Team Blog – Ian Walker – 1st February 2012

Wednesday, 01 February 2012 | by ADOR

What a torrid 12 hours we have had. The wind speed and direction has born no relation to the forecasts and this, coupled with our fleet position and desire to get some leverage on the boats ahead, has lead to a big loss.

As we positioned ourselves to the east of the fleet in anticipation of a big right shift, the wind went 30 degrees left. Camper instantly gained around 10 miles. Fortunately we are now back on track and seemed to have played the last three shifts much better to hopefully stay in touch with Camper.

As we head north the wind is lifting and increasing so this also favours those boats ahead to make gains. Right now the wind is building fast (we have 19 knots) and there is a feeling of anticipation about the 48 hours of strong wind ahead. It will soon be time to wake everyone up and change to a smaller headsail.

Azzam and her crew are in good shape and we are spurred on by the thought that our arrival in Sanya is potentially only three days away. For the first time all leg we are all now reaching for foul weather gear as the amount of water coming over the deck is increasing. I would be lying if I said I was not apprehensive about our mast and rigging, but all the signs are that things should be OK. The big test will be when we go for the J4 heavy weather jib and two reefs for the first time since stepping this spare mast.

date: Wednesday, 01 February 2012 08:44:06 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 31st January 2012

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 | by ADOR

A bit of a tough day here for us aboard Azzam. We began the day leading Camper out of the hectic shipping fields that extend through the Singapore Straits. When daylight broke we could just make them out on the horizon behind us sailing higher and perhaps a fraction slower. The plan was clear, play our position to the forecasted right shift that was to be coming through in the afternoon. Sit on port tack until the shift came and / or we were laying the exclusion zone that we were required to sail beyond. We’re still waiting on the shift…

Tough luck is all we can say. Camper tacked out earlier to find fresher breeze and ended up catching a shift while they were at it. Now we look forward. The wind forecast going past the Vietnamese coastline looks like it will have some wick on it. 30 – 35 knots bang up-wind less than 48 hours from now. The crew have begun to run over a few checklists, making sure spare ropes, deck gear and a whole host of other things are readily accessible. Most of the talks on deck during the watches focus on the readiness of Azzam – if we should see 35 knots do we start backing off? Or do we feel that we have one of the stronger boats and press on in hopes to gain back good distance from the leaders?

Unfortunately right now it looks as if the rich are getting richer ahead of us with more consistent breeze from a better angle. So when looking at it from our standpoint, the heavy winds could provide us the chance we need for a big comeback in the homestretch to Sanya. However it will not be easy, nor will it be comfortable.

As Andrew Lewis and I were talking about earlier, “cherish the interior of the boat right now.” It’s dry, cool and clean. In 48 hours it will be turned upside down and any ounce of comfort that you had before will be sucked away.

date: Tuesday, 31 January 2012 08:53:44 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 30th January 2012

Monday, 30 January 2012 | by ADOR

We are now within 50 miles of Singapore – one of my favourite cities in the world. It is going to be very hard not to stop in for a visit! Right now we could all do with a cool, soft drink and a freshwater shower.

In my mind this represents the end of the second stage of leg 3B… i.e. the Malacca Straits. I have to say that with the exception of a period of getting stuck in the shipping lane with little or no wind to manoeuvre, the Straits have held very few of the perils we feared. No pirates, no collisions, far less debris in the water than I remember last time, fewer thunder storms and fewer periods of calm.

Having said that, the waters off Singapore will offer lots more shipping and some strong adverse currents so we are not out of the woods yet.

The Straits have been very interesting tactically with Camper, and our traditional move to the Malaysian coast, failing to produce the rewards we hoped for. Although we are closer to the leaders than we have been in days, and have also had great fun trading places with Camper for the last 24 hours.

We finally got passed them yesterday evening after a day spent chasing hard, only to lose the place back when the wind becalmed before the onset of the land breeze. We passed them back rounding a headland with strong adverse current in the night only to lose out again upwind today.

Right now they are 200 metres ahead of us and we have just hoisted our spinnaker, which is when we normally start to make gains. We are in for a busy night again for sure in one of the busiest waterways in the world. Right now the top five boats are within 25 miles of each other after eight days racing.

Looking ahead it would be fair to say that nobody onboard is looking forward to the last part of this leg. It’s 1,200 miles upwind to China with some certain rough conditions off the Vietnamese coast. Now is the time to be checking things over, doing any small maintenance bits and any other chores before the sea conditions deteriorate in the South China Sea.

date: Monday, 30 January 2012 14:12:24 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 29th January 2012

Sunday, 29 January 2012 | by ADOR

From bats to being boiling hot, today was an odd one to say the least. Odd as it was though, it was tough to miss the brilliant racing at hand. We had finally caught up with pack, Camper was now firmly in our sights and only a few miles ahead with less wind. The breeze, which had brought us to the Malaysian coastline, was now withering away to nothing. It held just long enough to get us within a mile of Camper, and then vanished. We were now in the same wind as the Kiwis and the drag race was on.

While hugging the coastline and holding out for the guaranteed sea breeze build that happens off the land each day like clockwork, we prayed the rest of the fleet to be becalmed. We, along with Camper, had chosen to stick to the coast for fear that an alternate option had lesser probably for breeze.

In the last race, it was and Ian’s team on Green Dragon and Jules team on E4 that had stuck to the middle of the straights with no breeze. Painfully each schedule showed loss after loss while the rest of the fleet sailed along the Malaysian coastline with solid sea breeze right to Singapore. This time, both were determined not to get caught out again. Ironically, the boats that stayed in the centre had lucked out with a small weather system that created stronger more consistent breeze.

Nevertheless we were locked in with Camper. And there is no better motivation than another team right next to you sailing inch for inch. We knew that the others in fleet had made big gains, but we would hopefully carry the breeze longer into the afternoon / evening and make back some miles on the leaders. Everyone is now on deck; Jutty is up the rig scouting out wind. No doubt we will see more compression through the night at we edge closer to the Straits of Singapore.

date: Sunday, 29 January 2012 13:39:09 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 29th January 2012

Sunday, 29 January 2012 | by ADOR

If there was one thing we learnt in the last race and that is borne out by theory it is to stay away from the middle of the Malacca Straits (where there is normally no wind and strong adverse currents). Sadly having managed to do just that and set ourselves up for the sea breeze on the Malaysian shore today we have had to endure watching Groupama, Puma and Telefonica carry wind right down the middle of the Straits!

The net loss to us could be as much as 50 miles and certainly leaves us praying for a ‘park up’ somewhere further down the Straits. On the positive side we have closed right up to Camper and for the first time in days we have a boat to race against rather than dots on the computer screen.

Right now we are two miles behind and enjoying their company. The water maker is the most important bit of kit on the boat right now as we are each consuming up 10 litres per day. Today onboard it is 38 degrees so sleeping is a bit of a challenge – especially after running the engine to charge the batteries.

The only other highlight is that we now have a resident bat onboard. He is hanging to the mainsail reef point catching some sleep in the day – I guess he got blown off the land last night and couldn’t find his way back. I think he likes our black sails and Azzam’s falcon. We will try and deliver him back towards shore tonight.

date: Sunday, 29 January 2012 11:42:27 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 28th January 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012 | by ADOR

There has been some great action aboard Azzam for the past 24 hours. First, a sneaky little rainsquall rocked us around midnight. Lifting from 12 knots to over 30 knots in less than a minute’s time, and if that’s not enough, we had our mast head zero up which is out of range above 13 knots. Needless to say the on-watch boys had a bit on. Ferris was steering at the time, I remember being down below and hearing faintly through the deck “hang on fellas, this is going to get wild!” And it did, Azzam lurched ahead and began rocking up on her side a bit further than average. Ferris calmly turned her off the breeze a bit, and the on-watch and standby guys were able to regain control.

Despite it being a potentially sail busting situation for us, everyone seemed to have a big smile on their face. “I’m just stoked we got a shower finally!” said Andrew Lewis. The rain was intense, as if a 2-mile long cloud had just been gathering moisture for weeks and waiting for a bunch of knuckle heads on a Volvo 70 to come cruising by with their hair on fire. The only bummer was the rain didn’t stick around long enough for us to get the shampoo out.

The next big action was our first land sighting in days. The North West tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. We managed to take it in for a few minutes before the sun set and the wind began to get fresher. Although the Straits of Malacca don’t experience the same volatile funnelling effects that the Straits of Gibraltar often can. There is still a very noticeable change, and right now it’s in the currents. 3-4 knots currents churning up the mouth of the Straits and creating strange unpredictable effects combined with the present Monsoon. Should make for some interesting racing ahead!

date: Saturday, 28 January 2012 11:13:28 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 27th January 2012

Friday, 27 January 2012 | by ADOR

Finally we tacked! First time in four days and perhaps the most eventful part of the journey thus far. It was as if we had started again. Our moods even seemed to change for that brief period of time. The jokes that you couldn’t be bothered telling the day before were suddenly thrown out at random. A few of us then pitched in to clean the side of the boat where we had been eating, sleeping and sweating on for the past four days. Not as bad as we had initially thought. A few packs of ‘cup noodles’ had exploded and were now going off in the bilge water. Five or six melted candy bars were also scraped from the bilge, but other than that she was sweet.

Towards the end of our brief stint on starboard tack, I managed to catch the tail end of conversation that entailed the pros and cons of eating with chopsticks. It was social hour at this point, and all watches seemed to be on deck. Perhaps too hot to sleep below or maybe just too much sleep in general, either way everyone had an opinion. Without going through the lengthy lists, I’ll give you a few from both the pros and cons. Pros; you eat less and digest better, it’s culturally acceptable to bring your plate / bowl to mouth and shovel food if necessary, and they can be used as drums sticks if your bored at dinner. Cons; you cant eat as much as fast. You have to learn at a young age otherwise you’ll always struggle a bit and look stupid on dates, and they don’t work on a boat.

Clearly the monotony of these conditions has impacted us all onboard. However these are precisely the conversations that keep you going watch after watch while waiting for the next sched reports. Hopefully tomorrow we start to see some different action.

date: Friday, 27 January 2012 14:30:40 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 26th January 2012

Thursday, 26 January 2012 | by ADOR

It’s day four now and still we plug along in the same conditions we started in. I figure at this point in the trip, the onboard lifestyle description would probably even bore a couch surfer. So I have opted for race commentary today.

The breeze still hovers around the 8 -12 knots range from the NNE with minor headers (right shifts) here and there. After noticing a couple of good scheds out of Telefonica, and still under the impression that they were unable to fly a mast head zero (MH0), we thought we ought to give our fractional zero (FR0) a run. In an hours time it was taken back down as we pealed back to a G1. The FR0 just didn’t provide that flavourful, weight back -bow out, juice that we had initially hoped for. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise and further compounded our first test’s results that we had done in Portugal while training.

Through the early hours of this morning we still felt a bit sluggish, our scheds were falling off from the leaders and Telefonica (who we no longer believe is without a MH0) was launched. Team Sanya is now the only boat left in our sights, trailing just over ten miles back nipping at our heels. When speaking with a few of the crew about our just shy of average performance, they remain optimistic that the Malacca Straits will provide enough compression in the fleet to create a re-start. “It’s rare in this race, especially in this part of the world that the fleet will not be dramatically shifted one more time before the finish. One cloud can change the whole ball game for you” explains Junior (Andrew Lewis).

So as the boys enjoy the extra chilled out time in the rack, and the odd bowl of noodles as a boredom snack. Everyone is aware that there is still a race within a race ahead. The Straits will no doubt be a difficult feature of this leg; all we can hope for now is the cloud gods to be on our side and the Monsoon winds to be strong.

date: Thursday, 26 January 2012 10:36:57 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 24th January 2012

Tuesday, 24 January 2012 | by ADOR

It’s tough to know what to write today. It’s Groundhog Day really. We still haven’t tacked, we haven’t changed sail for over 24 hours and there has been little cloud activity to mess with the wind. In short nothing much is going on out here as we parade east towards our next waypoint at Pulau We.

Life onboard really consists of a few hours of driving or trimming on deck to extract the very best pace we can from Azzam followed by a few hours trying to catch whatever sleep we can in the sweltering conditions down below. I know it will be very hectic in the Malacca Straits so it is important to take the rest while we can. We haven’t had too bad a 24 hours, just about hanging on to the back of the leaders and slowly pulling away from Sanya behind.

It’s really a game of very subtle changes and trying to hang on for the action to start in the Straits. The only really good news is that I am definitely hearing less coughing aboard as we slowly shake off the various ailments picked up ashore.

date: Tuesday, 24 January 2012 17:59:19 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 24th January 2012

Tuesday, 24 January 2012 | by ADOR

Since I last wrote to you, Azzam and her finely tuned athletes have completed the following; 3 freeze dried meals, 6 packs of biltong, 16 Kit Kat chunky bars, 2 tins of nuts, 3 packs of wine gums, 4 sheets of chocolate, 1kg of meat and cheese + tortilla rolls, 4 ramen noodles packs, 1 pack of short bread and 75 liters of water. Oh yes, and one sail change.

Depending on your own dietary habits this might be considered savage, on par, or maybe even healthy? While it’s hard to fathom that this menu could ever fall under the realm of healthy, consider it from an energy standpoint. Energy lies in calories, and extremely calorific food items are both tasty and necessary onboard a Volvo Open 70. During the colder legs, a crewmember will burn anywhere between 6,000 and 8, 000 calories per-day. If you do the math between 11 guys, this menu that I have laid out for the past 24hrs falls far short.

However, we are not on a cold leg right now. Nor have there been many sail changes, stack shifts or even course changes for that matter. The pace, in which we are all consuming “energy” at the moment, is indeed purely driven by boredom. While the racing remains tight and focus levels are high, we find ourselves in a rare moment of the leg where physical stamina is not required nearly as much to get through the day. It’s also a chance to catch up on some of the weight you may have lost in the previous legs. Easy to say for the media guy!

In other news on board, we have run out of the fresh fruit that we had collected while in the Maldives. Wade cut up the last pineapple yesterday as everyone sat on the rail with cupped hands waiting for him to pass by and shovel a piece in their direction. It made a mess of the deck, but was worth the hassle. The savouring of the final bit of fruit also helped break up the argument about mealtime adjustments that has now plagued the boat for days. Again, driven by boredom. More to come…

date: Tuesday, 24 January 2012 17:55:38 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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