The SiFi Channel

Volvo Ocean Race navigator Simon Fisher blogs from the bilge of Telefónica Blue.

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

December 5, 2008

Where Did All Those Miles Go?

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Gabriele Olivo/Telefonica Blue/Volvo Ocean Race| |From Top: Somehow after an eventful Leg 2, including a broken centerboard, Telefonica Black manages a third and holds on to second overall.| 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 loud 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 replaced 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 with the other 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 off 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 Fernandez, 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 before.

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 then 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 those clutches and we rolled over the finish line to secure second 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 about the culture, and relax before getting stuck into the next leg, which I am already really looking forward too.

Cheers,
SiFi

November 24, 2008

Back on the High Seas, For Better and Worse

Gabriele Olivo/Telefonica Blue/Volvo Ocean Race| |Daryl Wislang feeling sick from water contamination onboard Telefonica Blue.| We are now a little over 6 days into leg 2 and we are now on our way towards warmer weather. Plenty of miles have passed under the boat and plenty of waves have come crashing over the deck! It would be fair to say the first 5 days of this leg have been pretty tough, it does not take an expert to spot that the big downwind conditions are not our strongest suit. As a result we had to fight hard to hang in there with the pack and although we lost miles to the leaders throughout this period and managed only a fifth to the scoring gate we have successfully kept ourselves in the running for the leg so everyone on board is happy.

It has been hard work to get to the scoring gate, hard and eventful. We managed to break two sails, one crew member, there has been a wave of sickness go through the crew and all of this on top of trying to keep the boat on track and going fast in difficult conditions. In order to get the sailing done we have all had to push a little bit harder and fill in for one another to keep the numbers up on deck. Daryl [Daryl Wislang, NZL, bowman and sail maker on board] and Jordi [Jordi Calafat, ESP, trimmer/helmsman and sail maker on board] had several days work downstairs putting back together two of our biggest sails, in nasty bumpy downwind conditions. I was pretty thankful I'm not a sail maker when I saw the conditions they had to work in. On top of this Daryl was one of the guys feeling most sick but never once did he complain - he sat there in front of the sewing machine bouncing up and down with a bucket between his knees should his stomach get the better of him. I think anyone would be pretty impressed to see these sails re-hoisted, you would think they would have been repaired in a loft with full facilities not the bow of a Volvo Open 70.

Sadly Laurent [Laurent Pages, FRA], our injured crewmember, is fairing less well than our repaired sails. The power of the ocean got the better of him when a massive wave smashed him into the steering pedestal injuring his shoulder. Right now I cannot say what is worse for him, the pain of his shoulder or the frustration of being stuck in his bunk almost 24/7. We are now reaching hard, heeled over so for him to get around is a challenge. Sadly he just has to be patient, I know he cannot wait to get back on deck but for now even getting up to get to the toilet is a major undertaking for him.

Despite all our challenges however, things are now going very well. After successfully pulling past Puma and our boys on the Telefonica Black boat to steal a few points at the scoring gate we have put the bow up towards India and the miles are quickly falling away. We have been very encouraged to see that when reaching we are really quite quick! We have been steadily eating the miles up on the guys in front of us, which raises the spirits and motivates the crew. It is wet on deck, proper "fire hose" sailing with constant spray belting down the deck as we speed along at 20+ knots. However, everyone has the bit firmly between their teeth and are pushing hard knowing full well that we can catch and pass the guys in front.

Things will surely get trickier from here on in, tonight we must get through a ridge of high pressure before we reach the trades on the other side but for now I am happy and content as everything is good and we are all looking forward to what lies ahead.

Cheers for now,

--Si Fi

November 2, 2008

Cruising in to Cape Town

Sorry I have not managed to write more frequently-- despite having been on this boat for many days, it is amazing how your days fill up, leaving little time for other things.

Gabriele Olivo/Equipo Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race| |Jonathan Swain and Simon Fisher guide Telefonica Blue towards Cape Town, South Africa, towards the end of Leg 1.|

We are now on the home straight of Leg 1. With just a few hundred miles to go before we arrive in Cape Town, we are into the final push to the finish. We have the Russians on our heels some 50 miles back and we are taking no chances, sailing hard until the end to secure fifth place. While it's not the result we were hoping for when we left Alicante, the last few weeks have been a good test for boat and crew. If we can take away the lessons from this leg and build on them for the next, then we should be in good shape.

With the breakage that required a pit stop in Gibraltar, we were on the back foot from the start. But we have fought valiantly for many thousands of miles to get back into the race. The need for reliability was the first major lesson we learned, but along the way there were plenty more tough lessons to come.

Our Cuben A2 exploded not once but twice, giving the sailmakers many hours of work in the bow in unpleasant conditions while they fought to get the sail back together so we could fight again. So there we go-- lessons learned about the sail program.

The next lesson came as we zig-zagged our way down the Atlantic. One gybe cost us 100 miles in 24 hours compared to our rivals, leaving Bouwe and me frustrated and annoyed. It was another lesson learned, however. We have improved the the way we work together, and I have stepped out of a full sailing watch to focus more on the strategy. This got us back on track and the next phase went really well. We were gaining places and for the first time I felt like I was enjoying the race, but we still needed to be patient. Although we were gaining on the leaders, they were still a long way off.

We entered the Doldrums making big gains, but they were tricky as always. In the wake of a massive tropical wave, the Doldrums ended up spanning many hundreds of miles. In an attempt to put ourselves at the front of the fleet, we ventured into the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) a little east of the leaders. Initially it looked really good. We were waiting for our moment to step west, then suddenly one cloud, then nothing for several days. The guys that had cut their losses and headed west slipped away again while we flopped about in little wind and searing heat. Another lesson learned, this time about risk versus gain. On this occasion we gambled but it didn't pay out. However, with the Ericsson Nordic boat close by, it gave us a tangible way to measure ourselves. Slowly but surely, we pulled away from them and escaped the Doldrums with everyone working hard to keep the boat moving.

The leaders were now many miles ahead, including our teammates on Telefonica Black, which had come from behind and gone through the ITCZ exactly where we had wanted to be. Our next goal was to focus on catching Telefonica Black and the leading pack. We were very happy with our speed and were slowly but surely gaining. Patience was key; it took many days to grind down the miles. We passed through the scoring gate in fifth and headed into the South Atlantic trades slowly but surely reeling them in.

We headed south around the high. Once around, we picked up the weather that has taken us to within a few hundred miles of the finish, a big low pressure system that gave us big winds, big waves, and more tough lessons. The winds steadily built into the high 20s, as did our boatspeed. We were surprised, however, to find that we were having trouble managing the boat. After a relatively light wind summer since launching the boats, we hadn't sailed much in these conditions and the boat wasn't behaving quite how we expected. Initially we gritted our teeth and pushed on, passing our colleagues on the Telefonica Black, but chased hard by the Nordic team behind. After a while it was becoming too much. We were on the edge-- in fact we were way too close to it. We were forced to throttle back, costing us places and miles to the leaders as Ericcsson 4 streaked off to break the 24-hour record I had once held with ABN AMRO 2. Once again I felt frustrated as we struggled to stay in contention, but I had to learn to bite my lip, let the guys sail conservatively, and not push too hard. Over the following days we learned more and more about our boat in these conditions and now I think we are sailing it much better. It is more demanding than we expected, very wet, and when you nose dive you go down hard. Slowly we were taming the beast.

That said, however, we soon learned that the beast could still bite back if you weren't careful. We were blasting down towards the Roaring Forties when we hit a big wave in the dark. From my bunk I felt the boat rock over the wrong way and then, wham, a massive Chinese gybe. Lesson learned: Know where the limits are! We recovered well, got the spinnaker down, the boat upright again (from being pinned down at 60 degrees), regrouped, and continued. We didn't lose too many miles, and I think the wipeout actually left everyone a little more relaxed. Everyone had been on edge waiting for something like that to happen, so once it did I think perhaps we all moved on a little bit wiser.

A few hundred more miles down the track and brings us to where I am now, sitting in the nav station watching the wind direction on the other computer as we head towards the finish. Not on the podium for this leg, but it has certainly been eventful. We really have had it all, hot, cold, broken, repaired, broken again, gains, losses, calms, storms, fun, and frustration. Right now I can't wait to get in to Cape Town. If we can make it in with the Russians behind us, I think I'll be happy for now and will look back on the leg with some fond memories. We have grown as a team and as individuals, all a little bit older, wiser, and the better for the experience.

October 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. 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 storyteller 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. - Ed.

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 Telefonica 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 travelling 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.

Gabriele Olivo/Equipo Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race
Telefonica Blue, looking itself in the doldrum mirror.
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...