Reflections on the Long Haul

When it comes to capturing the highs, lows, and extremes of the Volvo Ocean Races's grueling Leg 5, the media crew-members step up and deliver words and pictures. A feature from our June 2009 issue.

June 16, 2009

As Ericsson 4 inched toward Rio de Janeiro in a whisper of breeze, 29-year-old bowman Ryan Godfrey echoed a frustration emanating from across the fleet. After covering more than 12,000 miles in 38 days at sea, the finish line was near, and he was “over it.” It, of course, was the Volvo Ocean Race’s longest-ever leg, the now infamous Leg 5 from Qingdao, China, to Rio, a.k.a. The Leg From Hell or The Leg With No End.

“Sleeping on our flimsy, uncomfortable pipe cots is becoming a chore, and the thought of a nice, firm bed in Rio is playing on my mind,” wrote Godfrey. “Food . . . don’t even get me started.”

Days later, having surpassed the 40-day mark, skipper Ken Read, on Puma’s il mostro, had a similar reflection: “The last sunset, the final miles, the end to this epic adventure,” he wrote. “The trip from Qingdao was everything that we thought it would be and more. More days that is.”


The following morning, il mostro sailed across the finish line in the wake of Ericsson 3 and 4, respectively. From the cold, storm-tossed waters of the China Sea, to the balmy Pacific and the raw northern fringes of the Southern Ocean, veteran sailors faced their most grueling passage. The experiences of the five teams were captured by their respective crew and media crewmembers (MCMs, as they’re known), and their images and words tell the story of this amazing test of endurance.
-The Editors

Gustav Morin/Volvo Ocean Race| |Fast and wet After a late start, Ericcson 3 puts the pedal down in pursuit of the fleet.|

Ericsson 3, Day 3
Our navigator usually knows when something is about to go down. And at one moment tonight he had that gut feeling that something would. He was right. Suddenly the windspeed increased rapidly to 40 knots. We were reaching at 36 knots boatspeed and the boat was practically flying. Aksel made himself ready. He wrapped his arms around the closest vertical beam and held it tight.


We dived into a big wave and crash stopped. Aksel managed to hold on, but he was worried that something was going to break. When 40 knots of wind is pushing the boat forward and a massive wave is holding it back, the loads on sails and rig are huge.

Both the boat and Aksel got through the situation without problem. Jens Dolmer though, who was sleeping in the bunk just next to nav station, wasn’t so lucky.

When the boat went down in the dark cave, it leaned over to leeward and water found its way in through the port primary winch. I thought we had found all the places where the boat is leaking, but no, here was another one. Water was literally flooding down from the roof and hit Jens right in his face. He woke up in shock, trying to brush the water away.


We have a few rough days and nights in front of us with a lot of reaching. For the moment it’s all about endurance. We will for sure be tired and have sore eyes from all the saltwater spray after this.

Image and Words: Gustav Morin

Rick Deppe/Volvo Ocean Race| |Preventative maintenance The work list onboard il mostro never ends.|


Puma, Day 20
We’re getting a bit of a reprieve today. This race seems to be a constant cycle of getting the snot beaten out of you for an unspecified number of days followed by a couple of days to clean yourself up, lick your wounds, and prepare as best you can for the next ass-whuppin’.

Because it’s coming.

When it’s game on, things start to fall apart pretty quickly and it’s the galley that seems to get it the worst. It’s up forward on our boat, so when the boat jumps off a wave there is a multiplying factor to the amount of movement up there. Add to this the fact that you don’t see the waves coming and therefore have no chance to brace for the impact. As well as the potential for a huge mess, it’s also quite dangerous.

It starts slowly with the odd little spill here and there. It’s impossible not to. Usually the guys are pretty
conscientious about cleanup, but its dark and you’re bouncing around so maybe a 90-percent job, and the grime slowly starts to build. Then it happens, a big spill, let’s say a half bowl of greasy beef and noodles straight in the bilge. You’re on hands and knees doing the best you can to collect everything up, but the grease is starting to spread, a call for some help up on deck.

While you’re away, someone unknowingly steps in the area of the spill. And then before you know it, the galley has reached a tipping point beyond which there is no coming back until the weather eases up. Imagine little incidents like this happening over and over and you start to get the idea. After two or three days of tough weather the galley can start to look like a major environmental disaster area. Noodles stuck in every corner of the bilge, a thin layer of grease on every hand hold, the trash bag overflowing. There’s no paper towel until tomorrow and you still can’t find the spray-n-wipe.

But not today! The whole galley area has had a major going over and is positively sparkling; everything is squeaky clean as they say. The ever-vigilant Rob Salthouse gave it the whole soap-down this morning and I came in this afternoon and did the disinfectant treatment. Rob also gave our failing stove a full service. We haven’t had any problems with it yet, but a little preventative maintenance never hurts. Imagine a stove failure during our next heavy air upwind session. The whole thing is now held together securely with steel wire and should see us to Rio.

Image and words: Rick Deppe

Gabriele Olivo/Volvo Ocean Race| |Stack and Move With every windshift and velocity change on board Telefonica Blue, tons of gear must be shifted side-to-side or fore and aft. The same goes for the sail stack on deck.|

Telefonica Blue, Day 15
There has been something of a change of pace today. After nearly two weeks of sailing along on port we are finally tacking every hour or so as we wriggle our way through the Fijian Islands.

Each tack is a frenzy of activity as we transfer all the stuff we need to survive our marathon voyage from one side to the other, plus all the sails on deck before we get too close to the reefs that force us to tack.

We have committed to going through the middle of the Islands along with Puma, but the rest of our rivals are working their way to the east. How will this work out for us? We wait with baited breath. It is a point where we may see big gains or losses with the Ericsson boats and the Dragon some 120 miles to the east on the other side of the island. So far it has been OK though, and despite the tacking, we still have good winds and are sailing fast.
It is strange to see land after so many days at sea and yet so close whilst in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean. It casts my mind back to life onshore and I find myself thinking of all the things I miss whilst cooped up on just 70 feet of racing yacht and all the things I am looking forward to when we finally get to Rio

Whilst dodging past a few nice looking reefs with clean breaking waves Jono [Swain] and I found ourselves talking about going for a surf and how nice that would be. It was a refreshing thought in the scorching heat of the day as we all dragged sails from one side of the boat to the other.

However, today, there is no time for stopping and the islands look set to disappear back into the horizon as quickly as they appeared as we continue on our way to the south.

Images: Gabriele Olivo
Words: Simon Fisher, helmsman

Puma, DAY 26
The most noticeable thing today is the lack of a horizon. The sea and sky just sort of merge into one another, the sea has more texture and therefore color than the sky, but only because it’s moving. The color I see is a grey/green without any hint of blue, which is surprising to me.

It’s not that windy, so there are only the occasional whitecaps breaking up the otherwise monochromatic appearance. From where the horizon should be, the sky just goes straight up, one color or no color, without change, 180 degrees all the way across to the other non-horizon. It’s amazing the way it doesn’t change at all. Capey [Andrew Cape, navigator] says things should ease up a bit tomorrow as we approach the gate and then resume once again with vengeance as we approach the now seemingly imaginary Cape Horn. To quote Jerry Kirby, “Every time I ask, it seems to be a thousand miles further away than the last time I asked.” I told him to stop asking. We’ve been thinking and talking about it for so long now that I’m starting to wonder if it’s still there.

Image and words: Rick Deppe

Gua Chuan/Volvo Ocean Race| |Forty days into the leg, food gets rationed onboard Green Dragon. Phil Harmer and Andrew McLean horde their share.|

Green Dragon, Day 39
Our fuel situation has become critical as the alternator on the generator isn’t working and we have to charge off the main engine, which takes more fuel. We have switched off all non-essentials and are trying not to move the keel (which draws a lot of power) and have calculated we have six days left. We have approximately five meals left and a bit of porridge so nobody will starve, but this is on top of being hungry for weeks. Each watch now has its own ration pack and a black market is rapidly developing.
The highlight of today was a school of yellowfin tuna circling the boat and Phil Harmer’s attempt to spear one with a knife taped to a batten. Unfortunately, the only net result was some lost porridge thrown in the water to try and attract them closer. We should have used beef jerky but couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it over the side as bait. Maniac (Chris Main) is determined to catch a turtle but thus far we have stopped him from jumping in on top of one as they swim past. I am not quite sure what we would do with it if he did catch one and I suspect they are a protected species so we will refrain. Besides, I like turtles.

IMAGE: Guo Chuan
WORDS: ian walker, skipper

Volvo Ocean Race| |Mission impossible “We were borderline on breaking the boat,” said an ecstatic Magnus Olsson after Ericsson 3 won Leg 5. “It’s unbelievable. We actually deserve it.” After rushing to repair its boat after Leg 4 and starting seven hours behind the fleet, E3 caught up and took the lead with a gutsy move on Day 19.|


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