Team Blog – Ian Walker – 27th February 2012

Monday, 27 February 2012 | by ADOR

The next 24 hours are crucial as it is then the fleet will probably start to bear away south east on course for New Zealand and the long drag race across the trades will begin. That means that the boats in the north have this amount of time to try and consolidate any gains by rolling over those to leeward.

It is clear that Puma’s bravery in digging north has got them out of trouble and into a duel with Groupama for the lead. It is not yet clear who will come out on top but it looks close. What is also not yet clear is whether we can make our move to the north of Camper stick and if so by how much. Each position report is critical now and our fate can hang in the effects of one or more clouds or their wake zone.

The last position report was excellent for us gaining 15 degrees thanks to a nice cloud line, but right now we are struggling in lighter winds. One thing I have learnt over the course of two races is that you will drive yourself to distraction worrying over each hour sailed. You have to hope that each boat will get dealt some tricky periods to get through and that they will even out in the long run. The best strategy seems to be either to get on deck and do something to help or go to sleep and hope it is better when you wake up! Fretting in the nav station won’t help. So far I think we have managed the tricky weather pretty well and Jules is no doubt looking forward to some straight forward trade wind sailing in the next few days.

Onboard everyone is getting well rested apart from Bubs who is doing his best impression of Bob the Builder again – this time it’s a daggerboard post that needs fixing. I should mention that Paul Willcox has settled into the team really well although he is only too aware that the Equator is less than a week away. He had better hope that the next week goes well for us or King Neptune could be an angry man.

date: Monday, 27 February 2012 21:08:02 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 27th February 2012

Monday, 27 February 2012 | by ADOR

When you hear the sound of cracking carbon fibre on a Volvo 70, your heart always jumps a beat. Your mind begins to race with a diagnostic process that absorbs all the elements of the situation surrounding the noise. Where it came from, what speed the boat is doing, the sea state, where the stack is etc… Then you move onto looking for any obvious signs of what could have caused the noise; water pouring into the bilge, fragmented bits of material strewn about or even just people freaking out looking at something.

Last night we heard this distinct sound. A few of us jumped from our bunks looking for where it could have come from, we knew it was forward of the galley bulkhead, but past that we were unsure. Eventually we were led to the issue by Justin Slattery who was on deck at the time of the cracking and knew exactly what had happened. When lifting our starboard dagger board, the crane system that is designed to lift the board using a series of internal turning blocks, had failed with a violent snapping sound. The bottom turning block had torn away from the post, and had now rendered the system useless. Without the use of this board, our speed would be severely compromised. A halyard was then quickly attached in place of the broken post and movement of the board was regained.

Now it’s just a matter of fixing it. The halyard will work for the time being, but there is nothing like the real thing. The bits of the system were all removed and brought to the galley where there is ample light to work. Wade ‘Bubs’ Morgan is going to fix the post, but only if the pieces are salvageable enough to re-use. He began gluing this morning and should be finished by the middle of the tonight. If it’s not going to work, the team will have to discuss alternatives to the problem. Until then, the crew continues to push Azzam just as hard as always and remains focused on the surrounding competition.

date: Monday, 27 February 2012 13:05:56 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Interview – Paul Willcox – 26th February 2012

Sunday, 26 February 2012 | by ADOR

Today I will feature an interview that I recently had with Paul Willcox while sitting on the stack at 0200 this morning in the rain. Paul a.k.a ‘Big Breeze’ has just joined the sailing team as an alternate for Andrew Lewis. This is his first leg, in his first Volvo Ocean Race and he seems to be pretty stoked on the experience so far.

BB (Big Breeze) = Paul Willcox

ND= Nick Dana

ND: Big Breeze, how has the race grabbed you so far? Is it what you had imagined?

BB: No. Not at all really, for some reason when I used to imagine doing the race it was more like a race promo. You know – blast reaching in 30 knots with so much water over the deck you struggle to stay upright and your eyes swollen shut. I know there is plenty of that to come, but I guess I neglected to think about the more tedious days and weeks of light air, no air, upwind drifting, downwind drifting, no wind drifting, you know the days that are more mentally challenging than physically.

ND: Yes. But you had done quite a bit of sailing so far on Volvo 70s. Both training with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for the past year, as well as shore team with Team Russia in the previous race. Why is it different now?

BB: It’s different for a whole variety of reasons. Mainly though, I don’t have to use my imagination anymore! The days just come as they are, some are harder and some far easier than I would have probably expected. I guess when you’re on the shore team or doing short training segments there is real senses of urgency to perform at you’re absolute best. But once you get out here, you realise it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you have to pace yourself in all aspects of life on board. Perform at your best, but don’t burn yourself out.

ND: Getting the call up to do this leg must have been a little bit of a shock. In fact, you were back in South Africa already probably wondering what’s next outside the Volvo at the time you got the call. What was that like, and has it hit you yet that you’re actually doing the race?

BB: Not even close. I don’t think it will set in until some crazy day in the southern ocean when it really resonates with my original imagination of the race; at least as I knew it before I was sailing in it. As far as the call, yes it was a shock to say the least. Ian (Walker) had explained to me that there was always going to be a possibility that I would get the chance to step up. So for me it was all about keeping the opportunity alive, staying fit, strong, and willing to provide the team with whatever it needed to succeed. To be honest - I just kept knocking at the door and someone finally answered!

ND: How do you think this race will affect your career in sailing now?

BB: Well for sure it takes it to a new level. But with only a week into my first leg under my belt, it might be a bit brash to say what doors have opened for me. I know that you make great contacts, and the camaraderie that is among fellow Volvo sailors is very unique in the sport. So hopefully it means more work in the future, but I’m taking it one leg at time right now.

ND: What do you think King Neptune has planned for you?

BB: Something heinous - probably a real ugly haircut and some sort of elaborate dead flying fish outfit. I keep hearing the boys talking about a Lego man haircut, but I’m not sure what that means.

ND: I do. And I hope for your sake that is not what you get. Last question, where did you get the name Big Breeze?

BB: Not quite sure its exact origin. I remember telling an American mate of mine a story about sailing and using the words ‘big breeze’ to describe the conditions. He seemed to think it was hilarious and next thing I knew I was walking around the yard hearing ‘Big Breeze’ left and right from everyone on the team. Guess that’s what mates are for!

date: Sunday, 26 February 2012 13:38:59 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 25th February 2012

Saturday, 25 February 2012 | by ADOR

Today is a big day today for two reasons. Firstly it is my 42nd birthday. Not much to celebrate out here today after losing a few miles crossing the front at first light this morning – still it was better than Christmas Day morning when we got smacked by 35 knots and torrential rain on leg 2. It was nice to receive a few bags of sweets from my wife and kids plus a couple of lovely cards. These moments make you miss home more than ever.

The second reason today is a big day is that it is the christening of my beautiful goddaughter Sophie Fox. Not a great start to as a godfather being 5500 miles away on her christening but I guess I have her whole life to make it up to her.

Talking of home the kiwis onboard are beginning to wonder if we will ever turn right towards New Zealand – Jules insists we are still a few days away from that eventuality but at least it will save us from any more upwind sailing for a while. It is making for a very interesting tactical race. I suspect anybody watching at home will wonder what on earth we are all up to. It is probably quite misleading as to who is actually winning. I am not really sure how things are going to pan out but we have committed to the new wind that will fill in from the north in a day’s time. I suspect there is a lot of time for the race order to be shaken up yet and now that Kenny has re-read the sailing instructions and realized we are not in fact going to Qingdao I wouldn’t bet against Puma getting back into the fray as the Northerly winds come in.

We have had two other incidents to speak of today. Firstly last night we were confronted by a line of flashing lights several miles long. Assuming this to be a long line of drift nets we took evasive action costing us several miles – we kept reminding ourselves that anything was better than getting stuck in a drift net at night. When we got near, a fishing boat started to drive quite aggressively which suggests we were doing the right thing. Secondly today we had our second hard collision with a large plank of wood. It hit the rudder pretty hard but fortunately we were doing only 11 knots and not 20. We seem to be unscathed.

Other than that all is well onboard as we run gently in easy conditions across the bottom of Japan. It is starting to look like our route will be remarkably similar to that of the last race through this part of the world.

date: Saturday, 25 February 2012 17:28:17 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 24th February 2012

Friday, 24 February 2012 | by ADOR

What a bizarre day of racing. This morning we were cursing not gybing soon enough to stay in some strong wind when we were close to Taiwan, only to find we were able to swap sides with Puma and pass both them and Telefonica to the south. This afternoon we could see both Puma and Telefonica with the binoculars in very light winds to the north and decided to take another gybe south. Sanya followed suit and this has seen us both gain many miles.

It looks like we have learnt our lesson from leg 2 and we have handled the passing trough exactly as we hoped. Amazingly we now have nearly 100 miles of separation from Puma although this will diminish when they tack. Camper and Groupama have sailed a near perfect leg so far and for us to be back in touch with them both feels great. Anybody looking at our tracks on the computer must think the navigators have gone mad – or that we do not know the way to Auckland.

The route we are taking is so far off the scale of any historical routes it isn’t funny. Essentially this is being driven by the desire to get as far east as we can before the trade winds re-establish themselves from the east. Being east will give us a much faster angle as we finally turn south east to Auckland and should avoid any very costly tacks later on. After a few days of crashing and banging in the South China Sea, today has been a day of respite. Sleeping has been much easier and we have had a good tidy up down below. In essence spirits are high onboard Azzam – this morning we were staring at big overnight losses to the fleet and tonight we are in a solid position - what a difference a day makes!

date: Friday, 24 February 2012 14:26:42 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 24th February 2012

Friday, 24 February 2012 | by ADOR

Day five now and we’re still plugging off into the East. Sanya is still nipping at our heels while Groupama and Camper are just above our line and a bit further east. The breeze is becoming more and more patchy as the day goes on. A little rain mixed with some thunder storms to the North have made for some interesting and very ominous looking cloud lines. Yet none of them seem to hold the breeze strength or direction that we are looking for at the moment. Puma seems to still be climbing North in hopes to link in with consistent trade winds first and eventually begin the long journey Southward with a full head of steam.

It’s Ian’s birthday tomorrow and we have decided that if the conditions stayed relaxed a bit longer today we should have time to make a piñata. Something that Rob and I have talked about making for a long time, but never get the time to sit around like 12 year olds and build. Hopefully today is the day though. Jules thinks we’re idiots, but we know that piñata parties are always the best. If for some reason it doesn’t happen with Ian’s birthday we still have Wade’s 31st coming up in a few days.

As far as the mood goes on board everyone is pretty happy (as per the need for piñata’s). We get a little frustrated sometimes that we’re five days into the race and still headed East, but that’s because we have nothing else to look at besides charts. Not to mention we’re closer to Hawaii now then New Zealand, and almost have a better weather pattern to get to Honolulu before we would Auckland. In fact, we ran a route last night that would get us to Brazil and would only take us six days longer than it would to get to Auckland. In short, we need to turn South soon to keep things fresh.

date: Friday, 24 February 2012 14:09:44 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 23rd February 2012

Thursday, 23 February 2012 | by ADOR

“Look at this! It’s like a whole different sport,” says Craig Satterthwaite as he stepped on deck for his watch this morning. We all nodded in agreement. After a light air transition period in the middle of the night, we were at last sailing down-wind! The sun was out and the entire crew was surfacing to take in a few breaths of new trade winds. This new sail angle was a true relief - it was obvious the upwind pounding was beginning to wear away at the edges of our minds. As Justin Slattery explains it; “I’m having mood swings as if it day 22, not day 4!”

With the change of angle comes a rebirth for the interior of the boat as well. All the hatches swing open and our own version of the “Cape Doctor wind” sweeps through. Wet weather gear, boots and socks, shirts, even pillows all are tossed on deck for a little dry out. The nav-station and “favela” in the back are rid of the foul odours that have been wafting around for the past few days. In short, Azzam really needed a tidy up.

Back to the racing… We’re currently about two miles to windward of Sanya just ahead of our beam. Earlier they came within about .3 or .4 of a mile of us and we could nearly make out who was steering. Unfortunately, moments later, our steering locked up as we snagged a massive tangle of old fishing ropes that were floating just below the surface. Justin Ferris noticed it immediately while at the helm and Craig and Bubs reacted quickly swinging Craig’s body over the transom with the biggest knife we could find. A few minutes later we were free and back on course. Looks like we’re in for at least another 24 hours of down-wind sailing to the east, so hopefully the images coming from the fleet will feature a few more smiles.

date: Thursday, 23 February 2012 13:54:46 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Interview – Wade Morgan – 22nd February 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012 | by ADOR

Since today is just another groundhog day aboard Azzam, I figured it would be good to change it up a bit. Here is a written version of my chat / interview with bowman and boat captain aboard Azzam, Wade Morgan.

ND: Tell me Bubs (Wade Morgan), what do you see as being game changers for this next leg aboard Azzam? Modifications, routine changes, strategy etc…

WM: Well with regard to modifications to the boat, we have not had too many. It’s true we felt we were a little off the pace at times in the race so far, but we’re confident in the boat and feel that we can help stem the losses at our weaker angles by shifting weight in the stack a bit differently.

ND: Can you give me a few examples of how you are adjusting your stack?

WM: For starters we have added around 200+kilos of extra food to our stack roster for this leg. This, along with a spare dagger board should dramatically improve our righting moment and hopefully keep us a bit more competitive upwind. Not to mention keeping us fed if the leg continues on a slow as it has been so far!

ND: Any changes to the routine - watch system, manoeuvres, responsibilities...?

WM: Watch systems have stayed the same - we’re pretty happy with everyone’s work ethic at the moment and are all on the same page as to what we need to do to go faster. We also have a fresh body joining us for this leg in the shape of Paul Willcox, who has been on reserve for us since the start of the race. Manoeuvres wise, not much has changed either. Maybe just a few details in our peels and positions during heavy weather sail changes, but boat handling in general is something that we have always felt we were pretty solid with.

ND: What do you see as being the primary challenges of this leg to Auckland?

WM: Honestly – as a boat captain, it is my responsibly to make sure Azzam is working to her max during each leg. My primary challenges don’t change very often; mostly they just increase with heavier conditions. If the boat continues to function as it has so far in the race, and we are able to keep up with the fleet during our traditionally tougher upwind angles and make gains in our stronger down wind angles, we’ll hopefully be leading the pack into Auckland in 19 – 20 days time.

ND: Last question – How’s your head?

WM: (Laughs) my melon is fine. I’m more worried about the J4 furling unit I head-butted. It was a nasty sail change that’s for sure, and when you mix a 5m short-chop sea state with a 120kilo bowman, things are bound to get a little hairy.

date: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 14:57:48 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 22nd February 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012 | by ADOR

The waves are finally settling down a little and forming some kind of pattern. We have certainly fallen off the back of a few big ones over the last 48 hours. I have no idea how these boats stay in one piece but they are a credit to the rule makers and structural designers (so far so good anyway!). Thank God we weren’t sent out here in 35 knots!

One thing is for sure – this is a pretty crazy part of the world and not one I am in a particular hurry to return to. I guess the trade winds, the monsoon, lots of currents and some large land masses all conspire to a real mess in the sea. Life onboard is OK but we have some very tired people. Sleep has been very hard to come by as it is tough enough just staying in your bunk in these waves, let alone managing to sleep. I have never seen the food bag so full as keeping dinner down has been quite a challenge for some. The only damage onboard so far (apart from a few small leaks) has been to an internal stacking bin so let’s hope we can keep it that way.

As always there is no let up in the pace of the race and even though we have sailed a very good 36 hours we still have boats breathing down our neck all over the place. It is nice to be sailing alongside somebody else (Sanya is only 5 miles away) for a change and especially nice to have Puma and Telefonica behind us. Everyone is trekking out towards the Southern tip of Taiwan where the wind is expected to become very fickle. I hope the waves drop before the wind does or it will make for tortuous progress.

date: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 13:51:59 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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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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