Team Blog - Ian Walker - 17th December 2011

Saturday, 17 December 2011 | by ADOR

We have been bashing up against the cold front for days now and I have had enough! Each time we gain on it, we get under the clouds, the rain starts, the wind drops or shifts thereby making it impossible to maintain progress and the front gains on us and moves ahead.

As the front has advanced further east in the south, those yachts positioned to the south have been able to make better progress, but let us not forget we have to turn north at some point and we still have to cross the front!

One saving grace right now is that the waves have dropped – last night was a tough night bashing into steep head-seas praying the masthead spinnaker would stay in one piece – not to mention the halyard locks and the mast of course!

Life onboard Azzam is very calm right now after a manic four hours of sail changes. It is 1am I have just enjoyed ‘roast chicken’ freeze dried style and I am looking forward to getting into a bunk soon. With smoother seas I may be able to sleep tonight!

date: Saturday, 17 December 2011 20:08:47 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 16th December 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011 | by ADOR

Yesterday saw the crew aboard Azzam tested to their mental limits. Not due to damage or bad scheds, but rather to outrageous wind patterns with less than zero consistency. “It’s wild here, I have never sailed in a more frustrating place in my life. The weather refuses to make up its mind!” explained Jutty (Justin Slattery).

Judging by the random shouting and extreme outburst of laughter, I knew it was time to get on deck for a bit. It was obvious from the outset that the boys were highly annoyed though, so I figured no point in walking into a firing squad empty handed. I went for the next day’s chocolate supply and came bearing gifts. However with an extreme burst of wind that would require a stack change, and would eventually drop off just two minutes later under heavy rain, it was tough getting a genuine rise out of anyone.

Try this on your brain – 3 to 4 knots of wind, sails brutally slapping the rig at 160 true wind angle. Within seconds it would shift to 100 true wind angle, gust up to 15-18 knots and tip the yacht over if you were not quick enough with the keel or mainsheet. The strong pressure would last two minutes maximum and would require a minor stack change (nothing really minor about shifting several tons across a moving surface). The breeze would then die again in a matter of seconds and send Azzam upright with the sails against the rig sending chills down everyone’s spines. Put that on repeat for 15 straight hours and see how you come out the other side.

We have dubbed this weather system the ‘Third Doldrums’ but pray that it’s not actually true. After asking Junior how his watch went, he replied somewhat sarcastically “I will never get those four hours back in my life, all that matters now is that I’m off watch!” “Fair enough” I said. Several minutes later the new watch called down, “wake up Junior – sail change!”

date: Friday, 16 December 2011 20:05:13 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog 2 - Nick Dana - 15th December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011 | by ADOR

When looking at the unusual sea state and varying wind conditions this morning, it was obvious there would be many sail changes and just plain old sail dragging throughout the day ahead. And who better to follow around the pointy end of the yacht during this madness then our boat captain / bowman, Wade ‘Bubs’ Morgan.

Now Bubs is not your average bowman, in fact he is not even really a bowman at all. Standing at 6’4” and 115 kgs, Bubs looks down on most grinders, let alone other bowman. But as he puts it, “I never stuck my hand up and said ‘if you need a bowman I’m your man’. Then again, that’s not always how Volvo teams select their crew anyway.” Just look at the rest of the crew lists from other teams, and you’ll find some pretty big names in sailing, performing different roles on board then they are probably known for outside this race.

Furthermore, beyond Bubs’ vast wealth of sailing knowledge, refined over years of America’s Cup and Grand Prix racing, he is mechanically minded and truly looks to understand all facets of these yachts. Thus, when it came time for the team to choose a boat captain for the race, Bubs was the obvious choice. Not to mention “he is a big boy, and when he wants to move something – it moves!” said watch-leader Craig Satterthwaite.

So in following him for an afternoon of sail changes and stack shifts, I could not help but be impressed by how agile he was in such an unstable environment. And as he factitiously remarked after being out at the end of the prod to fix a furling unit “I must make this job look like a great time!”

date: Thursday, 15 December 2011 20:02:51 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 15th December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011 | by ADOR

Groundhog Day

The start of today has been similar to the last few. Same wind pattern as the breeze slowly dies and the sun rises. We passed Sanya last night while reaching through a pretty scary sea way, all we could see is there top mast light and there deck light, so presumable they were doing a sail change and bore to kill a little speed.

It was a pretty exciting night for the boys driving, raining, black and zero rhythm to the ocean. I asked Justing Ferris as he got off the wheel if it was any fun? To which he replied –“Maybe not as much fun, as it was freaky. I could barely even see the bow, let alone a wave in front of us. Tough to find a groove.”

Towards the end of Junior and Ferris’ watch, we could see a cloud curtain that seemed like the light at the end of tunnel for us. And as we screamed towards it at 25+ knots, it never really seemed to get closer. We quickly realised this was the edge of the front that we have been under the past few days, and we are probably not moving too much faster than it.

Eventually we reached the curtain, and the seas subsided a bit. But for a few hours there in the pitch black, it seemed like a wipe out was eminent. Luckily everyone was on the ball and worked methodically through the difficult conditions. In the early hours of the morning we began to open up the hatches and start airing out the boat again. It’s amazing how the raw aroma of 11 guys can consume a boat in just a few hours.

Big day of bailing so far, Adil and I have been crushing it. Finding every little corner that water could possible have run off and collected. I have noticed that he has become quite anally retentive about dampness down below, and often shoots me dirty looks when his socks get a little moist in the bilge. In fact Adil has even worked out the best technique for bailing I have ever scene on a race boat. So efficient is his technique that he forbids me to write about it - to avoid disclosing our speed bailing advantage to other teams in the race.

Happy days so far… Getting closer to our hometown.

date: Thursday, 15 December 2011 20:01:11 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 15th December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011 | by ADOR

Day 5 – The safety car is out

Sailing events are forever labeling themselves the ‘F1 of sailing’ but Volvo has taken it a step further by introducing the marine equivalent of the safety car. A cold front extending north-south across the fleet containing rain, little wind and a 180 degree windshift is moving slowly east at about 12 knots.

Sadly this means that we sail into it at 20 knots, the wind dies, we stop until the front moves forward and we regain the wind from the old direction. All the time this is happening, those boats behind pile into the back of us whilst we are held up by the ‘weather safety car’.

Only when the front slows down or if we get some magic gust from a rain cloud or something similar will we be able to pop through to the east side and away. Sanya was over 60 miles behind us yesterday and now we can see them right up behind us.

It’s always nice to have a boat in sight but it’s annoying to have lost such a big margin so quickly. The only real question for navigators and skippers is where to position yourself on the north / south axis in the line up behind the ‘safety car’.

If you can get through it fast then north should be good, if it takes longer then south could be stronger. We are currently trying to slide south a bit to get in touch with Puma and Camper and minimise any leverage they have over us.

date: Thursday, 15 December 2011 15:54:22 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 15th December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011 | by ADOR

Since I last wrote in, a number of things have changed. For starters, my last blogging experience was conducted on my ‘little weapon’ beanbag with my feet kicked up and a coffee sat next to me. This time I’ve had to harken back to my childhood skills of sibling evasion and dig myself a hideout / work station in amongst the food bags pressed up against the aft watertight bulkhead. Now I’m wedged nicely in here while VMG running with our A3 into a sloppy head sea. It’s quite an interesting vantage point on a Volvo 70, however, it does feel as if I’m riding an annoyed horse that is determined to buck me.

This is probably a fair assessment considering we are averaging over 23 knots into a horrible head sea while crossing the Aguhlas current off the south east coast of Swaziland and South Africa. In fact, the current reminds me very much of the Gulf Stream off the East Coast of the U.S - a roughly 50 NM wide river of warmer water travelling through colder waters creating a volatile weather pattern that is nearly impossible to predict.

This being said, our game plan of crossing this current was based on a route that would have us in and out as fast as possible. In the early hours of the morning we turned and went for it. “Sometimes there is only one way to deal with these things, just take it on and tick it off,” explained Justin Ferris. And as I write this now, we have just popped out the other side smack into the next high pressure system. Not ideal.

The team is doing well though. Sleep deprivation is obvious with a few of the guys, but nothing out of the ordinary on these boats. Jules and Ian remain extremely consistent in their weather calls and bow team has been bang on with every sail change. A pretty happy bunch really considering the heinous sea state.

Lastly, I would like to finally say that I have been to Jeffery’s Bay, South Africa. One of the most famous surf spots in the world, and a place I have always wanted to go travel to. I would also like to say that I have no desire to return. At least not sailing. What a horrible bay to find yourself short tacking a Volvo 70 through in the middle of the night… I can see why it gets nice waves though!

date: Thursday, 15 December 2011 12:37:27 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 14th December 2011

Wednesday, 14 December 2011 | by ADOR

After blasting out the other side of the Aguhlas Current this morning, we knew we were in for some drifting. In fact, before we even entered the Aguhlas the night before, we knew exactly where we would be entering the high-pressure system on the other side. So the original goal of the get in and out of the current as fast as possible was reached. Now the challenge was getting out of the high–pressure.

After a bit of wind hunting with Jutty (Justin Slattery) up the rig, we managed to spot a big old mother of a cloud forming just a few miles away. SiFi, who was steering at the time, shouts the call in his best southern American accent. “Right fellas – that’s our ticket off this pond. Let’s get er’ done!” Off we went, a few ugly light air gybes later and we were right on it. From then on we had solid pressure, gusts up to 25+ and sustained high teens.

The American accent wind up has been on the forefront of our humor campaign aboard Azzam for a while now. Both Andrew Lewis and I use the accent often in attempts to draw blood from the antipodean stone that they know as humor. On several occasions we have been successful, and thus the accent has taken on a new role on board. The accent, combined with heavy high-fives is virtually our only defense against the dark side.

In sailing news, we lost a few miles in the last schedule. No one is too stressed at the moment, as the fleet is still relatively compressed and headed for the same system. However, we are starting to believe that Telefonica’s slight course change to the north might pay off in a few of the latest weather models. No doubt their navigator Andrew ‘Hansel’ Cape will be chancing their possible break from the fleet for big gains.

date: Wednesday, 14 December 2011 19:58:11 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 14th December 2011

Wednesday, 14 December 2011 | by ADOR

Right now we have the equivalent of a road block in the form of a trough lying North South across the fleet’s path. Just like a lorry blocking the fast lane if any of us can find a way past we will have an unimpeded road ahead to blast East.

Until then we will no doubt have a series of false dawns as the wind drops and lifts, we gybe onto port and think we are into the new wind before the Westerly once again catches us up and destroys our hopes. It reminds me of trying to poke out of the doldrums and the way that can take a few attempts.

Fingers crossed we will punch through before too long as the prize could be great for whoever succeeds. The first few days of the trip proved to be a generally light air scenic tour of the stunning South African coast. Andrew Lewis and Nick Dana out 2 best surfers onboard were particularly excited when we gybed into the famous Jeffreys Bay last night.

After that it was awesome sailing. 30 knots of wind, a full main and our biggest spinnaker up we just clung on and Azzam blasted her way past Port Elizabeth across the notorious Agulhas current and into the lead. Top speed 33 knots and more importantly the mast, boat, sails and people all stood up to the first real heavy air downwind test. Now it is time to tidy up, eat some food and catch up on some sleep whilst hoping we can push through the light air trough.

date: Wednesday, 14 December 2011 18:59:39 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 14th December 2011

Wednesday, 14 December 2011 | by ADOR

That was a very tense night. After making big gains on the fleet by hugging the coast we have been running hard all night in 20 – 30 knots with our big spinnaker. Starboard tack was almost un-sailable due to the head-seas but port tack was fine – the only problem was we kept coming up against the land and having to gybe on to starboard! We made it through without breakages by slowing down and nursing Azzam!

We are now threading our way north east between the land and the Agulhas current which we must soon cross. These are infamously dangerous waters and nobody really knows how bad the next 24 hours may or may not be as anybody with any sense stays well clear of here!

date: Wednesday, 14 December 2011 11:30:58 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - NIck Dana - 13th December 2011

Tuesday, 13 December 2011 | by ADOR

Masthead zero (MHO) – peal to G1 (largest headsail). G1 - peal to fractional zero (FRO). FRO peal to MHO. Put it on repeat. While this series of sails is usually indicative of pleasant light / moderate breeze and fast reaching angles, it also demonstrates the nuisance of light air sailing in Volvo 70s. “These yachts are extremely trim sensitive – a few gear bags too far forward in ‘the stack’ and your bow is under water. One too many people sleeping back aft, and she is doing a wheelie!” explains boat captain Wade ‘bubs’ Morgan.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe with all the technology woven into these boats’ DNA; the thousands of design hours, cutting edge building materials and brilliant minds that the relatively archaic method of shifting really heavy things fore and aft, and side to side can win races. Indeed there is no shortage of quotes alluding to the crew’s sentiments towards the ‘the stack’, but at the end of the day ‘the stack’ is just one of a hundred things that can break you in the Volvo. So best just to grit your teeth and get on with it. (`Says the media guy!)

Moving on from the heavy stuff – last night was shocking for me! While shooting some moody twilight footage of a particularly funny watch group, I got my right foot caught in between ‘the stack’ and the lifelines, stripping me of my right Sharx shoe. This was particularly devastating for me considering these are the ultimate hot weather foot wear on board a boat, and we are faced with two sets of Doldrums this leg! Now I’m down to only my cold weather boots. A few of the guys have been nice enough to offer me their own pair for time being; fortunately I have sailed long enough with them to know that everything comes with a price. And you don’t want to be in debt when you’re approaching your first equator crossing!

date: Tuesday, 13 December 2011 13:22:09 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Ian Walker - 12th December 2011

Monday, 12 December 2011 | by ADOR

We have been sitting bobbing up and down looking at the notorious Cape of Good Hope for about 10 hours. Our main concern has been to not get swept up onto the rocks in the swell as we sit here in no wind.

It has been a very real concern as we have been unable to sail on port tack away from the shore as this puts us directly bow on to the waves and we get pushed backwards. We have been pretty good friends with one rock in particular that has been less than half a mile dead down swell from us for two hours.

We have just managed to pull forward on it despite some adverse current so it is now 1 mile behind – hopefully we won’t head back towards it again like we did an hour ago! The best word to sum up the start of the race so far is frustration and to give you an idea we have managed to sail 0.6 mile in the last two hours. We made a great exit from Table Bay and built a nice lead before getting swallowed up by the fleet as we sat in now wind further up the coast.

We managed to get through that in 2nd place but then got caught out too near the shore and we have paid a huge price. All our weather strategy is in pieces now as the fleet has failed to catch the low pressure as planned and I suspect we will all sit waiting for a new Westerly wind to pick us up in the next day or two.

This couldn’t have been more different to the windy start to leg 1 but looking on the bright side, we are at least enjoying our first breakfast of the race!

date: Monday, 12 December 2011 11:50:21 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 12th December 2012

Monday, 12 December 2011 | by ADOR

Back on track!

It almost feels like act one: scene two for us on Azzam. However after a killer start leaving Cape Town, and an eventual heading that points us to our second home, Abu Dhabi, it’s all smiles on board. “It’s great to be out racing again, and finally get a chance to see how we line up with some of the other boats over a long distance” said Andrew Lewis. “I know we are fast, but it’s tough to judge entirely until the scheds start pumping out,” he adds.

But as the wind quickly dropped around the corner from Table Bay, big numbers on scheds became less likely. We all began to think back to our last weather briefing before we left. It was obvious that if we miss the tail end of this low pressure system we’re chasing, we could be in for a painful drift off for a few days. A thought that is particularly chilling considering you’re already faced with the two sets of Doldrums later on in the leg.

Nevertheless we press on, eager to prove ourselves to the rest of the fleet. And as we drift off Cape Point in the early hours of the morning eating our porridge, we cannot help but think how good it is to be back at sea.

date: Monday, 12 December 2011 09:51:49 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 7th December 2011

Wednesday, 07 December 2011 | by ADOR

And here we go again, 'Nice one mates!'

In just less than six days after Azzam's arrival in to Cape Town, the team from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Future Fibres has pulled off quite an impressive rigging feat. "I think everyone should be very proud of what we have achieved over the past week - this is both a very exciting and nervous moment for us, but now it's time to dial Azzam back in for racing," said Ian Walker.

It has no doubt been a challenging month for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, and it doesn't seem like long ago that we were drifting in the Med, deliberating whether to sail to Cape Town or not with the new rig being held vertical by old rigging. The logic of shipping prevailed, and I do not think anyone has regretted it since. Especially considering how many stars aligned in order for us to be back sailing this afternoon.

Logistically, we had a massive effort from everyone. From our Team Director, Jamie Boag, literally getting his hands dirty putting Azzam on the ship in Lisbon to Craig Satterthwaite’s meticulous oversight of the new rigging which was made in Spain and finally installed in Cape Town. Each member of the team has had to put in a bit extra than what they had probably originally bargained for. But as Ben Davis our lead boat-builder said to me yesterday: "that's the nature of the beast with the Volvo, and it wouldn't be a rush without it".

We are also reminded by Puma's misfortune and the potentially worse situation we could have found ourselves in had we made the decision to sail instead of ship. Looking back, I didn't envy Ian in the slightest having to make those kinds of game time calls. The foresight of what lay ahead for us at the time was next to impossible for anyone to even hazard a guess at, let alone logistically decide for. But there was no prolonged hesitation, the call was made and off we went. Since then, with the help of many very capable people, the entire saga has been dubbed a huge success. As our Emirati crew member, Adil Khalid, told us yesterday: "We're hungry and we're coming home".

While the breeze is looking relatively moderate for our first test this afternoon, this weekend should be a different story. Forecast are already showing potential for 30+ knots on the course for Saturday's in port race in Table Bay - with similar, if not more, for the leg start Sunday. More to come after our first look at the new gear...

date: Wednesday, 07 December 2011 13:55:08 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 4th December 2011

Sunday, 04 December 2011 | by ADOR

Day three of proper 'boat out of the water' work here in Cape Town. The onboard job list is ticking away quite nicely - Future Fibres alongside the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing rig team are moving swiftly through the rigging modifications. Seeing as though we hardly sailed any of Leg 1 under our own power, there is a relatively small job list. However, in a race that pushes the envelope of design, materials, and even people like the Volvo does, it is a true rarity to see the light at the end of the tunnel on a job list.

So it is crucial that we spend our time efficiently, as well as use this time as an opportunity to improve upon things that we might not have otherwise been able to.

Things we are looking to do this week: daily weather reports with our weather team that's based in the US. Scout out the in-port race track and monitor wind conditions relative to the Table Bay. Full debrief of Leg 1 and Alicante's in-port race. Look into all logistics involved in the upcoming leg etc... While it may not be your average action packed Volvo Ocean Race work week, the team is extremely focused on Azzam's return to the water and the racing ahead.

date: Sunday, 04 December 2011 18:29:13 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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