2008-’09 VOR: The Race In Full

SW editor Dave Reed follows the 2008-’09 VOR from start to finish.

To access SW’s 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race home page, click here.

June 16, 2009

Hard Race Yes, But An Easy Call


Last year, in a feature story in our October issue focusing on the helmsmen of the Volvo Ocean Race (“Possessed by the Speedo” I gave the nod to Torben Grael and his squad on Ericsson 4 as the team to beat. Quite honestly, it was a no-brainer.

They had all a team could want: the winning designer, a returning and generous sponsor, and a handpicked selection of winning veterans, including a few of the best helmsmen in the business. Grael, a five-time Olympic medalist himself, had showed huge potential with his lean, mean, Brazilian entry (Brasil 1) in the previous edition of the race. If there ever was a skipper to lead a team to victory after nine months and 37,000 miles, the ever-understated Grael was the man with the goods to do so.

And so it was yesterday, after finishing third in the sprint leg from Marstrand to Stockholm, Sweden, behind Puma and Ericsson 3, respectively, that Grael and crew locked up the race with an in-port contest and final leg to sail. Only 12 points remain on the table. Their point lead over Puma Ocean Racing stands at 13. In an interview with the VOR’s Riath Al-Samarrai, helmsman Tony Mutter acknowledge that they would relax now, maybe even take a barbeque grill and some beers for their victory lap to St. Petersburg next week.


And they deserve it, having racked up five leg wins, two in-port race victories, and three scoring gate grabs for 60 of its 102 points. Even more astonishing is the fact that they didn’t have a single crew change the entire race, the importance of which cannot be overemphasized.

Winning three consecutive legs in the later stages of the race merely reinforced what Grael and his crew had revealed in the opening leg from Alicante to Cape Town. With one man off the boat (remember, Mutter was evacuated with a knee infection), and in the fastest conditions of the race, they simply put the pedal down and established the pace at which the race would be sailed. They set the bar in one record-setting 24-hour sprint, and from that point, the confidence with which they would carry on was obvious to all.

In Ericsson 4’s victory it’s worth noting the performance of Ken Read and the Puma Ocean Racing team, which at this point is assured the runner’s-up slot, thanks in part to Telefonica Blue taking itself out of contention (see below) in the opening minutes of Leg 9. Puma, a late-start, tightly funded one-boat campaign, faced one unfortunate turn of events after another, but their consistent effort (and often conservative to a fault) has given Read a solid start to what is hoped to be a run at another campaign.


Read recently told me that he has matured beyond his expectations, and I can recall sitting alone with him in the grass outside Goetz Custom Boats as his black shoe was pulled out of the build shed for the first time. He repeated over and over that he hoped his boat was fast and the trepidation and overwhelming sense in his tone was unmistakable. Listening to him today, however, and that’s no longer the case. He now knows what needs to be done.

And of the ill-fated Telefonica Blue, an update from skipper Bouwe Bekking arrived in this morning’s in-box. Those who watched the gut-wrenching turn of events on Sunday can attest to the severity of the grounding. For Bekking, it wasn’t a total loss as it was with the sinking of Movistar in the last race, but it was pretty damn close. Here’s the latest update, straight from the source:

“Still suffering from a terrible hangover. Not because of the booze, but due to the mishap on Sunday. I won’t go into the details. By now, you all should know what happened.


We made a dreadful, costly mistake and I am the first to admit that it shouldn’t have happened at this level. But it did, and that shows that we are still human beings. The fight with Puma was on and in such circumstances you want to gain every metre of advantage. We just cut it too close. You can only guess what went through my mind, not just immediately after we grounded, but the entire afternoon. It was like a very bad dream, which kept recurring every second.

“I have said this already, but it is worth repeating. We are extremely grateful to the Swedish pilot, coastguard and local police for their assistance. A special thanks also goes to Kimo, Coxi, Shaun and Will from the Puma team, who were out on a chase boat and did not leave our side until were we back in the harbour, even taking over the towing ropes to the big vessel. Thank you guys. We are in direct competition for 2nd place overall with your team, but you showed great sportsmanship and friendship by helping us. Puma was not the only the only team standing by us. Richard Brisius, of Ericsson, got in contact with our CEO Pedro Campos straightaway and offered the use of their work container, with all its boat building equipment. This has been handy as you can imagine.

“Of course, we had created ourselves a logistical nightmare. We were taking on water, so once off the rock our next issue was securing the right size of crane to lift the boat and to keep it suspended until we could get the cradle from Stockholm. Campbell showed initiative in ordering our shore crew to come over from Stockholm as soon as possible, tracking down our spare daggerboard and rudder aswell. A structural engineer from the Farr office in Annapolis jumped on a plane to help with the inspection. Last but not least, we were lucky with accommodation, just managing to snap up the last rooms on the island.

“First indications are very good. Actually I’m amazed how little structural damage we have suffered.

One daggerboard case is destroyed, along with a bulkhead as result of the daggerboard pushing back after the impact. A winch has gone; torn off the deck during an attempt to pull us of the rock, which actually has a name. A literal translation is Coppernail. Maybe they should it rename it ‘Blue Nightmare.’

“Well, as I would expect, the guys have got stuck into it and we are receiving huge help from the locals with everything. The racing crew is trying to help the shore team as much as possible, but sometimes it is better just step aside and let the specialists do their job.

“The plan is to be in Stockholm in time for the in-port race, next Sunday, which means trying to finish the leg as well. The pressure is on. I have confidence in the shore crew; I know they are the best and will pull us through this. And, so despite the most awful hangover, there is light on the horizon. The team spirit, of which I am so proud, has risen above our problems yet again. We all stand or fall by our decisions, yet we are fighters and survivors, and, giving in is not an option.”

June 11, 2009

Second Impossible

Galway, Ireland to Marstran, Sweden. Twist, turns, gales, drifters, blown gear, blown egos, blown expectations. This 1,450-mile leg had it all. Seriously, it seems every time a leg is claimed to be the toughest of the race, the next proves to be just as hard (with the exception of the slaughter from Singapore to China). But this most recently concluded leg, won by Ericsson 4 (their third consecutive leg win, which gives them an insurmountable 15-point cushion in the overall standings) wrapped up with rapid-fire finishes this morning, takes the cake, especially for Kenny Read and crew. Only Ken could do justice to their roller coaster of a leg, and their rise to second from the bottom of the leaderboard.

This is his final dispatch before hitting a stationary rack:

“I don’t know where to start. Many people have asked if I could write a book about this Around the World adventure and the truth is I could write a book about this leg only! It has been an amazing ride–and to think it has only 4 1/2 days.

“Without getting into the gory details of the entire leg, let me re-start from yesterday, when I wrote one of the most depressing blogs of my Volvo career. Trying to sound upbeat was hard. We were dark. We were wondering how we got into the mess we were in, and we had to split from the fleet, certainly not something we wished to do. But we also had a plan B and we were going to execute it come hell or high water. Capey (Andrew Cape ˆ navigator) was on his game and we had a plan.

“The low pressure centre was clearly positioned more east than we thought, and that was the way it gobbled us up. So in looking back on it, this was also the reason we could escape to the west quickly as well. Two hours of near drifting in the middle and the most horrible three hour position report possible with the entire fleet putting something like 35 miles on us. Well that was only to get worse. Because I think it was the same for the next three scheds as well.

“Next came the gale. Yup, 40 knots upwind again, while reading the reports of the rest of the fleet having a lovely sail to Sweden. This was the price we had to pay to get to the northerlies that would eventually catapult us back into the game. And came they did. The high side of the low, where the wind died to 20 knots and we had a roaring reach back to the fleet, while it was their turn to sit in the middle of the centre of the low. But the final spot was still quite unclear.

“Now we needed a final bit of luck. And finally lady luck was on our side. We were well positioned offshore the north side of Denmark to get into more breeze hopefully. But we didn’t expect a 20 knot squall that shot us down the coast on a reach, while the rest of the fleet was inshore beating off the beach. Jackpot.

“We had our chance and took it. The next sched we were back in third and knew that we had a bit of reaching to go and we had an outside chance at the Dragons in that stuff.

“And reach we did. Right through another rain squall and when it lifted there were the Dragons about 100 metres to leeward! Scared the heck out of the group on deck. We got over the top of them and defended to the most improbable second place finish I have ever seen, or been a part of. And I know I keep saying that. I mean it. And it is driving us crazy that we can’t just sail normally. The toll it takes both physically and mentally is 
Unreal. Tonight’s sleep will be a good one.

“Finally, a couple comments about this team, especially Andrew Cape. We all had a chance to quit on this one. Things looked bleak. Our broken spinnaker turned into an unlucky mistake and things looked really bad, really bad. But Capey said…we can follow them all in, or we can at go get our ass kicked by Mother Nature and have a shot at them. I agreed of course. And off we went. Not a complaint in the bunch. We went for it and were rewarded and I can’t thank this sailing team enough for their determination and desire. I am very proud of this team. Very proud.

“Now off to bed. I think we have to do this again really soon.

“Maybe some day before the end of this adventure we will just do something normally… I doubt it.”

June 3, 2009

Into the Pit

The last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (2005-’06) brought the concept of pit stops into the race for the first time. These Wellington (N.Z.) and New York fly-bys were intended to bring the race, and its supporting sponsors, to key, high-concentration markets without the added expense of shuffling the massive Volvo Village to an extra port. Depending on whom you ask, the Big Apple stop in particular was either a nuisance to the sailors eager to go transatlantic or a public relations boon in the world’s most influential city.

Either way, the pit stop is here to stay, and this time it’s in Marstrand before the fleet heads to Stockholm for Ericsson Racing Team’s big homecoming. Ericsson 4 has this race in hand, but I bet they won’t be casually late to their own party.

As far as the sailors go, the pit stop rules stipulate there’s not much they can do but tie up the boat, work on it, check into a hotel, and wait to be released. The rules of the pit stop, clearly spelled out in the Notice of Race, however, are always open to interpretation. Yesterday, a handful of questions were put forth to race director Jack Lloyd, and the answers spell out exactly what they can and can not do while in Marstrand.

Q1. May a boat use shore power? A1. Yes; however all equipment used in association with the power must be carried onboard.

Q2. Can we use a diver? A2. Yes, however the diver may not repair, modify or replace any part of the boat.

Q3. What is the penalty should one of the shore crew be required to step on board? A3. Any penalty will be at the discretion of the Jury.

Q4. Should you require an emergency haul out what is the penalty? A4. See answer 3.

Q5. Can you replace a sail during a pit stop? A5. No: see NOR 3.5 (b) and 5.4 (d) (ii)

Q6. May a boat request permission for guests to be onboard either on the dock or while sailing during a Pit Stop? A6. Yes: The Boat through the Person in Charge must request and receive permission in writing at least 24 hours in advance of the activity. Any allocation will be made under NOR 2.6 (c). Boats may only conduct the sailing from the Assembly Area and shall not berth at any other facility.

Q7. If the answer to Question 6 is yes, can a boat take on additional food, water (liquids), or fuel solely for the purpose of the sailing? Q7 No; see NOR 5.4 (d) (ii). Guests may be entertained on an accompanying vessel.

Q9. Are the sailing team allowed to take a hose on board to wash down with fresh water? A9. Yes

Q10. Who is going to check that the gear that the sailors take off the boat to be laundered will be the same kit going back on in their gear bags? A11. Bags will not normally be checked; however, if you believe you may have infringed NOR 5.4 (ii), the circumstances shall be recorded in your Leg 9 declaration.

Q12. Is the MCM [media crewmember] allowed to help with any repairs to the yacht? A12. Yes, as the boat is not racing, he is a Crew Member, NOR 5.4 (d) (i).

Q13. Can we remove cameras for charging? A13. No.

Q14. Will the MCM be allowed to hand recorded tapes and hard drives to the shore team or VEMUK media team? A14. Yes and they may receive replacement tapes and hard drives.

Q15. Can we break the seals and move the items. A15. Yes. All seals will be rechecked as part of the Leg 9 scrutineering.

Q16. Can sails and other items be taken off the boat for repairs? A17. No.

These are mere details once they get to Sweden’s iconic island off the coast of Goteberg, but weather and strategy experts say the impending Leg 8, as well as Leg 9 (525 NM, estimated 2 days) and final Leg 10 (400 nm from Stockholm to St. Petersburg, Russia), will be anything but easy. They’re essentially all-out sprints, and with the race about to become an inshore series, it’s about to get a lot more interesting to watch from the armchair, particularly those of you interested in the heated battle between Telefonica Blue and Puma Ocean Racing, now separated by a single point. After losing to Puma in the overall Galway in-port series over the weekedn, the Telefonica camp suffered a debilitating fire in its electronics trailer, but they say it’s merely a financial distraction.

Leg 8 (1,250 nm) gets underway Saturday morning, with boats expected into Marstrand by June 10. The course takes them south, down the west coast of Ireland, southeast across the Irish Sea to England, then east up the English Channel, into the North Sea, and finally to the entrance to the Baltic.

Ericsson Racing’s Chris Bedford said the forecast was “still up in the air” (an often used meteorology pun), but basically the leg will have a lot more variability than anything we’ve seen thus far in the race. “When we talk about the weather conditions in this part of the world we’re talking about big systems with lots of breeze, or big highs with prevailing light winds,” he said. “We’re in a transition between two patterns, which makes the forecast complicated. This is coastal sailing, and we’re talking about playing the topographical features: land and sea breezes, and lots of tidal effects. Lots of navigational challenges as well.”

May 20, 2009

Blowing Off the Gate

Skipper Ian Walker’s Green Dragon Racing Team, while stacked with talented sailors, has had one hell of a time in its round-the-world adventure with the Volvo Ocean Race. Late to the table and seriously challenged with funding, few put them at the top of the betting odds when this race started last year. Only mid-way through the opening leg did they raise a few eyebrows of a potential dark horse. But for the most part since then, breakages and missed opportunities have plagued them with every leg. Luck of the Irish, I think not.

But opportunities, taken or missed, are what this race is about when the fleet is bunched together, as it has been on many a leg, and earlier this week, Walker and his charges seized their best chance yet at some Volvo glory. By simply cutting the corner and eschewing the points awarded at the Leg 7 (transatlantic) scoring gate, they kept their bow pointed toward their home in Ireland’s Galway Bay and slid into second. It was, however, short lived. No sooner after grabbing top points at the scoring gate, the three front-runners, Ericsson 4, Telefonica Blue, and Puma Ocean Racing, reshuffled the deck and the race’s pecking order established itself once more.

“Today is a very good day. First and foremost we are out of last place and are less than an hour behind all the other boats after making big gains to the South,” wrote Walker on May 18. “Tactically we benefitted from a few boats reaching hard for the scoring gate and also from a change to the forecast which meant that being south was an advantageous thing.” Their sole aim, he added, was to stay in touch before the downwind sailing starts. The forecast was for all downwind sailing from the second ice gate, and for much of that to be in very windy conditions.

“This is something we have not sailed in close proximity to the other boats in so it will be interesting for everyone. The whole leg is setting up for a grandstand finish in Galway Bay. Mind you if it is blowing over 30 knots, Galway Bay will be a pretty tricky place to negotiate.”

Speaking of negotiations, it’s worth pointing out that Green Dragon’s southerly route was not necessarily a planned one, but rather a result of unsuccessfully negotiating the minefield of lobster pots and associated gear strewn about the southern coast of Nova Scotia. Everyone in the fleet reported nabbing their fair share, cutting their boats free (which is sure to earn the ire of lobstermen with high-priced gear now sitting on the ocean bottom), but the unlucky Dragons got the worst of it.

Said Walker, “Why did I have to mention the threat of lobster pots yesterday? [Ed’s note: As they exited Boston in thick fog he wrote: “Radar doesn’t help much with lobster pots though so we will need a bit of Irish luck to help out there. Neal McDonald had to avoid 15 lobster pots in the first 20 minutes of his shift steering earlier today, which doesn’t bode well for tonight.” ] Today as we rounded Cape Sable off the Southern tip of Nova Scotia we were confronted by hundreds of them and to make matters worse, it was low tide and the lines were slack with little or no pattern. After zigzagging our way through with a lookout forward, we eventually hooked one on our leeward daggerboard. Five minutes later we had three of them entangling us. After backing down and clearing two of them we realized one line had sawn its way through the leading edge of the port daggerboard. We managed to raise the board and cut it free but we are left with a 250 cut in the laminate of our daggerboard one meter up from the tip. The rope we hit must have been over a meter below the surface!

“We cannot leave the board in this state or the laminate will peel away and the board will start to disintegrate. Right now the watch system is on hold and we have four teams of people working onboard. Two people are sailing the boat as fast as they can with no daggerboards, three people led by Neal McDonald are working to repair the damaged board down below and three people led by Damian are working to swap the windward board end for end into the leeward case and two people are eating or resting. Hopefully we will have the daggerboards reversed and can sail at 100% in the next hour and the port daggerboard can hopefully be fixed before we have to go upwind.

“This is a big disappointment as we were in sight of five boats and sailing well. We can only hope that we don’t lose touch with the fleet and live to fight another day.”

With their position south of the fleet, they did reconnect, albeit briefly, as the northern most boats were forced to tack south to avoid the established ice exclusion zone. It was only a matter of miles before they were bringing up the rear once again, however, and though they did live to fight another day, it appears the hard-luck Dragon has yet to cash in its clover.

May 16, 2009

Welcome To the Pleasure Dome

Around the Thrane & Thrane (pronounced “train”) campfire nowadays they’re telling the story about how, on the Volvo Ocean Race’s storm-riled thrashing from Singapore to Qingdao, China, a crewmember onboard Telefonica Blue, carried by a wave, wiped out the big sat-com dome mounted at the transom and sent it into the sea. Engineered to withstand pretty much any calamity at sea, the dome trailed behind the boat, tethered by its cables.

Remember now, these white domes are the life-support machines of the team (it allows them access to weather, data, and communications to and from their shore teams). And they’re equally important to the race organizers, providing data and media from the boats back to race headquarters and onto our computers so fans can follow along 24/7.

Telefonica’s crew weren’t about to give all that up. So the story goes, they hauled the thing back to the boat by its cables, mounted it, and carried on as usual.

The story, the first of it I’d heard, was told to roomful of sat-com types this morning, assembled in a conference room at the Marriott Hotel on Long Wharf in Boston. While the seven teams across the harbor readied for Leg 7 to Galway, Ireland, representatives of Inmarsat (the “sat” in sat-com), Thrane & Thrane (the hardware provider), and Stratos (the “com” in sat-com) gathered for a breakfast of unseen video highlights and omelets. Emceed by sailing scribe Louay Habib, the affair was as much an educational one for those unfamiliar with the race and the boats themselves, and to highlight the sat-com trio’s critical participation in the race. By someone’s count, a total of 160 gigabytes of data had been passed through the sat-com system since the race began last October. This, it was noted, is about the equivalent of 100 feature-length films.

Once the gathering was wrapped up, we headed for the big ferry cat nearby for a VIP vantage point of today’s Leg 7 send-off. Mounted on the port stern rail of the ferryboat was Inmarsat’s new, pint-sized unit introduced last week in Miami. Called the SAILOR 150, and developed for the leisure marine market, the unit can deliver up to 150 kilobytes of data per second; essentially voice and data. Elsewhere on the ferry was a laptop setup, demonstrating how we could surf the net with ease and follow the play-by-play race start on by way of satellite.

But once the boats peeled out of Fan Pier for the last time, no one on the ferry was paying the computer much attention. All eyes were fixed on the boats as they paced Boston’s inner harbor under blue skies. Then, as if on cue for the start, the fog rolled as it had done for the in-port race a week earlier. Minor detail. From our perspective further up the harbor, it was hard to tell what was going on at the start line, but in the first attempt to send them off, we watched as Puma turned back to the line. Uh oh. OCS, we all thought. Headsail down?! Uh oh. Equipment issues?

Just as we were starting to feel sorry for the home team, we learned the start had been postponed. Maybe to let the fog really sock the thing in. Regardless, the fleet was promptly off and running on the next attempt, with Puma leading off on port tack to the right side of the channel, the rest of the fleet following neatly in line behind them. Telefonica Blue, however, who’d started near the pin and held the inside track up the left side of the channel, just kept getting wound higher and higher until their bow was literally pointing toward the mark, somewhere out of sight in the fog. Puma was first to run out of room on the right, crossed a few boats and hipped up on Telefonica. The rest of the fleet disappeared from the fog.

We followed along on the VHF and learned a freighter was about to enter the harbor and drive through the racecourse. This would be interesting. Everyone got around the mark in time except for Delta Lloyd, apparently diverted away from the mark (and obviously the ship) by the U.S. Coast Guard. There was rumor on the ferry of calling back the fleet for a restart, but race organizers wisely let it roll. A ship is simply an obstacle of the racecourse. Bad break for Delta Lloyd.

Telefonica Blue led Telefonica Black down the return run into the inner harbor, followed by Puma and Ericsson 4, and it was the same heading out to sea, in sight only until they disappeared into the fog. Gone in an instant.

Our fearless ferry captain attempted to follow out and hook up with some of the boats: we found Ericsson 3 and Delta Lloyd, purely by happenstance and radar, gave them our cheers and headed back to the city to power up our laptops and follow the fleet virtually once more. Thanks to those pleasure domes on the back the boats, we’re transformed once again to virtual spectator until they arrive in Galway in six or seven days time.

Dave Reed

May 8, 2009

Home-Court Advantage? What Home-Court Advantage

By Stuart Streuli

There is no home-court advantage for Ken Read’s Puma team in Saturday’s in-port race. At least according to Read. “If we sailed this [on the Charles River] between the BU and Mass. Ave. bridges [then we’d have an advantage],” said the Puma skipper and Massachusetts native at today’s press conference before the practice race. “I’ve probably sailed 1,000 races there while I was at Boston University. Boston Harbor? Shockingly there’s very little racing out here. It’s a bit of an unknown for all of us. It’ll be my third time in that body of water.”

But that lack of any local knowledge won’t negate the added pressure Read feels to perform for the home crowd. The team was hoping for a strong performance, preferably its first leg win, on the Rio to Boston leg of the race, but that wasn’t to be. They finished fourth. Saturday will a chance at some redemption. As of this morning, the forecast for Saturday’s racing was light and shifty, which Read said was not the ideal conditions for his team; he would like a little more breeze. To wit, during today’s practice racing, Puma looked very strong in the 14- to 18-knot southeasterly seabreeze, leading all the way around. is predicting about the same thing for tomorrow. However, the National Weather Service is anticipating 5 to 10 knots. For Read’s sake, and that of anyone going out to watch the sailing, let’s hope the former is correct. These boats really light up when the breeze gets into the double digits.

I had the opportunity to go on board Ericsson 4 for today’s racing. Aside from getting completely soaked by the one wave that managed to spray the after end of the boat, it was an amazing experience. The VO 70 feels like a really powerful dinghy. The acceleration when the sails are trimmed on, or when the boat bears away, is palpable. If you’re not hanging on to something when either happens, you’re liable to regret it. We went upwind at 11 to 12 knots and downwind, on VMG angles, at 14 to 17. While the boats are set up primarily to go one direction for a very long period of time, they’re not as clumsy as I expected around the buoys-though there’s no doubt that having extremely skilled big boat sailors is crucial. With the exception of the helmsman and the primary grinder-in this case America’s Cup vet Brian MacInnes-everyone is multi-tasking. The pre-starts were very aggressive, often with boats starting a boatlength or less apart. And there were plenty of tight crossing situations upwind. At one point toward the end of the first beat, we had Delta Lloyd try to leebow us on port tack. Skipper Torben Grael elected to try the high road, hoping to hang there until the layline and then tack inside the Dutch team, which is sailing the former ABN AMRO One, the winner from the previous VOR. The Delta Lloyd team eventually squeezed us off and for a good 15 seconds there was 2 meters or less separating our bowspirt from their transom.

Ericsson 4 showed good speed downwind, while others definitely struggled. Grael rolled right over top of Telefonica Black and was in third at the gate, with Puma leading and Telefonica Blue in second. But the takedown was a mess, largely due to the fact they were using the offshore sails and halyards, which are engineered for endurance, not sail handling. The inshore sails, halyards, and takedown strings for each team had yet to arrive from Rio-something that would seem a very significant issue, but seemed of little concern to any of the skippers at the press conference. At the end of the second beat we were in fifth or so, close with Tele Black and Delta Lloyd and Ericsson 3 when we bailed out and headed for the dock.

The course for the In-Port racing is very short. The addition of the mid-course gate makes for lots of exciting crossing situations but puts a premium of getting the hole shot. Get out in front early and, if the breeze is steady, you will be hard to pass. Grael was a little disappointed with the length of the courses this time around, feeling that for the amount of points awarded for the in-port races, they should be longer and more substantial. I can’t say I disagree, the mid-course gate really limits the leverage you can get. But, it is good viewing. I remember watching the Rio race and it was great to see the boats competing in a relatively compact arena. It does make for good TV.

Saturday’s in-port racing will be done a good ways offshore, so viewing from the Boston waterfront isn’t really feasible. It will be streamed live on the website. Sunday’s Pro-Am regatta will be in the inner harbor and should provide some fantastic action, especially if the breese fills in as predicted. Even if you miss this weekend, take the time to check out the village during the week-it won’t be crowded-or the re-start next weekend. The Volvo circus is well worth attending. There’s plenty to do for sailors of all ages.

May 7, 2009

Bring On the Beantown In-Port

Simon Fisher, the strategist and helmsman for Telefonica Blue, has sailed the larger portion of his around-the-world epic. Numerous times, he and his teammates have been to hell and back. They’ve faced the demons of equipment failures, injuries, and one grounding, but somehow through it all, they’ve been consistently consistent; consistent enough to sit second overall behind Ericsson 4, the Volvo Ocean Race’s runaway team.

But on Thursday, as Fisher and his teammates look toward the shorter, fast-paced closing legs, all those hard-eared miles, and all the highlights and heartbreak, don’t mean a damn.

“It’s almost as if we’re starting over again,” says Fisher. With only a half-point lead over the hometown Puma Ocean Racing squad going into this weekend’s Boston in-port race, they’ve got a bit of a re-start on their hands, and it’s all about that second podium spot (although, Fisher admits the top spot is still fully up for grabs.) Fending off Ken Read and the others, he adds, will not be easy.

“The Puma guys will be on top of their game,” he says.

Read, by the way, pointed out at a sold-out presentation in Newport, R.I., last week, that they’ve yet to win a contest-be it a leg or an in-port race, and he sure would like to reverse that trend sooner than later.

On his first day “back on the job” Thursday morning, after a much-needed break and excursion to New York City, Fisher, like his fellow strategists, was heading into Telefonica’s shore base at Boston’s Fan Pier, ready to catch up on his homework and prepare for Saturday’s in-port race.

The topic of what to do about Puma, he says, had been discussed at team meetings, and there was but one obvious conclusion: “At this point, there’s still 48 points to grab,” he says. “We have to keep sailing our own race. It wouldn’t be smart for us to drive Puma to the back of the fleet. If we’re in the same situation later on, then maybe.”

On his day’s agenda was pouring over the numerous weather models and digging out the local tide and current charts to “have a closer look.” As the designated navigator for the in-port race, he says he’d yet to tap any local knowledge sources, but it was on his list.

“Local knowledge is good to have, but you have to be careful,” he says. Instead they would be relying primarily on the meteorological skills of his navigator colleague Tom Addis, who has his own custom weather tools developed during his tenure with Emirates Team New Zealand.

The long-range forecast shows the passage of a cold front later in the day Saturday, which means a healthy southwesterly in advance; they’re expecting a range of 10 to 15 knots, and with the flat waters expected in the racecourse area, such conditions should play well for Fisher’s team, generally considered among the fleet as the one to beat in light to moderate, upwind conditions.

The racecourse will be set in Broad Sound, about a 7-mile transit for the teams from Fan Pier. That’s about 6 to 8 miles offshore, so shore-side spectating is pretty much out of the question, save for watching the boats come and go. A few calls to local charter operations today confirms the area’s charter boat fleet is all accounted for. “Calls are coming in,” says Carol Kent, of Carol Kent Yacht Charters, “but all the boats are taken.”

If you’re in the area over the weekend, however, there’s still plenty happening at the Race Village, including concerts, a Pro-Am race on Sunday within Boston Harbor, and lots more. We’ll be there taking it all in.

In-Port Schedule TENTATIVE In‐Port race day schedule (High Water – Boston Harbor 12:19pm): 10:30‐10:50 am Race boats depart Fan Pier for Broad Sound 11:00am Most Spectator vessels depart Boston Inner Harbor and Fan Pier 1:00pm Scheduled start of the first In‐Port Race 2:15pm Approximate start time for the second In‐Port Race 4:30pm Fleet returns to Fan Pier 5:00pm Prize Giving at Fan Pier stage

For updates: As in every in-port race, the VOR media team will be providing live streaming audio. Race director Knut Frostad is always brutally honest with his commentary. It’s the next best thing to being there.

Alternative sites: or Facebook at Volvo Ocean Race at Fan Pier Boston.

April 21, 2009

Sprinting To The Wall

After several days fast reaching, the fleet has his the proverbial wall, and as result, Telefonica Blue has seen its 70-mile or more lead dwindle to a mere 30 miles to Ericsson 4 this morning. Ericsson 3 and Puma continue their round-the-world tango. Simon Fisher reports in this morning from the front of the fleet, as he anxiously looks over his shoulder.

Wow, so far this leg has been quite a contrast from the last. For starters a fair bit shorter, something that seems to sit quite nicely with everyone on board but more importantly it feels great to be in the hunt rather than having to play a constant game of catch up! That said we once again have found ourselves sailing around on our own again but this time for all the right reasons and our 100 mile lead is giving us a little breathing space as compared to the furious battle for second going on with the boats behind us!

I feel lucky to be able to say that this leg is very much going to plan. We identified early on in our preparation how important it was going to be to have a good start, the first 48 hours of the race could well be a decider. As a result we left fully geared up for light winds – which means leaving as much gear on the dock as possible! After a fenzy of taking to get out of the bay in Rio an some light upwind down the coast on the first night, we dived in shore for the land breeze, took everyones sterns and then popped doubt in front at Cabo Frío and there we have managed to stay until now! From Cabo Frío onward it has been reaching, reaching, reaching, very much a drag race requiring good speed and subtle navigation to make the best use of the phasing winds.

This has also been a leg of many milestones for us too, Firstly we completed our circumnavigation, as we headed to the Island of Fernando de Noronha we crossed our outgoing track meaning that we have now sailed around the world! Next it was the scoring gate and a first for us, both first place and the first time we have managed to lead at a gate so smiles all round there. Next it was our 4th and final crossing of the Equator and a finally a return to the northern hemisphere – almost home for much of the crew!

The week ahead of us looks to be a little tricker, starting from tomorrow the winds for us will start to get lighter and the chasing pack will start to breath down our neck. However, we will keep pushing hard as we are all really looking forward to getting to Boston and we’ll do anything to be there first!

Cheers to all the Sailing World readers from Telefónica Blue

Si Fi.

April 15, 2009

The Long Road Home

With the “epic adventure” of Leg 5 now a fading memory, Ken Read, skipper of second-placed Puma Ocean Racing, has only one-third of the Volvo Ocean Race remaining to make his move to the top of the pile. At this moment Read and his mates on il mostro are three days into a relative hop-skip-and-jump to their homeport in Boston. It was here, on Boston’s Inner Harbor, with Puma’s international headquarters nearby, where Read’s big black sneaker was christened last fall, and so it is here where his round-the-world escapade will come full circle. We got him on the telephone 24 hours before the Leg 5 start on April 11, and he was refreshed, upbeat, and mostly anxious to get home.

You’re 10.5 points behind Ericsson 4; what’s it going to take for you to have a shot at winning this thing? We have to step it up. We’re changing a lot of little things on how we’re changing sails. If we’re losing a mile with every sail change we have to reduce that to three-quarters of a mile. The racing is so close that that stuff makes a big difference. If this version of the Volvo race is going to be sailed like a buoy race, then we have to keep stepping up our preparation and address the little things, which could end up making or breaking a leg in the end. How many of these things have been mere miles at the end of the leg? This will be the same.

Right, but how do you step it up? How we sail the boat. Changing the A3 to the A4, for example; how much do we slow the boat down? Do we bear off? Do we head up? Changing jibs, do we bear off, head up; how much do we put the keel down or up; how many guys do I risk putting up on the foredeck for a sail change? These are all things that have to be weighed every minute of every day. We can’t just assume that we’re perfect at it just because we’ve sailed three-quarters of this race.

What are your thoughts as you set off on this next leg to Boston? For me personally, and our boat, we have a little bit of an advantage, we have the inspiration that we’re sailing home. Especially me. Hopefully we’ve got that little bit of extra energy to get through the tough times. Everyone’s tired. You can see it in their eyes.

Is it realistically a three-boat race at this point? Well, you can’t count anyone out yet, but it’s certainly starting to sort out. If ourselves, Telefonica Blue, and Ericsson 4 get some form of 1-2-3 in this leg, I’d say, yes, you’re looking closer toward a three-boat race, but I’m smart enough to understand that nothing is sorted out yet. We’ve got doldrum conditions for the next couple of weeks. One bad cloud could be 30 miles difference between being on or off a weather system. It’s the squall world championship. Your fate is so often determined by one lousy cloud. From the start, for a week of sailing, it’s going to be cloud after cloud after cloud. At night, especially, you’re dealing with fate. A lot of time it’s a lot of luck of the draw.

How are you feeling as you start this leg? I gotta be honest, I’m looking forward to this leg more than I’ve ever looked forward to going sailing in my whole life. I just can’t wait to get home. I haven’t been there since last September. I just can’t wait to be there. It’s been an absolute blur. So much has happened since we left Boston. We were in China 50 days ago. You’re so focused on the task at hand that it’s hard to remember what’s happened. It’s been a wild part of my life, that’s for sure.

So, points-wise, what exactly is left on the table? There’s just shy of half the points, 62 of a possible 130 points, something like that. So we’re getting into more intense hand-to-hand combat for the next few months. E4 is a strong program, and we have all the respect for them. We’re not giving in to anyone, but it’s time for them to make a mistake, and we need to take advantage of it when they do.

We’ve been on the podium more than anybody. That second leg, that fifth into India, we can look at one incident that cost us 70 to 80 miles and that’s the difference between being within a couple of points with these guys and being 9 points back or whatever it is [10.5, but who’s counting? Ed.] We’re happy with our consistency; that was the goal since Day One. We like being the underdog against the big teams that are outspending and out everything. We’re pleased where we are, but we won’t use it as an excuse. We’ll keep batting until someone grabs our docklines in St. Pete [Russia] and says we can’t win.

Have you ever wondered whether Ericsson 3’s role is to taunt you so you take your eye off Ericsson 4? [Laughs] I don’t know. I think E3 likes beating E4 more than anyone else in the fleet. They clearly have a quick boat and they’re getting better and better. In the last leg they had a nice spot. Us and E4 got ahead of the group and we just kept sailing into lighter air. They made up a 100-mile deficit, and they took one move and game over. We expect to continue to see them, but we know they’re quick and have come a long way. We’d be pretty silly if we didn’t think they’d be right next to us for a chunk of this leg as well.

In one of your e-mails during the last leg, you expressed your frustration with trying to pace the Ericsson boats, and said you’d like to “shake the tires off the bumper.” What’s left for you to get more out of the boat? We can’t do anything to the boat. The only speed producing stuff we can do is how we sail the boat, and the sails themselves. We have new ones this leg. There’s a lot of changes to geometry, re-cuts. If you don’t get faster at each stopover you’re going to get shot out the back.

Which new sails for this leg? On this leg we have four new sails, which is a lot: two kites, two headsails. We don’t design our sails until we need them. We had a pre-race schedule of what we thought based on historical data. We’ve stuck pretty close to the model we had before the race started. You’re only allowed 24 for the whole race, so you need to treat your sail button as if it’s you’re first-born child. It’s really important. You can’t just throw away a sail button, so each sail has to get better.

I think we’re in better shape, physically, with our sails than anyone. We caught on early how brutal the UV would be in this race. We’re going 30 percent longer and crossing the equator four times, not two. So the amount of UV exposure on these sails is ruthless. It’s a brutal part of this race. That’s the problem with the sails; it’s not from a structural standpoint, it’s just that the sun is rotting stuff all over the boat-sails, ropes, and bodies, too. You have to be careful of it.

Speaking of bodies, Ericsson 4 has yet to rotate anyone off the boat. How important is this in the long run? My opinion is that if I did this over again I’d be changing way more people. Knowing what I know, I think a well-conceived plan to rotate people…Trust me, with our team, the bolt of energy that Jerry [Kirby] brought to a 41-day leg cannot be discarded. One person can add a wonderful dimension to the boat. I’d have even more rotation. I might even rotate myself off. I’m just as tired as anyone else. I like what we did and might even do it more if I did it again.

I get this sense from looking at the media coming off all the boats that you’re on deck dealing with a lot more boat work than some of the other skippers; is this true? Possibly. In talking with our watch captions I think I’ll be on deck more from now on. More straightforward legs allow you to be on deck more. It’s more fun, and having that fifth guy on deck is a huge help for the group. It’s another able body to keep it going that much faster.

Has Puma corporate promised a bonus if you pull off a win in this leg? No, they promised not to fire me [laughs]. Tony Bertoni, like thousands of others, has said that incredibly obvious statement: “You know you guys have to win this leg.”

Were not going to put any more pressure than what is already there. Let’s go do our thing and see how we go.

Key Boston Stopover Dates (Fan Pier Boston) Port Opens: Saturday, April 25, 2009 – Projected: Based on Leg 6 Finish Estimated Boat Arrivals: Monday, April 27, 2009 In‐Port Race: Saturday, May 9, 2009 Pro‐Am Race: Sunday, May 10, 2009 Leg Prize Giving: Sunday, May 10, 2009 Leg 7 Start: Saturday, May 16, 2009 Bump Out Ends: Thursday, May 23, 2009

January 8, 2009

A Clean Slate for Ericsson, Sort Of

Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race

Ericsson 4 will not be penalised under the protest filed by the Rule Management Group against the team. The International Jury found the team was not obliged to inform the Measurers of changes made to the bow of its boat, and therefore the team had not broken a rule. ERT did not inform the measurers that they had replaced the sacrificial bow section and ‘duplicated’ the position of the measurement reference point with another screw head, something that may have affected the accuracy of the hull measurement data. The Rule Management Group accepted that the new bow section was the same as the replaced section, and that the position of the measurement reference point was not an issue.

Earlier this week the Ericsson Racing Team was facing jury time on three different accounts: Ericsson 3 for it’s Leg 3 port-starboard altercation with Telefonica Blue, and for sailing into an exclusion zone. Ericsson 4 had the stickier matter of fitting on a new bow before the race and neglecting to tell the measurers about it. If ERT had been found at fault on all three, the top standings today would have had an entirely different look.

But all the grief of yesterday is all for naught today, as ERT has been let off the hook on two of three protests. Telefonica Blue dropped its protest before it went to the jury, and they did so for one reason only: points. If E3 were disqualified from the leg (as they most likely would have been), then E4 would have picked up additional points, further extending their lead. That’s playing rules of convenience, but it is what it is.

On Thursday, however, the jury did fine E3’s entry into an exclusion zone on Leg 3 merited the deduction of one point (see below). The protest against Ericsson 4 was dismissed on the grounds that there’s nowhere in the rules that requires them to inform the measurement group when a new false bow is fitted. Strangely though, there’s no mention of the issue of the boat being .02mm over length, as stated in the protest lodged by the Rule Measurement Group. I’ve put in inquiry, so let’s see what comes of it.

So that’s it for the jury activity. Everything now turns to the in-port race on Saturday, followed by the dog-and-pony Pro-Am races on Sunday.

Official Releases from Ericsson Racing Team:


SINGAPORE (Jan. 8, 2009) – The International Jury for the Volvo Ocean Race today penalized Ericsson Racing Team’s entry Ericsson 3 for failing to observe an exclusion zone on the recently concluded Leg 3, from India to Singapore.

The jury deducted 1 point from Ericsson 3’s total for crossing into an exclusion zone south of Sri Lanka early on the leg. Despite the loss of the point, Ericsson 3 remains in fourth place overall, now with 22.5 points. Ericsson 3 will also retain its third-place finish on Leg 3, as per Notice of Race 6.2(b).

“After rounding the western waypoint, we unintentionally crossed into the exclusion zone for 3 minutes and 40 seconds due to light winds (5-6 knots) and stronger than expected current (2-3 knots),” said Ericsson 3 navigator Aksel Magdahl. “We made no gains by being in the zone, and in fact lost more distance when we had to bear off to exit the zone.

The protest was the result of Ericsson 3 notifying the race committee after finishing on Dec. 22, 2008, that it had crossed into the exclusion zone. The committee filed the protest believing that Ericsson 3 had missed the mark of the course.

When it was proved that Ericsson 3 honored the western waypoint, the jury continued with the protest over the entry of the exclusion zone.

Ericsson 3 was on starboard jibe after it cleared the western waypoint, and then jibed to port to make a sail change. All hands were on deck for the change, which meant Magdahl was not at the navigation station and monitoring the boat’s track. When he realized they were in the zone, they immediately bore off to exit.

Ericsson 3 had also faced a protest from rival Telefónica Blue over an alleged port-starboard incident in the final hours of the leg. The crew of Ericsson 3 is firm in its belief that it never infringed the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Yesterday, the Spanish entry requested permission from the jury to withdraw the protest, citing the best interests of the race and its competitors. The jury granted that request.


SINGAPORE (Jan. 8, 2009) – The International Jury for the Volvo Ocean Race today dismissed a protest against overall race leader Ericsson 4 for allegedly being in violation of the rules of the Volvo Ocean Race.

“We’re happy with the decision of the International Jury and thank them for their good work,” said Ericsson 4 skipper Torben Grael. “The protest was dismissed on all accounts, and we look forward to getting this race back on the water.”

The Rule Management Group (RMG) for the Volvo Open 70 Rule alleged that Ericsson 4 was in violation of the class rule because it had replaced the crash box in the bow last August during the final days of pre-race training in the Canary Islands.

The RMG protest was based on three aspects: that Ericsson 4 was required to inform the RMG of the new crash box, an alleged breach of Volvo Open 70 Rule 3.1, and acceptance by the RMG that the new crash box was exactly the same as the old one.

“[T]he jury finds there was no obligation for Ericsson 4 to inform the Rule Management Group of the change. The protest is therefore dismissed,” said International Jury Chairman Bryan Willis.

“We think it’s unfortunate to have spent four days on something that should’ve never required so much energy,” said Ericsson Racing Team General Manager Richard Brisius. “We’ve had to halt our preparations for the In-Port Race to accommodate the measurement process. We feel vindicated by the outcome and the decision of the International Jury.”

The crash box is a sacrificial piece of the bow intended to break away or deform in the event of a collision (much like a bumper in a car) leaving the hull intact. The piece was replaced in the Canary Islands because it had been damaged during training.

The new crash box was a like-for-like replacement made at the Ericsson Racing Team boatyard in Kista, Sweden, from the same mold. Ericsson Racing Team admits that it would’ve been prudent to notify the RMG of the change, but there is no specific rule imposing an obligation to do so and there was never an intention to mislead the RMG.

January 6, 2009

It would appear that the Ericsson Racing Team and the “Rule Management Group,” which oversees the Volvo Open 70 Rule are disconnected.

First, before the race actually got underway last October, there was the “keel” issue with Ericsson 3. In a nutshell, E3’s keel didn’t not get the OK from measurers, and E3 subsequently started without a valid certificate. At the conclusion of Leg 1 they were penalized points and had a new keel fitted in Cape Town.

Now, it appears the other shoe has fallen on Ericsson 4, the race leader and pace setter in the fleet. With all boats undergoing mandatory measurements and weighing in Singapore over the past several weeks, a red flag went up over the ERT camp.

In essence, the RMG is calling E4’s certificate into question. The official protest by the Rule Management Group is below. My guess is that, if ERT is found guilty again, we’ll see the application of a points penalty, which will could certainly jeopardize it’s lock on the overall standings. Plus, reading into the RMG’s statement, they’ve got .02mm extra hull length to get rid of before they go anywhere.

P.S. Ericsson 3 will face the international jury as well on two accounts: for a port-starboard incident with Telefonica Blue, and for sailing the wrong course on Leg 3.

To: The Volvo Ocean Race Jury Subject: Alterations to Ericsson 4 after measurement Report No: VOR01-RMG

Revision: 0 Prepared By: James Dadd Date: 4th January 2009 Reviewed By: Nick Nicholson Date: 4th January 2009

1. Submission

1.1. On the 3rd January 2009 the Chief Measurer noted a section of the bow of a boat in Ericsson Racing Team (ERT) colours behind the ERT containers. On enquiry, members of ERT informed the Chief Measurer that this section of hull was the bow section of ‘Ericsson 4’ which had been installed on the boat when it was presented for original hull measurement at the builders in Sweden on 11 June 2008. Following damage to this portion of the hull prior to the Assembly Period in Alicante, this entire section was removed and replaced with a new bow section.

1.2. The Rule Management Group were not informed that changes had been made to the hull that could affect the Measurement Ashore data that was derived from the original hull measurement.

1.3. As a result of removal of the original bow section and its replacement with a new component, original hull measurements have been invalidated. Specifically, the portion of the hull removed and replaced contained the measurement references LLF (Limit of Length Forward, see V70 Rule 3.2.1) and RPF (Reference Point Forward, see V70 Rule 3.2.3(a)). The RPF screw of the original bow section was removed and installed in the new bow section by ERT, without re-measurement by the RMG. Likewise, the new bow section was faired into the existing hull without re-measurement of LLF and LOA by a Measurer.

1.4. The result of this change is that the RMG do not know the actual measurements relating to these references. The measurements directly affected by these references include: LOA (Length Overall), MP (Mast Position), BSL (Bowsprit Length) and Measurement Afloat (see rule 4), which directly affects FFM (Forward Freeboard), MFM (Mid Freeboard), D (Draft) and MD (Mast Datum).

1.5. As stated in V70 Rule 3.1, these measurements must be carried out by a Measurer prior to issuance of a valid Volvo Open 70 Certificate. As such ‘Ericsson 4’ (Volvo Open 70 Hull Number 14) has not to this date held any valid Volvo Open 70 Certificate, as required in Notice of Race 5.1(g)(i).

The Volvo Ocean Race Jury Subject: Addendum to VOR01-RMG dated 4th January 2009 Report No: VOR01-RMG-Addendum A Prepared By: James Dadd Date: 5th January 2009 Reviewed By: Nick Nicholson Date: 5th January 2009

1. Submission 1.1 On the night of the 4th January 2009 ERT set ‘Ericsson 4’ up in Measurement Ashore Condition (see V70 Rule 3.1), as required by the RMG. LLF and RPF (see paragraph 1.3 of VOR01-RMG above) were measured by James Dadd and Nick Nicholson (the Measurers).

1.2 Measurement was carried out using the same equipment and methodology employed during the original Ashore Measurements in Sweden for ‘Ericsson 3’ on the 10th December 2007 and ‘Ericsson 4’ on the 11th June 2008. At the time of original measurements in Sweden, no objections were raised by ERT to the measurement equipment or methodology employed, and the results were accepted as presented.

1.3 During measurement on 4th January 2009, the screw which had been placed by ERT as a reference for RPF, after replacement of the bow, was found to be 2mm lower on the hull than the RPF measurement screw which was inserted at the time of the original Measurement Ashore of the boat with the original bow section. This alters values found on all previously issued Certificates for ‘Ericsson 4’ (see paragraph 1.4 of VOR01-RMG above).

1.4 During measurement on 4th January 2009, LLF on the new bow section was established and LOA was measured. LOA with the new bow section was found to be 21.502m. This is 2mm longer than the original measurement taken in Measurement Ashore Condition of the boat with the original bow section.

1.5 V70 Rule 3.2.1 states that LOA shall not be greater than 21.500m.

James Dadd Chief Measurer, Volvo Open 70 Class

December 24, 2008

Update from Team Russia

I put a few questions concerning Team Russia’s news yesterday, and here’s what Team Russia CEO Michael Woods had to say:

“We have arrived at the point where we have to take the action to bring the campaign to a close so it can be done in an orderly manner. People will still look for funding for us to rejoin the race at a later stage or maybe we let another group of people who can find some money do so. However with Christmas, New Year and the current global financial situation we do not see happening quickly if at all. Therefore we plan to sail Kosatka back to Europe via Cape Town, leaving early in the New Year, so that if she can rejoin the race, it could be done from Rio de Janeiro onwards.

“I am not prepared to get in to discussion on budget levels and the amount we would have needed to continue the race, save to say that the latter figure very much depends on the level you wish to operate /compete, how you look after and pay people and the level of maintenance and spares you have. Unfortunately we never got far enough with discussion with potential sponsors to get to that level of detail.

“It is a very sad time for the team, but that we bought some added interest and enjoyment to people following that race makes me believe we were doing some things right for the sport we all love.”

Michael Woods CEO, Team Russia

December 23, 2008

Kosatka Sidelined

The journey ends here.

That’s the word in Singapore this morning from Team Russia, which officially announced the suspension of racing, citing a lack of funding to finish out the race. According to a release from the team, its founder and primary backer, Oleg Zherebtsoz, had been shouldering the financial burden of the challenge in the hopes that sponsors would be forthcoming as the race played out.

“From the outset, it was always a goal to bring commercial partners into the project,” said Zherebtsov. “Until now, I have financed the team with my own money, in advance of anticipated sponsorship funding. By this stage in the Volvo campaign we had intended to find sponsorship, but this process has been impacted by the global economic situation.”

Zherebtsov, is the founder and chairman of the Russian supermarket “hypermarket chain” called LENTA, which is described as “one of the leading Russian enterprises specializing in classic wholesale trade and retail sphere on the self-service principle.”

Now, the ironic twist in all of this, is the race finish itself. Race organizers determine the race’s stopovers with ties to teams (Ericcson/Stockholm, Puma/Boston, Green Dragon/Galway, Telefonica/Alicante), and next summer’s finish in Zherebtsov’s home town of St. Petersburg was inextricably tied to his team’s participation in the race. How shallow it will feel to have the fleet sail in without the home team.

December 22, 2008

Straits of Insanity

With Telefonica Blue slipping into Singapore under the cover of darkness this morning ahead of il mostro, so ends the Volvo’s first foray across the Bay of Bengal and down the busy Straits of Malacca. A Southern Ocean leg it was not. Not even close. With the one exception: it was fun to spectate.

As much as I feel for the long upwind slog these pro sailors endured on this first-swing through the region (on boats not designed to do so), you have to admit there was some good ol’ fashioned inshore racing. The kind of stuff us mere mortals can relate to-certainly more so than those 35-knot tears across the Indian Ocean. As the miles to Singapore ticked off this morning (EST), with the Ericsson twins and Puma all tied on their Distance to the Leader stat, it was impossible to not check with the hourly position updates. It sure would have been good to have that live.

Ken Read, Puma’s skipper has a knack for telling it like it is, and this is what he had to say after sneaking in ahead of Ericsson 3, and summing up this finish as one of the most stressful seconds in his sailing career:

Let’s just take the last 24 hours: The lead changed hands amongst the top four boats more times than I can imagine. We anchored twice. We were solidly fourth several times. We were winning several times. We were picked off by a tug and barge at the most critical time of the leg (about 15 miles from the finish trying to keep both Ericsson boats from rolling us). We saw more fishing boats and ships than any of us had ever seen before. We just missed massive logs and hunks of rope and other debris on many occasions. We had to dive on the keel to get a tree off it. No one on the boat really remembers the last time they slept or ate. Let’s see – anything else I have forgotten? Sounds glamorous eh?

“We are powering in from the finish now and our entire team is relieved as well as anxious when we think about what was and what could have been. The team effort on this boat was nothing short of spectacular. The intensity that has to take place 24 hours a day is like nothing that I have ever experienced. A good group of guys, who I believe are proud of what they did over the past 10 days. Even if we did get nipped out by one other boat in the end. That battle amongst the top four was ridiculous.

But with Telefonica Blue finally getting its first leg win in the bag, deservedly so after two consecutive legs in which they’ve been dogged by equipment failures, the overall standings tighten.

“It was incredible for us. We were in the lead, then we lost it and then took it back again,” said Telefonica Blue’s Bouwe Bekking “In the final six or seven miles, the breeze died completely and the other guys got very close, then we got a little puff of breeze and I managed to bring her home.

“I have never seen the guys so happy. I have known them for quite a while and normally they are very cool, but they were just ecstatic when they went through the finish. It is a huge thing for us.

“I told the guys to take it easy as especially in this part of the race, the seas can change in half an hour, and then we sailed a really good race from that point on. We had a couple of really good shifts and, tactically, it went our way and the guys sailed very fast in light airs, which is was why we won. It shows that Ericsson 4 is not invincible and it is really good overall for the race itself.”

Ericsson 4’s runaway victory is kept in check for another day. Indeed an early holiday gift for their neighbors eager to take them down.

December 17, 2008

Sidewalks and Sporks

Fans and followers of the Volvo Ocean Race know that the edition now underway is unlike any before. In years past, the course would take the fleet in one straight shot from Cape Town, Africa, across the grueling Southern Ocean for a finish in Australia.

This time, however, the sailors are racing in a part of the water world many of them have never before seen. And if there’s one thing they’ve learned thus far in this Leg 3 from India to Singapore, it is that it’s a wacky place to sail. As of today (Thursday), the boats were barely halfway down the 1,950-mile leg, which started five days ago.

Why so slow? Blame it on the moving sidewalk. You know those conveyor belt sidewalks that whisk you from one end of an airport terminal to another? Well, apparently, off the coast of Sri Lanka (see the picture below) there’s a wide swath of current running briskly at 4 miles per hour. So, picture this: you’re trying to run against the moving sidewalk at 8 miles per hour, the sidewalk is moving at 4 miles per hour. That’s easy math. You’re not going to get very far.

That was the story of the first few days, but the boat’s have finally made it off the sidewalk and each boat is searching for more wind-no one wants to spend Christmas on a hot, stinky boat with the same 10 dudes they’ve been hanging with for the last year or more. As of this morning, the boats were spread out like a fan, from north to south, as each boat’s navigator tries to predict where there will be the most wind as the weather changes in the coming days. Puma has taken a calculated gamble and put themselves in the northern flank. Consequently, they’re currently in sixth place, but only 55 miles behind the Ericsson 4 in the pole position. That could all change in a day-for better or worse.

But our friends on Puma may have a greater problem on their hands. Someone apparently forgot to pack the eating utensils. Remember, the meals are freeze-dried, with the consistency of soupy oatmeal, and served in a bowl. Here’s skipper Ken Read’s account from yesterday:

“Fortunately, we had one dinner that was pre-prepared pasta for our first night and it came with about 15 small plastic forks. No problem you might think. These guys are set and plastic forks are lightweight as well! Not so fast. We can now attest to the fact that India is certainly not known for the quality of their plastic forks. One piece of plastic at a time; they are slowly breaking to bits. You know when it has happened when you hear a groan from the galley area. Typically followed by a traditional Kiwi or Australian saying like ‘I’ve had a shocker!’ That is translated in English to ‘I just took a bite of my mash potatoes and dog food mix and came out of the bowl with either half a plastic fork or missing a couple sporks (if there is such a word) on the end.”

“Bottom line, we are down to about five usable forks, each with ‘sporks’ missing. We need a plan B.”

“Some suggestions so far include using your sunglasses (gross). Using power tools (because that got us out of our mess in the last leg but somehow I just don’t see it). The brim of a hat (yuck). And the old favourite…just dig in your hand and don’t worry about it – making freeze-dried food just that much more of a delicacy.”

December 16, 2008

We’re Back on the Course

Where you been?

Sometimes I ask myself the same question, but to cut the long story even shorter, let’s just say we had some magazines that required 100-percent of my attention. So, without much further excusing myself, let’s get back to where we left off.

Kochin. Oh yes. The Ericsson duo take the top two spots and shake up the standings. Telefonica Blue, despite its many, many equipment problems is somehow sitting in second overall in the standings. But they’ve only a point to spare to men of Puma’s il mostro.

A short stop, some elephant rides, and back surgery for il mostro, and they were off again this weekend for Leg 3, a bizarre winding leg from Kochin to Singapore. Singapore of all places. Sri Lanka to your left, and don’t mind the current.

There’s not much open race track on this leg, which means they’ll be relatively close in terms of leverage, so as you’d expect, the changes in the rankings happen often, but not by much in terms of mileage between them. As of this evening’s position report, everyone’s trailing Telefonica blue by a few dozen miles or more.

Reports from the boats are that they have, for the most part, cleared the 3-knot current conveyor belt so are finally making progress toward the finish. I think Green Dragon’s skipper Ian Walker said it best earlier today:

“We do not have the speed of the Ericsson, PUMA or Telefónica boats and it is not easy to see them putting miles on us whenever we are near them. We had been sailing for hours, making no more than two knots and often nothing towards the finish, so we had to do something. We didn’t really want to go south, but had to bite the bullet. We also noticed that Telefónica Black had made some gains that way, so south we went and, sure enough, the current finally reduced.”

Let’s see how things shake out overnight.

Si-Fi’s Leg 2 Reflections

Rather than sitting in my nav station getting bounced around I am writing this from the comfort of our office container, the air conditioning is on full, I am clean showered well fed and well slept. All this makes a pleasant contrast from the last week we spent at sea which in normal Volvo 70 fashion was typically eventful and full of ups and downs.

When I last managed to put fingers to keyboard we were flying up the Indian Ocean and if I remember correctly catching the leaders quite rapidly so for us it was happy days. We managed to traverse the light spot and got some good testing in against Puma as they were visible for much of the day that the wind was dropping and shifting. All in all we were very happy with our performance and I was quietly excited about the 1,300 miles of reaching that lay ahead of us which I hoped would see us most of the way to the front of the fleet if the performance proved to be as good as it had been in the previous day. Just when the wind was building however, the rug was firmly pulled out from under us by a cloud cracking of carbon that marked the departure (or partial at least) of our port dagger board from the boat. The thing was hanging limp for the case and reminded me of something had been bombed as opposed to broken. It was a 45 minute operation to get the thing back up the case and into the boat which involved Pepe [Pepe Ribes, ESP, bowman] in his underpants and a climbing harness dangling over the side of the boat try to manhandle the thing back up the whole without shredding himself on all the broken carbon sticking out.

With the episode out of the way we were eventual back on track but limping a little. Hopes of eating into the leaders some more were gone and replace by a plan of hanging in the and not losing too much distant or easting on the guys around us as we approached the doldrums. We just wanted to try to stay in the same patch of water of the guys until we got to such a point that we could be back to full strength on the other tack although this ended up proving much harder than it looked but was probably a blessing in disguise. We got stuck pretty low as we approached the doldrums and then as a result got headed and I was left staring in disbelief at the computer screen as the guys around us ended up 70 miles further east and our doldrums crossing looked as it was going to end any hopes of being at the point of the fleet.

Luckily however the stars decided to align for us and we managed to escape the clutches of the doldrums with losses but none too severe. However they then swelled again and swallowed up the rest of the pack and from that moment on we showed the pack to the east a clean pair of heels as we yachted of in great pressure while they all sat in the parking lot next to one another. Whether it was Doldrum, the little plastic horse that belonged to Xabi’s [Xabi Fernández, ESP, trimmer/helmsman] son, or Jordi’s [Jordi Calafat, ESP, trimmer/helmsman] picture of the Majorcan Saint that he says looks over his family or my Grandfather’s slide rule that I hide in may nav bag to bring me luck that helped us out we can’t be sure. Everyone seems to have their own theory but not being that superstitious I like to think most of it was down to the guys sailing really well through the difficult light wind conditions and minimizing the time parked, playing a few clouds correctly to keep us going and Bouwe [Bouwe Bekking, NED, skipper] and I maintaining to keep a clear head when things we looking grim. This saw us safely into second place and whilst Ericsson 4 was stretching away from us in front we were very happy to be where we were given the situation a few days prior.

From that point on it was happy days, gaining miles every sched and every three hours we waited with excitement to see if we were still stretching. Then just at the point that everyone was getting slightly anxious to get in with the finish line just over 100 hundred miles to go and the talk of cold beer and a proper bed was becoming the preferred topic we parked, firmly, for about 9 hours with not a breath of wind. At this point we decided to go stealth, off the map for 12 hours in the position reports to cover the fact we had parked although when we re-appeared we were only about 20 miles down the track which amused me greatly for some strange reason, at one point I thought we might disappear and then re-appear right where we had left off!

Eventually as dawn rose we got enough pressure to get us to the coast and pick up the remainder of the land breeze which the swung into the local sea breeze to deliver us home. From then on it was smooth sailing about a mile off the coast as we hugged the shore, only a massive thunderstorm over the land and the sun going down threatened to park us once again but luckily we managed to escape there clutches and we rolled over the finish line to secure 2nd place as the sun was just touching the horizon. It was smiles all round and a good result from something that could have been a lot worse.

The welcome we have received in India has also been fantastic, everyone seems enthusiastic and excited to see us and all the people are so polite, friendly and welcoming that it makes coming to a place totally off the pro-yachting track really quite exciting. Hopefully in the next few days I can get to see a bit of the countryside, learn a bit about the culture and relax before getting stuck into the next leg which I am already really looking forward too.


Si Fi

Nov. 21, 2008

Video Time, Kids

If you haven’t checked out the webisodes at lately, well, do yourself a favor and check out the latest as they go live. There’s finally some good footage (Team Russia ripping along, and it’s spectacular Chinese jibe) coming off the boats. NASCAR style, and the high-speed sorta coverage we love. With media access, we’re able to grab a few raw files as they become available, and thankfully my two favorites of late showed up on the server today. I’ve shown these to my kids and they loved it. But who wouldn’t. It’s amazing stuff and if it doesn’t give you an appreciation of sailing these boats at full tilt, well, then, I can’t help you.

It’s Friday night here on the East Coast so time to check out and put an end to the work week. As I check out with the latest stats, it’s all Ericsson 4 at the moment, followed by their stablemates on E4. And how about that Green Dragon? Boom (video here), who needs one? After collecting points at the scoring gate earlier this week, they’re still hanging on to third. Predictably, Puma’s early turn north to preserve the boat has put them deeper into an the meandering high. Priority No. 1 for Ken Read has to be get to Cochin with the boat intact.

Nov. 20, 2008

Seeking Relief

Remember when everyone was complaining about the lack of Southern Ocean sailing in the new racecourse? I’m betting that right about now, the guys on most of the boats, particularly Ian Walker’s Green Dragon, sans boom, are perfectly content with the heavy short-lived dose of it they received in the past few days. Man, it’s amazing what carnage a single cold front can deliver.

Worst by far is the self-inflicted wounds of Puma’s il mostro. Two consecutive free falls and two consecutive “cracks” to the boat’s longitudinal frames has skipper Ken Read, noticeably on edge. You can see the devastation in his eyes, and you can hear it in his thankfully honest assessments in the onboard video which has come off in the past few days. The boat is existing on carbon band-aids as the hightail it away from another low and beeline to an area of lighter winds.

Speaking of videos, we’re finally seeing the crash and burn that casualty vampires crave…check out My favorite thus far is the footage of Team Russia’s Chinese Jibe, and the masthead view of how fast they were going before they were on their side. Gnarly stuff.

This leg will certainly shake up the overall standings, but again the two-boat Ericsson effort is winning the battle of attrition and collecting points. E4 grabbed the first scoring gate points this morning, followed by E3, and then Green Dragon. If it keeps following this form, E4 will have this race in the bag well before it’s over on the water. They’ve been lucky to avoid any major damage, but I’m a firm believer in the adage that “you make your luck.” These guys, thus far, have it made.

Nov. 18, 2008

I Want My VTV

I’m not the only complaining about the lack of media coming off the boats thus far, and especially on Leg 1. The dedicated media crewmember (MCM) was supposed to relieve the sailors of keeping us entertained with near-live video, images, and reports. As a whole, it’s been a disappointment, but this dispatch today from Team Russia’s Mark Covell (a Star silver medalist with Ian Walker in Sydney) gives a better sense of the task they have at hand. OK, so a little pity today, but still, how about some more video tomorrow? It’s a long, one, but I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it. Here you go:

Remember in one of my blogs from leg one, I wrote about telling it like it is? Say what you see? Well I’m about to do the same again and lay it on the line as it is for me, not the crew, not the people back in whatever edit office my work goes to, but right here right now.

Right now it’s 22.30 ships time (17 Nov.) and we are heading southeast at 28 knots in about 30 knots of wind. It has just taken me well over an hour to simply boil 5 litres of water and pour it into one container of freeze dried food. It took me 25 minutes to find the lighter because today we had a small issue below decks with which way was up and which down. We had a fresh 38 knots of breeze with two reefs and full A6 kite up. The speedo was showing off with glimpses of 34 knots but mostly strutting about with its shirt off showing a solid 26 pack. I was in the office doing my lippy trying to put the media station back together (reasons later). The boats motion was violent but no more offensive then normal, when suddenly I am thrown to starboard, hitting the bulkhead door and breaking it clean off. “Gosh” I said, “What the devil was that?” My question was answered as the laptop normally Velcroed down, landed in my lap, with a catch any fullback would have been proud of.

The Blue Planet Gravity has now chosen to work from left to right on Team Russia today I thought. Shoving the Mac quickly down my trousers, I made the rest of my kit safe and solid. Thanks to Sarah from our hard working shore crew for my new pouches, nothing else fell. As you can guess, the old up and down which I had become rather fond of, had now turned into side to side. Luckily, I had the spreader camera view on the media station screen. It was showing one of those clever half underwater, half blue-sky shots you see in BBC nature programs. I could hear David Attenborough’s voice softy saying; “What the Volvo Ocean Sailor is experiencing here, is a Chinese Gybe, we don’t know enough about this species yet, but we believe they do this to keep cool when they over heat.”

Quickly breaking out my very own retake of The Blue Planet, I hit record on my consol. I was torn between grabbing my camera and capture more of the action or capturing the essential electrical navigation kit now hanging from the chart table like strange fruit in a southern wind. Wrongly I chose safety over fame, bundling up as much as I could and wedging it behind a corner. I sorted myself out, stowing the collection of stuff rammed down my trousers and headed for the action with video in hand.

Walking down the disorientated sidewalls, forward to the cockpit I could hear voices, commands one by one clear and direct. The normal rage and rampage of the boats screams to slow down were gone. Just a quiet sloshing sound as the waves broke against the hull. As I clambered forward I noticed the sleeping bags now moving in the water, mixed with things normally stowed high and dry. It’s all wrong, so wrong, but not the first time I have been in this predicament, except the last time I was sailing a Laser on holiday and the water was a lot warmer.

So we are laid flat on our starboard side, main in the water, kite still up and keel fully canted down, pinning us to the sea with no runner on the port side. Sails that were staked on the high side now trying to swim back to Cape Town, as the water flows freely washing water bottles and winch handles in and out. The crew on deck are standing on the sides of things, tailing winches from confusing angles, desperately trying to untangle the puzzle. Thank God all on deck had life jackets and harnesses clipped on. I’m now filming but desperately aware that it’s not the most helpful thing I could be doing. As if the referee had finished his count of ten, slowly the boat is freed from its half nelson and the she breathes a sigh of relief as the keel bulb cants back to the good side. The lads still working hard to prevent further issues manhandle the kite down; stake the sails back in and secure runners and sheets. Sensing that my presence is not welcome and any commentary or remark would be curt and abrupt I sloped away to put my world back into place for the third time this leg.

Satan’s Piercing Scream The first time was just after our depressing, paint drying Cape Town start, when I discovering a very annoying high pitched alarm in the media desk. It was like a perverse form of torture reaching the very inner of my inner ear. I rang the makers of my media torture chamber and discovered that it was designed to alert me to an electrical short somewhere in the boat, that it could be ready to burst in to flames at any time. “Okey dokey, just tell me how to find the problem and I’ll be off?” The answer was not as simple as I had hoped. “Sit at the desk and listen to hells acoustic screams and have someone else go through the boat independently switching off each electrical system until you isolate the issue.” After five long hours of listening to Satan’s piercing mother-in-law bang on about her bunions, I was ready to kill something or someone. We had not found the evil little short and my media desk was still not operable. I voted to disconnect or hit with a large hammer the beeper and go to sleep and try to relieve my head of an ache fit for a hangover, only achieved after a night out with Guy Swindles (the voice of the Volvo Ocean Race).

I took the former option and tried to sleep. Now as discussed before on the Volvo, sleep does not come easily. I am not allowed a bunk as I had already bust two on the previous leg, so I get a wet bean bag on the high side of the thin aisle that all the crew use to get to their bunks. It’s safe to say even though I’m not on watch every four hours and have more time to sleep and shouldn’t have any grounds to complain; it sucks! It just has no similarity to sleep in any way shape or form. There aren’t enough sheep in New Zealand to count that would send you off on these insane boats. The common trick is to get so cream cracked (knackered) that your eyes can’t stay open any longer. Sooner or later your body can’t fight it and overcomes the rattle and shake of the hull and you eventually slip into dreams of warm apple pie. I ultimately achieved nirvana and enjoyed short but exceedingly good sleep, mmm Mrs Kipling’s best.

Day two was another eventful one. I woke as one of the off watch crewman shed his wet weather gear down on my face and then used my slumbering bones to step up to his bunk. There was no intention of rudeness; in his need to reach the sanctuary of his pit, he just didn’t know I was sleeping there.

It was still blowing the knickers off vicars, dogs off chains, frogs off drains and any other windy alliteration I could think of not too rude to print. Anyway time was getting on, I still hadn’t sent any media off the boat and I had a date with a bucket. I got up in the clothes I had slept in and didn’t shave or brush my teeth. I had a war to go to, the war with the water that had advanced in over night. This is a constant battle, it’s as though the designers of the original Volvo 70 had thought just sailing round the world with ten sleep-deprived madmen in a turbo charged sled was not hard enough. So they introduced internal water ingress; leakage to you and me. Then to make it even harder they gave it a sailing motion about as erratic as a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel never tracking in a smooth motion.

Freeze-dried Pina Colada and Party Hats After the tough few days for the crew on deck, I have been trying to cook and bail as much as I can. With the media desk still not working 100% I was hoping that we would get some calmer water and I could solve the gremlins still lurking. Every time I tried to write a blog or film I would feel sick. It wasn’t your standard seasickness but a battered worn down mist that everybody was now feeling. The crew were pushing as hard as they could but still not making inroads against the fleet. Moral was low and we needed a pick up. It came from the unlikly depths of the food bag, normally the bringer of all things inedible. This time we had a birthday surprise for Wouter Verbraak our navigator. I found freeze-dried pina colada, chocolate cup cakes and party hats. We had a short round of Happy Birthday and raised a smile and all forgot out worries for a while. Seeing a fully kitted out sailor in sea boots, survival suit, lifejacket and harness with a pointy party hat perched on his wet head is enough to put a smile on the most work hardened face.

Bailing Like The Sorcerers Apprentice At the end of day two I put my head down on the pillow I don’t have, with a good feeling about the team and it’s fortunes. It was with shock and surprise when a worried Nick Bubb, desperately trying to get to a pipe under my beanbag, woke me. As he rummaged, he muttered words like, accident, sorry and quickly. Then he said the word I have become to loath, WATER. In filling the stern ballast tank, the quick release valve had been accidentally opened, probably in the last aft stack. The result was water in the media station of jackoozy proportions. You didn’t need to use the orange dinghy bailer; you could fill a bucket direct from the sheer depth. I couldn’t quite wake up from my sleep. I kept rubbing my face not believing what was going on before me. Water was occasionally sloshing in waves up onto the top of the desk and over my laptop and cameras stored in open compartment trays. This was my worst nightmare, to lose my kit and be held redundant and prisoner with nothing to capture life on board. As Nick and Mike Joubert feverishly bailed like the sorcerers apprentice, I gathered the kit up and wrapped it up in a dry shirt hoping that no serious damage had occurred. I had to take the lid off the media desk another time to check and clean up any damage. Luckily no harm done that I couldn’t fix with some intense shaking and mopping with a paper towel. It took about three hours to get the area back to its normal slightly dripping but not streaming state. When would I be able to stop battling with the boat and the elements and be free to operate as my role intended?

I put the kit back together and moped out the remanding water unaware of what oriental fun and games were still to come later on day three.

I had to laugh when I got a well intended email from Volvo HQ, gently reminding me that I was behind on my media output. That reminder was about the only gentle thing that has happened to me since my daughters good bye kiss on the dock back in Cape Town.

Nov. 17, 2008

Let’s Pick-Up Where We Left Off

Ahem…where were we?

Last time my thoughts really went into this space (we’ve got our heads down putting the final pieces of our outstanding Jan/Feb issue, including our Boat of the Year winners), the boats were streaming into Cape Town after an incredible leg of close racing and record runs among the front runners, and breakages among the back half. Ericsson 4 claimed it’s stake at the top of the leader board, and most certainly schooled the fleet on big-breeze sailing.

Shortly after the finish I checked in with Puma’s Rob Salthouse, who confirmed that the boys on Puma were content with letting the Torben’s Army get away, choosing instead to preserve the boat and themselves. In the long run, with lots more points to be had, surely a good idea. They arrived into Cape Town with the boat in great shape, allowing them to rest, go on Safari, and hit the gym.

For the this leg, and as I’m told by the man himself, Jonathan McKee is no longer with the team. Now back in Seattle, he’s clearly bummed to have his pink slip in hand, and tells me the team management was looking to swap in someone with a different skill set. It’s too bad, as one never really knows what happens on the boat, but for this leg, Puma has added some bigger grinder types in Robbie Naismith and Shannon Falcone. Bowman Jerry Kirby is off the boat as well, tending to his business interests, and, as planned, will rejoin the team in Rio for the remaining legs.

One point of interest is the fact that Ericsson 4 has no crew changes; a starkly different mode than in the last race where turnover in the management department of the boat created all sorts of turmoil and inconsistent performances. Intact for Leg two as well are the crews from Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon. Here’s a though: will the team with the fewest crew changes (like ABN AMRO One in the last race) win the whole thing again? I’d put my money on it.So, speaking of money, the fleet now heads to Cochin, India, where Volvo looks to gain some brand exposure at the expense of putting the race in the Southern Ocean. Much has been written of this strange leg and its uncertainties: piracy, currents, and double doldrum-like crossings, and the key strategy is getting south and east into the best wind out of Cape Town and then throwing the dice on when to turn north toward the finish. My guess is they’ll all all stay in close contact and we won’t see many fliers. Today, they’re spread fan like north to south with Telefonica Blue holding the northern fringe, leading on the rankings and in a nice covering position.

Blue’s Simon Fisher reporting in: “It has been tough out here so far, close. We were exchanging tacks for the first day and then in full view of each other as we powered downwind on the second day. With the pressure building though, the fleet is starting to spread out a little and a few of the boats who seem to go well in the big breeze are starting to shine. As for us, maybe this isn’t our strongest suit but we are learning to hang in there and are focused on going as well as we can.”

“Let’s see how it plays out in a few days time. Standby.

Nov. 4, 2008

Dragon Keel: It Could’ve Been Worse

It’s been 36 hours since Green Dragon arrived into Cape Town to complete the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. The first job was to assess the damage to the keel–last Thursday, Green Dragon was stopped in its tracks after hitting something.

Here’s the team’s update, from Johnny Smullen – Green Dragon’s shore manager:

“The extent of the damage structurally is not as bad as we may have first anticipated, we immediately asked ourselves, what did they hit, was it a container on the surface? Perhaps a log or the whole tree! As we stood on the dock in anticipation this morning, we were somewhat relieved to see that structurally we survived. The steel keel and bearings were intact without any crazing and/or cracks, what didn’t survive was the carbon fibre fairing which fairs the leading edge of the keel. In short the keel is milled out of a single billet of heat treated steel, and the forward and trailing edges are added later as these shapes would almost be impossible to machine. We added pre-shaped fairings to these areas and fortunately the forward one also doubles up as a sacrificial leading edge or simply put a bumper. Unfortunately once you loose this you have a flat section across the front of your keel…. which really impacts your speed! We also lost the keel pin fairing, this is a conical fairing, which does exactly that, it fairs the 150mm keel pin, and without these we have a very unfair underwater profile. It would have the same effect, if a Formula 1 car lost all its wings and the nose!”

So there you have it: keel damage is not fast.

Speaking of fast: I just got of the phone with Puma’s Rob Salthouse, who’s sticking around Cape Town for some R&R. The team is obviously pleased with its second place finish, but more importantly, they’re happy to come through Leg One with a shorter (compared to the Telefonica boats) work list. The crew, he says, is injury free, the boat is in great shape. They feel they sailed the leg pretty conservatively, as their track bears out on the Virtual Spectator, and with the exception of having to shift the sail stacks for an unexpected short beat to the scoring gate (a lot of work for a short tack), the crew union is plenty happy with how it all went down. In the big breeze that propelled Ericsson 4 to the finish and multiple 24-hour records, Salthouse says they definitely kept the throttle at a safe speed, avoiding wipe outs and potential race-ending damage. There’s a lot more racing to go, he says, and they don’t need to win every leg. They just need to finish in the top half.

I will try and get some audio up here shortly…or at least Rob’s key thoughts. Other SW deadlines are pending: Print … web… print … web …the battle for time wages on.

Nov. 3, 2008

One is Done, Leg One That Is

Over the weekend, Ericsson 4 snatched its Leg 1 points off the table (is that Table Mountain?) and now sits atop the Volvo Ocean Race leader board after an early blue-sky arrival into Cape Town on Sunday. By all accounts Ericsson sailed a superb leg, and in the end, it was the team’s training base in the Canary Islands prepared that them well for big-breeze high-speed sailing. Clearly their Juan K boats are not slow so they’ve got that department squared away. There were very few reported breakdowns on the boat (note “reported”), so they have things well sorted on that front as well. But it goes without saying that this race is still early yet.

Grael, a man of very few words, was on form in Cape Town, offering this dockside perspective:

“We had everything. We had a wonderful journey, very rough weather for a couple of days with a lot of speed. I am very, very happy with everything we achieved.

It feels great to win. We are happy that the finish wasn’t very painful. When we arrived here with Brasil1, we were 12 hours waiting outside without any wind. It was very good to have just a little bit of wind at the end and not stop before crossing the finish line.

The teamwork was marvelous, not only onboard, but as a whole team. The shore team, too. Onboard it is a little harder with one man down, a little bit of extra work for everybody, but everyone gave it best, and here we are.”

Puma Ocean Racing’s il mostro rolled in next, completing the 6,500-mile leg in 22d:5h:44m:50s. The two boats were “in sight” each other for what E4’s skipper Torben Grael says was 70-percent of the leg, but it was those hard-charging 48 hours last week in which Torben Grael and his crew made their break in record-breaking style, even being one-man down (remember, helmsman Tony Mutter was discharged from the boat with an infected knee).

Puma’s Ken Read has to be feeling good about his Botin & Carkeek design (he no longer has to “hope” his boat is fast.” And as first timer himself, he must be pretty happy; he’s known for his conservative style, and this leg was text book: take the middle road, stay in touch with the leaders, and push only has hard as you know you can. The Puma boys are still learning the boat and you can bet they’ll be pushing it a lot harder by the time the North Atlantic leg to Ireland comes around next spring.

Here’s what Puma’s sage navigator, Andrew Cape, offered once dockside: “We are still learning, and for us this first leg was a learning experience. We had a good leg but Ericsson was lucky to ride that front all the way here. They made it look easy. It was tight out there, but that is what racing is about. No boats were mega fast or slow, it was a great race.”

Skipper Ken Read: “We’re very, very happy with our first leg and it’s a big relief to be here, knowing we have a great boat. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights over the last year imagining what 37,000 miles of sailing round the world on a slow boat would be like. And we don’t have a slow boat. So now we’re in a boat race. And we’re good at boat racing. The guys on this boat were chosen because we’re good at it. So in this race, don’t count out the PUMA il mostro team, that’s for sure.” 

”We had a few little issues; we had our primary water maker go down off Brazil – that was a little nerve-wracking. We actually talked about going into Brazil for a while, but Casey, using a bilge pump, put together a new water maker. We had a couple of little hydraulic problems, keel issues, but structurally, we think, the boats in good shape. We felt we were pushing hard, but clearly we have another gear shift we have to go to be up there with Ericsson 4. And we’re not going to stop until we find it.”

As the frontrunners enjoyed the pleasures of shore life and family, the three boats most consistently dogged with equipment problems–Ericsson 3, Green Dragon, and Telefonica Blue–rolled into town, respectively (you can read the exclusive blog by Telefonica Blue’s Simon Fisher). Team Russia followed in Monday afternoon, leaving Team Delta Lloyd knocking on Cape Town’s door. Telefonica Black, without a bowsprit, and sailing on an emergency rudder, will be nursing its boat in for the last 150-miles or so. Having checked in with a few media contacts, I’m hopeful we’ll have a few energized interviews tomorrow. Standby.

Oct. 30, 2008

Make that 602.66 for Ericsson 4

OK, strike yesterday’s mind-blowing stat. Ericsson 4’s 24-hour record dash now stands at 602.66 nautical miles. Impressive indeed, a feat only 10 men can talk about. The rest of us can only imagine how intense those 24 hours really were. In a few days time, I’m sure we’ll hear more than what came off the boat today from watch captain Brad Jackson.

In the interview you quickly get a sense that they’re done with the record business and moving on to making sure the boat stays in one piece and the crew can recover. With a good cushion at the front of the fleet they’re simply “ticking” off the miles before things go light near Cape Town. To say that they’ve legged out on the fleet, including Puma, is an understatement, and they’ve got to feel good about their chances in this race at this point. They’ve shown no Achilles Heel in any particular condition thus far. Their training time has certainly been time well spent.

Our friends on Puma’s il mostro, put up their best effort, but were no match.

Even skipper Ken Read admitted as much with his report today:

“Many things have been interesting over the last few days. We have sailed il mostro in some pretty breezy conditions pre-race but none at this fanatic pace. To be sure this is an inherent problem of a one boat program – protecting the assets. I always felt reluctant to press the boat 1000 percent in the pre-race practice because if something really bad were to happen to this boat essentially the race was over before it even started. Not a very good scenario. Plus there is the racing vs. practicing mentality. You can “think” you are pushing a boat hard when you practice but the fact of the matter it is that with a competitor next to you on in the same water you push much, much harder than in practice. It is a fact of life.

“This all leads back to where our program is at and something I have said earlier in this leg. We are learning. How hard is hard enough to push? How hard is too hard? Fact is the guys on E4 have schooled us all in these conditions and my guess is they knew where there boundaries were better than we did. We are finding them slowly, and a lot of it is getting used to the crashes and smashes that happen all around you 24 hours a day inside this base drum called a carbon fiber boat. It’s funny, as this leg has gone on the sleeping or even the concentrating was often interrupted by being acutely aware of new noises, loud bangs, creaks and groans. Not to mention the occasional silence, followed by the tremendous CRASH of a hull falling into a wave trough out of thin air. The first thought – “Are we pushing too hard and maybe risking the boat?” Turns out, probably not hard enough.

“The human psyche is a strange lot. As I said, three days ago concentrating was tough as we sunk into this low pressure system and knew it was going to be a reasonably long and fast and furious ride. No lie there. But now things are different. Three days ago what I cringed about is now what I crave. I find that I can’t sleep now if the boat ISN’T smashing off waves or humming only as this boat hums when the boat speed goes past 30 because all those noises aren’t noises of possible problems any more. They are the noises of FAST. And to win this race will mean we have to get faster.

Meanwhile, the carnage reports are rolling in from the back of the fleet with Telefonica Black sustaining damage to one of its rudders, a daggerboard, several sails and deck fittings. They’re quickly vanishing off the screen with a 400-mile-plus deficit to Ericsson 4, whose sistership, Ericsson 3 has slipped into third in line to Cape Town. The Green Dragon; our leader going into the standings-stiring storm, reported numerous fire drills breakages and is nursing the boat along in mid-fleet. Behind them lies Telefonica Blue, Team Russia, and Delta Lloyd; itself nursing a severely wounded rig. The front-runner crews will be long gone from Cape Town by the time these guys show up. But they better hurry; the next leg to Kochi, India starts Nov. 15.

Oct. 29, 2008

Ericsson 4’s Cape Town Express

A few days ago there was a lot of talk coming off the boats about the impending monster gale that would carry the fleet, and in particular the front runners, Ericsson 4, Puma, and Green Dragon, to Cape Town at a blistering pace. The front runners have certainly hooked into it, and in the first of what is said to be three days of back-to-back 30 knots or more, Torben Grael’s Ericsson 4 has kept his team’s foot on accelerator in order to put some distance on Puma. The reward: the 24-hour record, not once but several times. At 1425 GMT race data had recorded Ericsson 4 as covering 593.23 nautical miles, which is potentially a new world record for a crewed monohull (pending ratification).

According to race officials, the 594-mile mark was the fourth time since 0355 GMT this morning (Wed.) that Ericsson 4 had increased the speed record from its ratified mark of 562.96 nautical miles (23.45-knot average).

“The conditions are not easy. Every time you go at this speed it’s pretty hard,” said Grael. “We’re going 30 knots very often. The wind is between 28 and 32 knots. The waves are not very good, but neither very bad. The conditions are marginal, especially during the night. It wasn’t very fun at all.”

You can listen in as watch captain Brad Jackson talks through a bit of the record run; note the humming in the background: that’s the sound of high-speed sailing–just like on my Laser when I’m on the edge of planning and wiping out. Also, if you listen closely you’ll hear Jackson say “it’s just like sailing in Lanzarote, actually,” (Lanzrote is in the Canary Islands, which is where Ericsson trained for months. What this tells me is that these guys were really ready for this, and as you watch them pull away from Puma on the Virtual Spectator overnight, it’s pretty obvious they have the confidence to kick it into a higher gear that neither Puma nor Green Dragon have at the moment–and keep it there.

Impressive. Scary. Astounding. Oh, boy, what I’d give to be a fly on their bulkhead …

Oct. 27, 2008

Signs of Fatigue?

The word across the fleet today is one of preparation for the big low that will carry everyone with haste to the finish in Cape Town, now merely 2000 miles away.

This low has all the hype of a blizzard in Southern New England. They can all see it coming; the basic theme is how to get to it, stick with it and hope nothing breaks. Stop and it’s sayonara. Ericsson made its breakaway move from Puma today with a jog to the southwest; positioning themselves between Green Dragon and the “mark” and dipping further south to place itself where they want to be once the big one comes rolling through. It’s an incredible little battle going on there between these three.

OK, the boats have been relatively trouble free with moderate winds thus far, but there has been a bit of pounding along the way, today’s email from the Green Dragon is one of the best yet from the fleet. Skipper Ian Walker has a way with words. Check it out:

Green Dragon Leg One Day 17 QFB: received 27.10.08 1505 GMT

It feels great to finally be pointing somewhere near Cape Town. I’ve nothing against South America but the party is going to be in South Africa and it’s now time to get over there.

We have worked for days to position ourselves furthest south in the hope of more wind as we head east, and it seems to slowly be paying. In fact our biggest problem is probably going to be too much wind in the south, so we may have to keep our plan in check. For the next day or so this won’t be a problem so we will wait and see how it develops.

It’s taking me a while to get my head around all the weather systems being upside down and round the wrong way in the southern hemisphere but I think I am getting there. One thing is for sure the pressure on the barometer is dropping and the average speeds are going up.

It’s amazing how adept you get at guessing the hull speed from in the nav station. Under 10 knots boat speed all is quiet and you think you aren’t moving at all – you can’t hear above Justin’s (Slattery) snoring. Up to 15 knots, the water starts to rush quite fast outside the hull and you can hear the wind in the rigging, 15 to 20 knots boat speed and the hull starts to shudder and you get the odd surf and lurching motion for and aft.

Over 20 knots and the hull starts to slam even downwind – this is often followed by a stopping feeling as you plough into the wave in front. At about 25 knots the crunchometer kicks in. This is when you come off the back of waves and the flat bottom section of the hull lands with a bang, the whole centre of the boat bounces up and down (inc Guo in the media station) and you hear a loud crunch. The crunch is the vertical carbon fibre panels of the head disintegrating in compression and this only lasts about a day. After then the whole sidewalls of the head are destroyed leaving nothing to crunch and all goes quiet. A few hours ago the crunching started but the wind has now abated and the head will get a temporary stay of execution.

Oct. 24, 2008

Locked at The Horns

What was a four way tie for first yesterday on the points table turned to a five-way tie overnight last night with Telefonica Blue passing the scoring gate and grabbing its points, and man, oh man, has it been a wild 24 hours. Who would’ve thought that four boats would be trading places to and fro on the leaderboard with every position report?

This is more like a NASCAR lap than an ocean race. Boring this leg is not.

This afternoon, we’re looking at Telefonica Black commanding the lead as the easternmost boat of the top four, with Green Dragon legging out to the southwest of the patch, all were diving south to get to what will eventually be the conveyor belt to Cape Town; first one to the first weather system gets on first. Green Dragon was hammering straight south.

On Wednesday I fired a few questions off to Ken Read and Jerry Kirby onboard il Mostro. The one for Kenny was for me; the one for Jerry for Portsmouth,R.I.’s Pennfield School, at which Jerry’s son Shamus is a student. The kids are following along and rooting for the home team. Here’s what came back this afternoon as they were engaged with Ericsson and Telefonica Black to either side.

Ken: For much of the race, and even now, you’ve been locked in to these boat-on-boat battles. What are the tools and techniques you use to gauge how the battle’s playing out? Why didn’t you use the Stealth Play going into the doldrums with the lead?

Tools and techniques–these are all the weather info that we can gather from Volvo every 6 hours which are then run throught he boats computer and several differentt software packages to see how they stack up. Quick scat charts and satalite imagery are also used to validate the electronic files as well. The boats routing sorftwatre is then used to help determine what the correct path is for the shore medium and long term path. We also use the 3 hour positioning reports on some custom software that Capy has which gives us quite a bit of information on the other boats which we can use to try and figure out their individual tactics.

As far as entering the doldrums first and using the “stealth play”, First of all we were within sight of other boats the entire leg. So, Going stealth wasn’t much of an option. The entire fleet knew that we were going to be parked at one point and sure enough the line from west to east was about the longest starting line in the histroy of sailing there for about 6 hours. And honestly, we didn’t really have any strong ideas at the time on how it was going to play out. For boats that were behind with little to chance, it would be an easier decison to jibe away from the pack. But being ahead, we were trying to defend until things became clearer.

We were happy to get out of there with the lead group thats for sure. Could have been much worse. – Kenny

For Jerry: In the only video coming off the boat, featuring you deploying the staysail, there’s a lot grunting going on there…with the variety in the sail inventory is there a lot more changing going? One of the kids wanted to know “What has your favorite part of this leg has been so far and what is it like trying to sleep inside those noisy boats?”

P.S. On the staysail there’s an Octopus and a logo that says “All hands on Deck.” What’s that for?

Sail changes happen! Most changes are more important than sails sometimes. Changing gear for and aft, changing sails. All in a days work. The limited inventory actually makes better all purpose sails so that may actually help not have to change quite as many.

First of all we don’t sleep a lot but when we get the chance the noise and motion doesn’t really matter. Although my sons put together an ipod for me and I find myself listening to it sometimes when I should be trying to sleep. Great new music. They have great taste in music.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK”. PUMA marketing at it’s best. Although we do have all hands on deck quite often, the logos are different on each sail near the head of the sail. Not really sure where PUMA is going with these but I am sure they have a plan.

Puma’s Jr. Markenting and Communications Manger, Bridgid Murphy gives me the low down on the logo: The icons are part of all PUMA marketing. There have been a set sepcifically designed for the sailing category. PUMA uses them in unusual places; like the sail, on garment tags, on shoe boxes…To access SW’s 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race home page, click here.

Oct. 23, 2008

Point to Point

Remember the last edition of this Volvo Race, and how, right about this point in the race two teams (Pirates of the Caribbean and movistar) were air freighting their boats to Cape Town after falling apart in the first 24 hours, leaving ABN AMRO One to start its eventual shellacking of the fleet? Not this time. We’ve got all eight boats on the racecourse and the dog fight at the front of the fleet is the best reason to keep us locked to our Virtual Spectator screens. How we lose so much productivity during the day. I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist checking back with every sked. I’m addicted for sure.

The story of the day today is the Green Dragon Racing team’s strategic ascent into the lead and nabbing the first scoring-gate points. As they beat past the Brazilian island of Fernando de Nohrona in 20-knots with Puma and Ericsson trailing close behind, skipper Ian Walker was counting his blessings, and the strategy smarts of young navigator Ian Moore.

“I think back over all the decisions we have made in the intervening week and I am pleased and proud at our performance as a team,” wrote Walker today. “We have to be careful not to make mistakes, and we did a good job of minimizing our losses and then building a strong westerly tactical position into the Doldrums, which has culminated in maximum points as we rounded the Island today.”

These guys must be feeling vindicated today, and it is a testament to the talent they’ve assembled. That two of the top-three boats are one-boat syndicates is impressive. Of course, there’s a lot more sailing ahead and not many miles between these three, so I can’t wait and see what happens overnight. I’ve sent a few questions off to the boys on Puma’s il mostro; let’s hope they can break away from the fight and check back in.

This morning Ericsson 4 had nipped them at the island with what amounted to a better layline, but they Puma was chasing them down. Telefonica Black was sneaking up and had closed to within spitting distance of Puma (exaggeration implied).

At about 1300 GMT, the Virtual Spectator showed them all taking a quick jog to the east in a shift before tacking back to starboard on southerly headings. There were sparce miles between Green Dragon and Telefonica Black in the Distance to Leader column. Nice. The result of today’s island roundings, by the way: A four-way tie in the point column for first. Very nice, indeed.

Oct. 22, 2008

Si-Fi’s in the House

Before the start of the race, our friends at Team Telefonica, offered us exclusive weekly reports Simon Fisher, Telefonica Blue’s navigator extraordinaire, and we jumped on it faster than you could say his nickname–Si Fi, if you haven’t figured it out. In his last lap of the planet with the young guns of ABN AMRO Two he was the most compelling story teller by far. We’re looking forward to more as he racks up the 37,000 or so miles of the 2008-’09 Volvo Ocean Race. Tune into this space weekly to see what’s on Si Fi’s screen.

Hi there,

So far we are just over a week into the first leg of this Volvo Ocean Race and it would be fair to say for us, here on Telefónica Blue it hasn’t been easy. We are now just on the other side of the Doldrums, hoping to be out and into the Southerly trades sometime today. Getting here has been quite a mission.

We started in Alicante (Spain) in a grey and windy day very much in the mid set of being conservative, not breaking anything and just getting out of the Mediterranean cleanly and without troubles. Well, that was the plan at least… Just a few short hours into the race we were going well. After a pretty average first beat we were off down the Spanish coast, blasting downwind at 20+ knots and catching Ericsson 4 fast who was leading at the time. Suddenly though there was a worrying crack and Jono [Swain] who had just taken the helm was struggling to control the boat. Something was clearly not right – Pepe ran downstairs to check and then the sickening news came. One of the tiller bars had broken and we had little to no steerage on our leeward rudder. So short into the race and we were had a major problem. We had to drop the spinnaker, watch the fleet sail by and nurse the boat downwind while we made repairs and considered the options in front of us.

As hard as it was the option to stop was a no brainer – Despite Pepe and Xabi doing an amazing job of repairing the offending tiller arm we couldn’t be confident it was going to hold so we started to look for the best place to stop. However, stopping presented its own challenges and problems. Firstly the stop had to be for at least 12 hours so we had to try and pick a moment when the fleet wouldn’t be sailing too fast in order not to lose to many miles. Secondly going a long way of course to find a port to accommodate us with enough water and the facilities we needed was going to be expensive in terms of miles too. Finally we settled on Gibraltar -while we were weighing up the options our shore crew was traveling down the coast of Spain by car ready to spring into action when the moment came. But then there was another problem. We were told that Gibraltar was closed, no boats were to be allowed in or out due to the storms of a few days previous. Luckily though our resourceful shore crew spearheaded Maria and Campbell managed to pull a few strings and get us into Algeciras across the water from Gibraltar and into the commercial port.

By the time came for stopping we had managed to catch back up with the fleet. We could see the stern lights only a couple of miles to weather. We had worked super hard to get make up what we had lost as being in port was only going to cost more miles.

After many, many sail changes, tacks and gybes we finally stopping the boat. Suspended from racing and motored into Algeciras. We were met by our shore crew, McDonalds and whisked off to a hotel for the night. It felt strange to be there, especially so early into the race but perhaps the good night’s sleep and the opportunity to rest for a few precious hours would help us in the days to come…

By the time we were back in the race it was early morning, flanked the Volvo Camera boat we unfurled the Gennaker and started to sail our way down the straights and out towards the Atlantic. We had only lost 100 miles, we knew that this may grow but it could have been a lot worse. The following day was a good one, we slipped inside a band of light pressure and made good progress down the coast. However that was to be short lived and as we approached the more reliable trades the fleet ahead of us started to stretch ahead. On board everyone was optimistic and excited to be back in the race but the next few days would prove to be the hardest and would give us the biggest test we have had as a team yet…

Cheers, Si Fi

Oct. 20, 2008 Reshuffling the Deck

Holy smokes. What an incredible change up over the weekend. There, virtually alone on the western flanks of the fleet sat the Green Dragon Team, Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean RaceHappier times for Green Dragon navigator Ian Moore (and Tom Braidwood tuning out in the background), its navigator Ian Moore, a student of the race, sticking to his convictions that the west would eventually pay off. But when? Would this time be different? They were wracking up the miles. Meanwhile, on you could literally see Puma’s lead evaporating as its bow dipped into the far northern fringes of the Doldrums, marked by the arrival of squalls and unpredictable shifts.

You could just tell something was about to happen, and happen it did, with fleet inversion. Puma, conservatively tucked in the middle finds itself mid-fleet, this morning chasing down the Dragon, AND Telefonica Black. That’s Telefonica Black…remember them last week, more than 200 miles at the back of the fleet, out on their westerly flyer. Oh boy. This just got interesting, and until they break free of the doldrums in a few days, it really is anyone’s race (to the first scoring gate off Brazil.

“It is the start of a few tricky days ahead and a potential restart to the race,” writes Telefonica Blue’s navigator Simon Fisher, “whoever gets out of this windless zone first could well be leading all the way to Fernando. Needless to say with this in mind we are working our hardest right now. We are currently coasting along at 5 knots, frequently changing from one sail to the next to ensure we maintain our optimum angle whilst at the same time trying hard not to lose the little speed we already have.”

Here’s the latest update (as of 12:26 pm EST)

POS BOAT DTLC PTTL DTF 1 Green Dragon 0 00:00:00 4019 2 Telefonica Black 22 08:04:44 +25 3 PUMA Ocean Racing 22 06:06:43 +33 4 Ericsson 3 11 12:02:05 +40 5 Telefonica Blue 22 12:37:06 +43 6 Ericsson 4 11 06:34:19 +45 7 Team Russia 0 13:49:30 +51 8 Delta Lloyd -4-4 17:31:05 +90

Mutter’s Out of the Rotation

It’s a good thing Ericsson 4 has a deep bench of top-shelf helmsmen, as of this afternoon, they’re down one.

Hans Berggren Ericsson 4 helmsman Tony Mutter, who won the race last time on ABN AMRO One, was taken off the boat with an infected knee..has been dropped off the race boat in the Cape Verde Islands with a severely affected knee. This is a big loss to the E4 effort.

Here’s the update from VOR headquarters: On Thursday, the team medics aboard Ericsson 4, Phil Jameson and Stu Bannatyne, were called to put their pre-race medical training into use as they drained some fluid from the infected knee of trimmer/helmsman Tony Mutter.

But the injury didn’t respond to treatment as well as they hoped and the team took the opportunity of their proximity to the Cape Verde Islands to evacuate Mutter from the boat. This was the recommended course of action by the Race Medical Team. The next reasonable opportunity to get him off the boat wouldn’t come until Fernando de Noronha, some four days away.

This evening, the team made a move away from its race heading to sail towards Mindelo on the Island of Sao Vicente. Mutter was then transferred to a fishing vessel to be taken ashore for medical supervision.

Skipper Torben Grael said the decision to ensure proper medical treatment for Mutter was easy.

“The Race Doctor told us that Tony had to be evacuated because the leg had become significantly more swollen overnight, and the uncertainty of how quick his condition will improve,” said skipper Torben Grael. “Both he and I agreed that it would be a prudent and precautionary measure to evacuate him from the boat. He needs to get proper treatment. In addition once we have passed the Cape Verde Islands, we have a period of some 1,300 nautical miles of open ocean ahead of us.

“Our onboard medics, Phil and Stu, have done a great job. They were told by the race doctor that had we been in the Southern Ocean, they would have to give Tony intravenous fluids with antibiotics,” Grael said.

Mutter says he hopes to rejoin the team in Cape Town.

The pit-stop for E4 in order to transfer Mutter has now put them off the pace once again with Puma, which thus far is sailing a superb race, piling on the miles to the young Nordic crew on Ericsson 3.

At the back of the fleet, Telefonica Black is now paying dearly for its move to the west of the Canary Island chain, which has them staring down the back of the fleet by more than 200 miles.

Their stablemates on Telefonica Blue, are keeping them company at the bottom of the standings. Both can only hope the Doldrums don’t allow an easy passage for Ken Read and the Puma team. But as it is, things are not looking positive for the favorite Blue squad.

Navigator Simon Fisher offers this this afternoon: Xabi (Xabier Fernandez) suggested our boat was a bit like a whale this morning – spending long periods under water then pausing briefly coming up for air. As you’ve guessed it, things are still pretty wet onboard, or at least they were until just a few hours ago when the wind and the nasty sea state with it eased off a bit. This is both good and bad for us. Good as now everyone who has worked so hard over the last few days can finally catch up on some rest and sleep through the majority of their off watch. Bad as now we have a choice of sails to use but none of them are ideal for the angle we would like to sail. We daren’t put up the A2 – three blow ups in three days would just be too much so we are forced to take it a little bit easier and use a smaller sails. So far we have done a good job of holding the speed despite the small sails.

Tough times for sure, but there are many more miles to cover before Cape Town. Now setting up on the racecourse is a tropical wave that could mix things up a bit. Ian Walker, skipper of the Green Dragon Team, putting on the miles of his first major ocean race is learning quickly what this race can deliver.

Walker: The reports haven’t made great reading recently so I am glad to have missed them. Its tricky out here – I have no idea how it can be so shifty so far out to sea. We are focusing on lining up for the Doldrums right now and there is a ‘tropical wave’ ahead of us (please note that onboard whenever anybody says ‘tropical wave’ everyone else does a Mexican wave! – is this the first sign of madness onboard I wonder?). This will mean a fast transition for some and could spell trouble for others.

Right now it looks like the further ahead you are the better shape you will be in – we need to keep pushing hard. Anyway spirits remain high and were boosted when Damian got hit in the face by a flying fish in the night. I am not sure what was funnier the direct hit or Damian trying to get it out of the cockpit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

For Ian Moore and Tom Braidwood, happier times inside The Green Dragon.

You can tell Puma skipper Ken Read is having a great race thus far as the mood of his e-mails off the boat remain up beat. “The Monster clearly likes this 20-knot running,” Kenny writes. I suspect he and the other guys on board do as well. Who wouldn’t?

Read has only mentioned dealing with a few breakages, but apparently the boat is holding together just fine, as is the sail inventory, the same for which can not be said for Bouwe Bekking’s highly-favored Telefonica Blue. Despite blowing up, fixing and then blowing the A2 spinnaker once again (the sewing machine is running hot!), Bekking’s boys are hanging in there with the fleet, which is still within 100 miles of each other, fanned out east-to-west.

But they’ve all passed through the Canary Islands, interestingly enough, with most of them taking a different route. The islands are like rocks in the roadway…and yesterday, Green Dragon Racing employed its one “StealthPlay” as it tried to sneak past. It didn’t do them much favors as they their choice of route–barreling straight through the island chain, didn’t work out so well. Down to fourth they dropped, allowing Puma to slide into the lead. Check out Puma’s track, and you see that good, conservative sailing is getting them where they need to be. Before the race, I must have heard Kenny say at least a dozen times, “I really hope this boat is fast.” I think he’s pretty confident today that they’ll be just fine.

At the moment, it’s the Nordic squad on Ericsson 3 keeping Kenny on his toes. E3 Navigator Aksel Magdahl offers this:

The past two days has been interesting strategically. Before the Canaries we were with Puma, E4, Green Dragons and Telefónica Negro along the African coast looking for a nice shift and wind speed acceleration. Negro and later Green Dragon gybed away, and we got into lighter and lighter breeze.

Computer simulation was indifferent between the route east of the Canaries and through them, and we gybed off as well. That cost us some miles to Puma and E4, but we were happy to make a little comeback playing a huge wind acceleration and shift around Gran Canaria yesterday. As we approached the island in 14 knots breeze, it increased to 28 knots and at a very favourable angle. We went very aggressive into the shift and sailed just along the edge of Gran Canaria’s wind shadow where the breeze was most favourable. We could keep this effect for the most of the day gaining all the way, making for a very happy crew as the position reports came in every third hour.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Into Thin Air

It was great to see the underdog Green Dragon Team slip into the lead yesterday afternoon. Skipper Ian Walker, in his first lap of the planet, is proving to be a formidable foe, and let’s not forget that his navigator, Ian Moore, 37, worked alongside the great Juan Vila (illbruck, winner in 1988-’89) as young Irish lad.But this morning, I had bit of a scare when checking on the latest positions on the tracker…The Dragon was floating somewhere far away from the fleet, west of the Canaries…What the?Then, I see they’ve played their Stealth card early. This is a new element added to the race a few weeks ago whereby a team can go stealth for 24 hours once per leg.

The race office knows where they are, but the rest of the fleet does not. Things typically get mixed up around the Canaries as teams try to avoid the windless holes in the lee of the high volcanic mountains. We’ll see how they come out tomorrow.

With the Dragon off the virtual screen, the latest position report shows Puma leading the fleet, battling it out with Grael and the boys on Ericsson 4. Here’s the word from skipper, Ken Read this morning:

“As they zig zagged all over the lot trying to prevent us from passing on the high or low side, they were effective. We let them gybe first (I was watching them move their stack with very cool night vision bino’s). We decided to set up about a mile to leeward, trying to sail our own angles and see if we can boat speed them and finally break through. For sure there isn’t much in it. Very fun though. Doesn’t make for much sleep, that is for sure.

So, as I am sitting here at the nav station trying to dial in a good downwind mode for the guys on deck using our polars and the radar (watching our angles and speed to E4), I figured I would write about the action. Honestly, I thought the racing would be close but this is ridiculous!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Moving Targets–Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1

Four days have passed since the Volvo Ocean Race fleet of eight hustled out of Alicante, Spain, in a 20-knot hurry (you have to see the video to believe it…awesome speeds), and already, the race is as predictable and unpredictable as we knew it would be.

Here’s how the oddities go thus far: Ericsson 4, the Swedish entry, which I predicted would win this leg, has stepped into the pole position, leading the fleet into the opening stages. That was an easy one to call, but I would never have thought the first critical breakdown would come at the expense Telefonica Blue, skippered by Bouwe Bekking. In the last edition of the race, Bekking’s movistar was one of the first boats to break apart in the Atlantic. In the images from onboard that night: he had this unmistakable look in his eye. Man, did he sure look ticked.

In the first images to come off Telefonica he looked on as crewmembers tried to fix a broken carbon tiller arm. He had that same expression. Bad break for Bouwe, indeed. They tried to carry on with one tiller only, but the boat was too difficult to control.

Wisely so, they put in for a pit stop before entering the open Atlantic, which earns them a 12-hour penalty. Simon Fisher, Blue’s navigator, wrote of the gut-wrenching thought of letting the fleet get away, but lucky for he and his mates, while they bunked in hotel rooms while the shore crew dealt with the tiller-arm repair, the rest of the fleet battled the strong currents and light winds of the Strait of Gibralter. They weren’t getting away easy.

But Blue is now on the racecourse (as of Tuesday afternoon) and eating up miles on an inside track on the African coast, a mere 77 miles or so behind the Green Dragon Racing Team. The luck of the Irish, indeed-no saw them leading so early on. Everyone’s still clustered together, however, and should remain so over the next day or so as they follow a similar route. Now is when the subtle design differences between the boats will progressively make a difference. Look for Blue to get right back into this thing in two day’s time.

Team Russia, on the other hand, is in bind as one of the rubber seals on its hydraulic keel rams had failed. Media crewmember (MCM) Mark Coville offered an update in an e-mail yesterday (Oct. 13):

One of our ram boots, the seals that separate the Mediterranean from the inside of the boat had been torn, looking like being chewed up by some huge animal. We had problems with the boots all along, but different kind and believed them to be solved. So not again.

The problem doesn’t mean imminent danger, as the boat is built in a way that the water ingress is manageable in the short term. Just the compartments around the wetbox get flooded and the rams with some electronic bits are flooded. For sure we couldn’t sail like this to Cape Town.

No word yet on what they plan on doing about replacing the seal, but as they’re now in the open Atlantic, they’ve either found a solution, or await a later pit stop before getting to the South Atlantic.

Not much out of the guys on Puma either: they’re keeping things close to the chest, reporting only a “few mechanical problems onboard,” and the stealthy approach appears to be doing them well. This morning they’d climbed to second, but at this afternoon’s position report, they’d slipped to third behind Green Dragon, and Ericsson 4, respectively, by a half-dozen miles. A game of cat and mouse, Kenny and boys waiting to pounce on the lead.