Team Blog – Nick Dana – 25th March 2012

Sunday, 25 March 2012 | by ADOR

I have a feeling this is the last day I will be writing to you in relative comfort. It’s only so long that you can gently glide through the Southern Ocean without Neptune reminding you just what part of the earth you’re venturing through. Our latest weather models are showing heavier conditions as we get within about 1,500 miles of Cape Horn. Similar to what we are seeing with the fleet now, boat preservation will be paramount. Perhaps even a game changer for us in the leg if we can manage to keep Azzam together and the crew healthy.

In the meantime we will continue to prepare for the tougher conditions. Rope work surveyed, daily rig checks, and any leaks or repairs sorted. If we are still dealing with any of these issues after the incoming low-pressure system has swept us up, it’s already too late. Once in fast reaching or flat running conditions most of the boat becomes inoperable. Even going forward of the chain plates down below becomes extremely dangerous.

Fortunately we have had a little time to prepare for it. Although I’m not sure whether I would have just rather have got getting stuck into it from the start of the leg, rather than being eased in. Either way, the mayhem is coming and we hope we’re ready.

date: Sunday, 25 March 2012 14:48:29 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 25th March 2012

Sunday, 25 March 2012 | by ADOR

They call it the Roaring Forties but right now we are experiencing more of a whimper. We have finally reached the Western ice gate waypoint and must now try and head due east. I say ‘try’ because unfortunately, as we expected, we are now totally becalmed as the centre of the high pressure passes over the top of us.

In 24 hours we should be clear and can start making proper progress towards Cape Horn. The fact that we have known this would happen for a few days means there is no angst onboard and considering our predicament, relatively little frustration. We cannot help but look at the position and wind reports of the boats ahead to even wonder if we aren’t in the best place.

We have no idea what is happening on Camper who have been slow now for over 24 hours and Telefonica also now seem to possibly be suffering problems too. Maybe this offers us a way back on this leg or maybe they will soon be up and running at full speed again soon – who knows. One thing I do know is that the relentless strong winds experienced by the leading pack must be taking their toll. I also know that we will fall much further behind in the next 24 hours before we can try and make any gains. All we can do is to try and scramble as many miles to the east that we can in the wildly shifting, light winds. I am tempted to pray for wind but I have a feeling that in this part of the world that may be a dangerous thing to pray for.

On a positive note it may be chilly but it is a fantastically beautiful night on deck – it’s not so often you get to see bright stars in a clear sky in the Southern Ocean!

date: Sunday, 25 March 2012 14:31:07 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 24th March 2012

Saturday, 24 March 2012 | by ADOR

It was another very slow day aboard Azzam. No tacking, no gybing, not even really any stacking. Just straight line sailing on port tack in less than ten knots of wind, and heaps of sleep. Probably best considering what the rest of the fleet is seeing at the moment and what we will no doubt be swept up in throughout the week ahead.

In the meantime we keep busy by doing our daily checks of the vessel and making sure that when the weather does arrive, we’re ready. This usually entails a few laps around the interior socialising with whomever you may run into en route to nowhere. A few dozen checks of what’s in the day bag (never changes, same thing every day) and maybe a cup of coffee that you didn’t even really want. Often times you will find yourself in an area of the boat with absolutely no idea why you ended up there. It’s what I imagine a university social experiment would be like – eleven guys for three weeks cannot move more than 60 feet from one another with little to no connection to the outside world. Thankfully it only feels like this during drift off conditions.

Big day in ornithology – we saw at least two Royal Albatross’s and possibly a couple of Sooty Albatross. Along with a bunch of Giant Petrels that circled the boat for hours trying to love up on our 30 foot falcon graphic on the mainsail. It’s all going on out here in the Southern Ocean – more of the same for the next two days until we’re back in breeze again.

date: Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:41:36 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 23rd March 2012

Friday, 23 March 2012 | by ADOR

Right now as our competitors sail away at over 20 knots straight down the course we have an unenviable decision to make. As a bubble of high pressure (light wind) grows directly in our path we can either try to sail around it to the north, both adding distance and the possibility of sailing upwind, or we can gybe and head south directly into the high and very light winds.

Salvation would have been to go further south but we are constrained by the ice limits so that is not an option. The question is which way will lose us the less distance? Going north sounds better as it is more proactive, we should keep moving through the water (i.e. not totally becalmed) and the recent weather model suggests a slight benefit, but going south is safer as it means we will be better positioned when the next weather system eventually heads east.

The southerly route also keeps us nearer to the rhumb line should things change for the better. As you can see it is not a great choice so we must look elsewhere for good news. Firstly we have enjoyed some nice downwind sailing conditions, secondly Azzam and crew are in good shape and perhaps most importantly we are still getting closer to Cape Horn (albeit slower than we would like).

The same cannot be said of Sanya and we really feel for those guys. They were again sailing a good leg and getting good speed out of the older boat. I know how hard it was to turn around when only 40 miles out from Auckland let alone over 1,000 miles. We wish those guys good luck and hope they can rejoin the race soon.

Back onboard Azzam the next few days are going to need a lot of patience a there will be a lot of lost miles. Sanya’s misfortune is a timely reminder that Itajai remains a long way away and this is still an exercise in managing ourselves and our boat. We must hope that we get through this tricky bit better than it appears in the weather and that we get a chance to catch up later in the leg.

date: Friday, 23 March 2012 17:12:52 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 23rd March 2012

Friday, 23 March 2012 | by ADOR

We often miss the big picture when we’re stuck on our 70 foot carbon box. Computer screens that constantly remind us of our deficit or our unfortunate weather forecasts don’t show the values of what we are still achieving. The Southern Ocean is one of the planet’s least hospitable environments and we not only journey through it, we race as fast as humanly possible across it. As Jules [Salter] and I were discussing today, it was not too many years ago that sailors and explorers just felt lucky to have made it through these treacherous waters alive.

Perhaps the big picture suddenly matters because it’s my first time rounding the horn, or maybe its the thought of dodging icebergs at 30 knots that has me completely tweaked. Whatever it is, the further we get south the more stoked I get on the adventure and the less our position in the fleet matters. We have had some tough legs so far this race, and no doubt we have had our moments where jumping off seemed like a viable option. Losing sucks – but in the end you have to deal with harden up, step back and take in the radical experience that only a handful of people in the world will ever experience.

date: Friday, 23 March 2012 17:10:21 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 22nd March 2012

Thursday, 22 March 2012 | by ADOR

Despite an exciting day or two gaining many miles over the fleet, it is now clear that the leaders are escaping in strong downwind conditions to the south east of us. We have to head north to evade some light winds and the gap between us and the leaders will grow considerably. Everyone onboard knows the likely scenario so we begin our own race against time.

We still hope to catch the fleet up – it may just take a little longer than we had hoped. For a start the weather has a habit of changing… plus 6,000 miles is a long way to Brazil! Right now it looks like there is unlikely going to be an easy way back into this leg - probably not until after Cape Horn.

One result of this is that it means we are going to be all alone across the Southern Ocean. Our safety net - the other boats - will be hundreds of miles away downwind. This is not ideal but it is a situation we knew was very likely when we left Auckland 24 hours after the fleet. It is something we will consider in every decision and move we make.

Another result is that as a team we will need to work hard to maintain the intensity required to sail these boats fast. No longer will motivation be provided by the three hourly position reports that help us judge how we are doing against the other teams - these are meaningless with no boats in the near vicinity or in similar wind. We will continue set our own goals and to work together to maintain our own high standards.

It is typical that we have now finally got the conditions we have been waiting all race for with 17 knots downwind sailing but the fleet are 250 miles away!

There is some good news though. It may be foggy and damp on deck but the sea is still 16 degrees so it is far from cold. Conditions below are ideal and are probably the best we have had for sleeping all race. Azzam and the sails are in perfect shape and it sounds like the crew is less battered than on some other boats.

In other news we were chased by a juvenile albatross today – these birds never cease to put a smile on your face whatever is happening in the race. The team on Azzam is as determined as ever. Spirits remain high – we will just need a bit more patience than normal!

date: Thursday, 22 March 2012 15:50:13 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 21st March 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012 | by ADOR

Slow goings – but at least we’re still laughing. We were hoping to pull into the fleet a bit quicker, but due to a small transition zone of weather that we couldn’t avoid, the breeze has been a bit light. Still, we managed to take about 15 or so miles out of the fleet in the last sched, and about 12 in the previous one. It’s not huge gains when you’re a day behind, but its gains nonetheless.

We’ve found when you have been smacked around out here for a few days it’s always nice to have a little light spell to regain sanity on board. Usually this means multiple social hours on deck during the day with all the watch crews trading stories or arguing about unauthorized food movements that were made in the night. However today’s subject of cannibalism was a bit of a departure from the norm. I will spare the details, but lets just say there is a very strong motivation to not to get stranded in the Southern Ocean with this lot.

I will say it was one of the funniest conversations of my life though and will no doubt keep me chuckling for years to come.

The other interesting parts of the day were centred on the thick fog banks that we’re currently passing through. The swell is still a good 3.5 – 4 metres of the washing machine variety and doesn’t look to be improving any time soon. It’s an eerie place the old Southern Ocean – definitely the most unwelcoming of waters I have ever sailed in.

As Craig [Satterthwaite] puts it, “the further south you go, the closer you feel to dropping of the edge of the planet.” I can believe it, something just tells you we’re not meant to be here. Again – it’s more motivation to get through quickly and safely and begin our northerly climb to more hospitable waters.

Should be one hell of ride to the horn.

date: Wednesday, 21 March 2012 11:17:22 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 21st March 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012 | by ADOR

You couldn’t have had two more contrasting nights than our first two at sea on Leg 5. The first was spent in survival conditions with driving rain, strong winds and terrible seas. The second was a beautiful night with clear skies, an improving sea but sadly only about 5 knots of wind.

The good news is that it has allowed us to dry things out, check over Azzam and get some rest. For some it should mean they can eat their first food after a lot of sea sickness on night one. The bad news is a distinct lack of progress towards Brazil. Still today has dawned with a bit more wind and we are making about 14 knots towards the corner of the ice gate.

The outlook doesn’t look too bad for the next few days so we must just find our rhythm and keep the pedal down. Nocka is settling in well after what can only be described as a baptism of fire. He must surely have been wondering what he had signed up to!

date: Wednesday, 21 March 2012 10:02:19 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 20th March 2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012 | by ADOR

What a horrendous night. After waiting for four hours we decided to have a crack at getting away from Auckland. We heard the wind readings dropping slightly on the radio at the stations upwind of the Channel and got out in the perfect window.

When I say perfect I mean it was only gusting 40 knots and not 60 knots as it was in the hours before and after. It was 30 – 40 knot winds upwind with very confused seas that greeted us as we exited the Colville Channel. With three reefs and a storm jib we have fought our way east to try and escape the clutches of the tropical low. A few tacks later and we have picked up the north easterlies.

It is now down to 20 knots so I am actually able to sit in the nav-station and type. The lads are exhausted after a full night of double standby. I have decided it is best to not watch the fleet positions as it will be too depressing as they escape in freer winds. Our task is simply to get to Brazil safely and as fast as we can – if we are lucky we could catch the fleet but it will not happen overnight and most likely not happen before Cape Horn. We intend to sail as fast as we can and keep everything crossed for a way back in to this leg.

date: Tuesday, 20 March 2012 10:18:32 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 19th March 2012

Monday, 19 March 2012 | by ADOR

A very tough start to another leg for us aboard Azzam - not only did we bust our j4 bulkhead but we also missed our weather window to leave Auckland on time. The fringe of the low-pressure system that the fleet would have battled against last night has now escaped us, leaving the centre and strongest part of the system directly upon us. Earlier we tried poking our nose out and saw forty-five knots of breeze – about an hour up the track wind readings are showing into the sixties - hurricane force. As of right now we are sitting just off North Head in Auckland harbour biding our time. Similar to the start of last leg, there is never a reason to set sail from relative safety into hurricane force winds.

Our plan is to hold tight for at least another couple hours until the peak of the low passes. In reality, we are already a day or so behind in the leg. Caning ourselves, and our boat in 60+ knots will do us no good. In fact, it may even help our cause to wait the extra hours and then sail a proper course. None of this has been easy, and believe it or not, we would rather have been getting thrashed last night with the rest of the fleet then tucked up in a hotel room watching the leg slip away from us online.

Furthermore – we must not forget the absolutely massive effort of our shore team this stopover and in particular last night. It is a tall order to have one of these machines fully serviced in a week. But to have a major structural repair done in essentially 12 hours is nearly a miracle. Not to mention all the efforts of the logistics team and management that took care of everything we needed and allowed us to get some sleep. Well done! Now it’s time to go hammer out some miles and attempt to dig back into the fleet – don’t count us out just yet. Azzam’s got some legs on her downwind…

date: Monday, 19 March 2012 14:21:53 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 19th March 2012

Monday, 19 March 2012 | by ADOR

Thanks to a fantastic effort by our shore team we were able to leave the Viaduct with everything fixed four hours ahead of schedule. We can’t thank you all enough guys and girls for your work – a great team effort.

All we needed then was a break from the weather to get us back in the race – the other boats are only 200 miles away after all. Sadly we have exactly the opposite - we have the meteorological equivalent of a kick in the guts. Right now we are trapped in the windy section of the tropical low with storm force winds between us and the lighter winds to the East.

We need to exit the Colville Channel where the winds notoriously funnel along the Coromandel Range but the weather stations are reporting 50 knot average winds and gusts in the low 60s. This is more than enough wind to put our boat, sails and people in serious danger.

We are stuck in a real dilemma – do we take on the storm force winds when we have little to gain by doing so or shall we hold on and wait for the winds to abate thereby losing more miles and time to our competitors. To set off when we are already a day behind the fleet and risk putting ourselves out of the race would be foolish and yet to wait is the most frustrating thing on earth. We are trying to keep this entire leg in context and manage the risk appropriately.

We have decided to hold for a few hours in the lee of the islands of the Hauraki Gulf and monitor the weather stations as this tropical low is a very active and fast changing phenomenon. Hopefully we can resume racing and get on our way as soon as possible.

date: Monday, 19 March 2012 08:27:58 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 10th March 2012

Saturday, 10 March 2012 | by ADOR

After nearly three weeks of intense racing, we finally came within sight of the ‘land of the long white cloud’ – and guess what – it was covered with a long white cloud. Thanks to more lifted breezes behind, the fleet has closed up considerably and we are now only an hour and a half behind Camper and two hours behind Telefonica. This compares to over 200 miles a couple of days ago. On the flip side Sanya are only two hours behind us now. It will make for a tense finish but we will still need something special to close this down in the last 175 miles to the finish.

We have sailed well the last couple of days with Jules calling some nice shifts to work our way upwind. Maybe the incentive of getting to the finish line is bringing out the best in everyone onboard. The pressure has been on today to get round North Cape before the current turned against us – we managed this by the skin of our teeth. Tactically it looks pretty dull between here and the finish but maybe the wind will die tonight and give us a chance – we must keep believing. Another fifth place would not reflect how well we have sailed in this leg – our main mistake appears to have been doing too well early in the leg and leaving us able to lay to the East of the Solomons which turned into a big loss. I am still smarting from this!

What’s done is done – we will make one last big effort tonight and if nothing else we should have a great daytime arrival in the City of Sails tomorrow. I must say ‘Bravo’ to Franc and his team for a perfectly sailed leg on Groupama. I am sure they had their own challenges but from where I am sat they look to have done the perfect job controlling the leg from start to finish. Seven days to the inport race – joy!

date: Saturday, 10 March 2012 16:06:24 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 10th March 2012

Saturday, 10 March 2012 | by ADOR

“Look at that boys – god’s country, breath it in!” This is how Craig Satterthwaite greeted the on deck watch this afternoon shortly after the ‘land ho!’ was called. Apart from the lone Aussie on board (Bubs), everyone had a good little chuckle at the comment. The rest of the afternoon Craig and Justin Ferris (the two Kiwis on board) were back and forth discussing the different landmarks and arguing over the Maori tribes names of the bits of land. The rest of us just sat back and were quietly stoked by the fact we were finally here.

Thinking about it now, the only other bit of land we have seen since our start in Sanya was the Solomon island chain - a long way to go looking at an empty horizon. Never mind though, because now we are staring at the huge cliffs of North Cape and the past 20 days are now buried in the very back of our minds. It has been a tough race from China, but if we are to be ready for the next leg and the treachery of the southern ocean – we must focus on what’s ahead. Though I’m sure there will be a few sodas and stories shared over the next couple days.

Tuesday is our day off this week, but its already looking like most of us will be at work anyway. One day of fun is not worth twenty of misery if the boat still leaks in the southern ocean. Even right now everyone is fighting to get to the computer to finalize their work list for the upcoming week. Luckily the boat is in relatively good shape and the shore crew should be able to work through the lists during the short stopover period. Finish tomorrow after lunch… now just worried that we may have trouble walking properly seeing as though we haven’t been on land in such a long time!

Happy birthday to my brother Eli too!

date: Saturday, 10 March 2012 16:03:59 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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