trip, they were about eight days ahead of the previous record (set by Steve Fossett’s PlayStation). So when Orange left the tradewinds and got into the westerlies on their final approach to England, their timing was near perfect. They were just ahead of a storm coming across from the U.S. But by being just ahead of it, they knew it would be relatively windy with a relatively rough sea state. But with an eight-day lead, they basically stopped, gave away three days to wait for the next storm. Then they pulled in way in front of the next storm and had a beautiful, flat water, medium-air trip in, and then still improved the record by four or five days. So that made perfect sense for them, they had the record absolutely crushed. All they had to do was not break down. But they gave away two or three days right there in the North Atlantic. So there was a little pot of gold there, and of course I knew it was there. All we had to do was have good timing in the North Atlantic, and we’d pick up that huge chunk of time.
So from the time we were at Montevideo after rounding the Horn, I was telling the guys, all we have to do is get to the North Atlantic before this storm and we’re golden. We’re in the hunt, we’re going to set the record, it’s really important we push through all this light stuff and sail really hard in the light, and then have a nice time through the tropics and not get trapped in the doldrums. And you almost never get trapped in the doldrums on the way back, the doldrums are easy—you’ve got the right season, and you’re way far west. And then we just have to get in front of that storm. And we did. We made it just in front of it.
So you’re saying the weather patterns were set up precisely as they had been for Orange?
Yes, exactly. So we pushed to get right in front of (the storm), and actually the cold front went over us. So we weren’t able to finish in the southwesterlies, we had to finish in the northwesterlies. And you don’t like to let the cold front pass over you, but we had no choice because of our course. So the cold front went over us, and we had to sail for a day in the half in the death zone, in the northwesterly. The death zone in a big multihull is a beam reach—if you bear off you get more heeling moment, and if you come up you get more heeling moment, so you don’t like sailing on that point of sail. But we had no choice. And the guys did a great job, and so we ended up beating Orange’s record by two days. It wasn’t great weather around the world, but the boat was terrific, and the crew was terrific, and we made it work.