Team Blog – Nick Dana – 21st February 2012

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 | by ADOR

Here we are on yet another upwind leg of the race. After our short 25+ knots TWS beating yesterday, all we are left with is a confused sea state and half the wind. It seems no matter where we point our bow the elements choose the reciprocal course to oppose us. In fact as I write to you now, Jules and Sifi are beside me in the nav station figuring out a way to re-write our TWD (true wind direction) instrument so that it reads “Our Destination”.

Because there is a bit of current moving perpendicular to the wind, we’re also dealing with a bit of side chop added to the sea state. Imagine riding a mechanical bull - it’s difficult for a variety of reasons. It’s spins around unpredictably, moves up and down, side to side and manages to heel over when you least expect it. Now imagine trying to stand on that mechanical bull while it’s going nuts. When you go forward of the dagger boards on a Volvo 70, above or below deck, this is what you have to look forward to. It can often be hysterical to watch. It’s as if the person is a puppet, and their puppeteer is drunk while driving their arms and legs. You never know how you’re going to end up in the bilge, only that will end up in the bilge.

Aside from that, things are pretty boring on board. We are all starting to get our appetites back after the beating yesterday. Fishing stories are starting up again on the rail, and the usual ‘hide the chocolate’ tricks have commenced.

date: Tuesday, 21 February 2012 15:43:17 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 21st February 2012

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 | by ADOR

There really is little to report out here except for the fact the wind has gone hard right lifting us up into quite a big head-sea. It is uncomfortable rather than boat breaking but the helmsman needs to be alert for the odd wave with no back to it.

It was a very dark night with no visible horizon which made it especially hard to helm accurately. Paul (aka Big Breeze) Willcox has settled into the crew well and seems to be enjoying himself. The lads are already winding him up about the equator crossing.

In the race Camper is using its extra height nicely to hold their strong position right of the fleet and Telefonica is speeding its way out of a slightly tricky position to the left. We seem to be going a bit better with our new mainsail and slightly different trim but still cannot quite match the pace of the leading three. The weather models are all over the place right now and the exit strategy through the Luzon Straits is far from clear so I suspect we may see some very different tactics leading to some opportunities over the next few days.

For now though it is just a question of once again bashing upwind and wondering about how great these last two legs would have been if we had sailed in the other direction!

date: Tuesday, 21 February 2012 15:39:25 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 20th February 2012

Monday, 20 February 2012 | by ADOR

Just easing back into the swing of things here on leg 4. We started off the morning in the last bit of drainage wind left over from the night. There were several lead changes in the first few miles as the fleet tried to duck and weave the light patches. It would not be like this for long however. As we slowly began to poke our nose out from behind the lee of the island of Hainan, the breeze steadily increased along with the wave height.

Needless to say it has become nearly impossible to do anything at this point on board. The airdrops we are experiencing off the backs of these sharp waves make it difficult to keep your feet below you let alone a sail or a steering wheel in your hands. We’re currently blasting along at around 18-20 knts with a J4 and reef in. Down below looks like a war zone. Several people have been sick already, and the rest just keep swallowing. On that note, it’s time to go cook the food – stayed tuned for more action.

date: Monday, 20 February 2012 13:39:38 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 20th February 2012

Monday, 20 February 2012 | by ADOR

A number of firsts for me in the last two days. First I’ve never sailed round a ‘Buddha mark’ before. Next I was putting suncream on in the dark before a 7am start and then today I had a hint of seasickness for the first time ever. Fortunately I have kept the freeze-dried roast chicken and mashed potato down so far (unlike a few others onboard) and the conditions are improving.

Right now it is still quite lumpy (the sea state). I would guess 3 – 4 metre waves but the wind has dropped to 16 knots. We are trying to hang on to Telefonica’s coattails in the north after quite a good morning that saw us leave the land in second place behind Camper. We have done a couple more sail changes than the other boats which wasn’t too pleasant. This also led to a bit of a shiner for Bubs after an encounter between his head and the foredeck. There is no permanent damage to either his head or the foredeck as far as I can make out.

Back to the race we are now settled into our watch routine, the snoring has started down below and the guys on deck are finding their rhythm. Nobody is really looking forward to a week or two of upwind slog – especially in these waves, but we will cross off the miles and wait for better sailing somewhere further down the line.

date: Monday, 20 February 2012 11:26:27 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 3rd February 2012

Friday, 03 February 2012 | by ADOR

Last night we dodged our second bullet of the leg. The first was in Singapore when we tried to pass between a moored motor yacht and a navigation buoy in the dark only to realise at the last second that they were connected by a large rope! We managed to alter course violently to avoid both the boat and buoy.

Last night was our second. We were threading our way up close to the Vietnamese coast in the dark when we had another near miss. Our concern was all the fishing boats- many of which were small and unlit (I counted over 100 lit ones that we could see at any one time). Fortunately Justin Slattery was on the foredeck as a lookout and he called Craig who was helming to come up just in time to miss a large, steel, uncharted and unlit pillar buoy. We missed it by a metre and for sure it would have made a big mess of our bow. It doesn’t bare thinking about the damage either of the incidents could have made to Azzam. I guess a miss is as big as a mile but these incidents serve to remind us of some of the unknown risks that lie out there.

Our overnight tactic of working the coastline hard may have been slightly risky but it paid nice dividends and we have come into both Camper and Puma thanks to favourable windshifts and current. Whether there will be anymore passing opportunities I am not sure as we are all now set up on starboard close to pointing at Sanya and the leg finish. It has been pretty windy and rough overnight and I am pleased to have seen us come through unscathed. Despite our disappointment at currently lying in 5th position we are very much looking forward to arriving in Sanya, especially if the welcome is anything like Qingdao in the last race!

date: Friday, 03 February 2012 10:32:36 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog - Nick Dana - 3rd February 2012

Friday, 03 February 2012 | by ADOR

The ‘proximity to finish’ sensor in all of us has gone off. The boat is becoming a bit untidy and tempers are short. The upwind smash-off for the last 600 miles and constant tacking has cut our fuses just a little bit shorter. Every once in a while you have to remind yourself that this is was only a 12 day leg, we will have at least another week past this in the next leg. But then again, with a day left to finish its nearly impossible not letting your mind drift off the boat.

We are holding onto a slim shade of hope that we could still have a small dual near the finish with Puma, who currently sit just 40 miles above our line with a similar heading. However we are stuck in a bit more current against us at the moment so the next sched could be a little disappointing. Nevertheless we continue to push Azzam for every gain possible. In the end all it takes is a breakage, a piece of debris in the water (which there is plenty of), or a crazy weather change for another boat and we would be right back amongst the leaders. That’s the beauty of this race.

On a more positive note, the comedy level is now peaking on board. The jokes and conversations on deck have become increasingly laden with sarcasm and dry wit. Rampant singing is now commonplace when sitting on deck and the only divisions that remain are the choice in genres.

date: Friday, 03 February 2012 09:42:55 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 2nd February 2012

Thursday, 02 February 2012 | by ADOR

OK I admit it - I have had enough of sailing upwind! Sadly we still have another 250 upwind miles or so to go before we can ease sheets and head directly for Sanya.

Having said that, 250 miles doesn’t sound too bad compared to over 2000 miles upwind that we knew we might have to do on this leg. There is very little to report apart from one collision in the night. Something hit our daggerboard and rudder hard and I was pretty glad when Junior (who was steering) reported that both were still intact.

Given the amount of tree trunks, crates and other debris we see in the day I consider we got off lightly. Tonight may well be worse as we will be tacking up the Vietnamese coast close to land. This tacking frenzy is due to begin in about six hours for us so everyone is resting up now in advance.

It will be interesting over the next 10 hours to see how Puma come out of their far eastern strategy. It looks relatively evenly poised between them and perhaps Camper from where I am sitting right now. Who knows, if it doesn’t go well for them maybe we can get close.

For us we have leaked more miles on the long starboard tack drag race north. The reality is that we are now three hours behind Camper and relying on those ahead to make big mistakes. In the meantime we will keep doing what we always do which is to drive and trim as fast as we can whilst Jules and I dissect every weather forecast looking for opportunity. It is still pretty windy and bumpy out here so we will remain mindful that things could be tired after two weeks at sea – including the crew.

date: Thursday, 02 February 2012 11:32:15 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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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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