Team Blog - Ian Walker - 20th December 2011

Tuesday, 20 December 2011 | by ADOR

Not much to report onboard Azzam today except it is bumpy, wet and generally pretty miserable on deck – at least it isn’t cold.

Life down below is also not easy with simple tasks like eating, going to the toilet or bailing water out becoming major exercises. Everyone on deck is harnessed on and down below you need to be very careful not to get thrown off balance and injured.

We have started to make some small gains on those ahead which is both nice to see and good for morale – long may they continue! Yesterday we were shocked to hear Sanya’s news and so pleased they did not break their mast – those guys deserved better after sailing a really nice leg. Good luck Team Sanya and get back in the race soon!

date: Tuesday, 20 December 2011 16:44:44 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 19th December 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011 | by ADOR

Finally we are pointing north. We have been knocking on the exit door of this front for the past few days, and have now managed to squeeze through. Amazing that we have been at sea now for just over a week and we are not far above the latitude from which we started on in Cape Town. However from what I gather, the trades in the Indian Ocean are quite illusive this time of year, and are often offset by cyclones.

Though we have seen no sign of this current cyclone yet, we should be entering the first wind fields during the early hours of the morning. Looks as if the northerly’s will keep us busy for the next two days pounding up wind, before the trades pick us up and we can crack sheets again. “Honestly it doesn’t matter what direction the wind comes from at this point – just as long as there is wind,” Jutty (Justin Slattery) announced on deck this morning. Everyone chuckled and agreed; the past few days had become quite difficult to stay motivated.

Especially when the fleet was starting to spread more and more, and other teams were doubling are own schedules in completely different weather systems. Nevertheless we pushed through, discovered some new culinary delights, got some rest, and are ready for the upwind trek.

Bubs repair on the dagger board up/down shiv seems to have done the trick. Although we did have him convinced for a little bit that his resin mix ratio was off and the carbon laminate was still soft hours after it should have gone off. The rest of Azzam is holding together nicely (knock on wood). Yesterday’s sunny flat spell of wind allowed everyone to get there kit on deck and have a bit of a dry out.

Judging by the look of a few of our shirts and pants, we are on par to discover new life forms in them within a week’s time. So we better hit a rain cloud soon. Heaps of albatross spotting yesterday as well! Royal Albatross to be exact.

date: Monday, 19 December 2011 12:50:57 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 18th December 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011 | by ADOR

The Feast in the East

It was over a spicy green Thai chicken curry last night for dinner that our current navigational options were discussed amongst the crew. The option to stick it out to the east for longer in order get around the low pressure had been the dominant choice of days prior. However our faint 30 second glimpse of Sanya yesterday disappearing to the north, gliding down wind with her massive A3 up, proved to liven up the debate.

Each weather model was then brought out, and both options argued fairly. As Jules explained to me relative to Sanya’s choice to go north – “it’s quite a risky maneuver, but if it comes off right they’ll probably end up two or three hundred miles ahead. The problem for them might come if it forms slightly closer to the coast as all they will get is the strongest head winds in the most dangerous part of the tropical storm.”

The other side of the proverbial coin is the decision to break from the fleet. Which I gather from the veterans on board, is always a risky move in the Volvo. Right now we are comfortable up with the pack, a few slower schedules of recent but generally moving in the same frontal systems as the leaders. Ian further demonstrated the reasoning to stick with the pack, “you can either come first or last [relative to Sanya’s northern route], but at least this way [to the east with the fleet] we are still in a sailing race and are still racing for second.” Nevertheless it will be an interesting week for all the fleet.

In other news on board Azzam, Bubs has got the tools out and is having a crack at fixing a shiv in the port dagger board case. It’s a fairly major job considering the location of the break and the ability to access it. But Bubs is a clever builder and will likely ‘jimmy’ something together. And if he doesn’t, maybe the ten other guys that come around telling him “ohh I wouldn’t have done it like that” will have a better idea. Or face his wrath!

date: Sunday, 18 December 2011 15:24:02 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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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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