Team Blog – Ian Walker – 30th March 2012

Friday, 30 March 2012 | by ADOR


It’s amazing how quickly your priorities can change from racing to survival. One minute we were riding the back of a front making 500 miles a day towards Cape Horn getting a real taste of the Southern Ocean and with designs on a 4th or even 3rd place, the next we were genuinely concerned for our own safety as we sat with a damaged hull in freezing conditions 1,700 miles from the nearest landfall.

When the drama started I was on deck with Adil [Khalid] and Si Fi [Simon Fisher] facing 35 knots of wind in the pitch black. We were sailing with three reefs in the main and the number 4 jib. Despite having little sail area we had still picked up some huge waves and were hitting speeds of over 30 knots. Suddenly the call came from below to slow down as they had heard some ‘worrying noises’. On further investigation we confirming the crunching sounds were coming from sheared core material in the hull’s port side.

This in itself was not a problem but more bad waves could rapidly propagate the damage and worse still the outer and inner skins could be breached. This has already happened to Groupama and Sanya in this race with near disastrous effects. The damaged hull shell was flexing like rubber and we needed to stop the impact of the waves on Azzam’s side and try to brace the hull from the inside to give it some support. Trying to stop waves hitting the hull is pretty hard in over 30 knots of wind and large seas but Rob [Greenhalgh] spent hours on deck helming and doing his best. The next job was to chop up some bunks and stacking bays to jam in between the hull and the deck to support the hull panel temporarily. The rest of the night was spent nursing the boat downwind and hoping things didn’t deteriorate.

After consulting with the boat’s builders and designers we soon had a plan for a remedial repair but it would have to wait for daylight. Believe it or not the repair was to drill through the hull and bolt the hull laminate back together. Fortunately we carry threaded rod for just such an occurrence so Wade [Morgan] and Craig [Satterthwaite] set about getting all the materials ready. They chopped up other carbon panels in the boat to make a whole new ‘inner skin’ to glue and bolt to the sides. By lunchtime we were ready to tip Azzam on its side and send Justin [Slattery] over on a halyard in a survival suit and harness to push 32 bolts through the holes as they were drilled from the inside. I could never have imagined drilling 32 10 mm holes through the bottom of our boat when 1,700 miles from land with no possibility of rescue.

We spent the best part of five hours hove to with the boat on its side to keep the water off the port side while the work was done. We are now back sailing cautiously as daylight turns into darkness. The repair seems strong so far and the crunching noises have stopped. We are currently just edging our way north east for better weather and to edge closer to land. As yet I cannot confirm our plans moving forward.

Currently the safety of the boat and crew remains the only priority and I am considerably more relaxed about that now than I was 24 hours ago. Only in adversity do you really get the full measure of a team’s strength and today everybody played their part in stabilising what could have been a very serious situation.

date: Friday, 30 March 2012 15:45:03 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 29th March 2012

Thursday, 29 March 2012 | by ADOR

41.5 KNOTS. New top speed for Azzam set by Rob Greenhalgh today. Two reefs, the J4 and one huge mother of a wave made up the recipe for our top speed. “It was not really our intention to be hitting speeds like this, we have at least another four days of this weather and we certainly do not want to damage the boat or people right now,” said Rob while eating his lunch.

The conditions that Rob is referring to are similar to what the rest of the fleet has been seeing for almost a week now. “We‘ve been into it for about three days now and it already looks and feels as if it’s been a month,” explains Paul Willcox. “It’s more the ‘down below’ life that gets to you, the sailing is absolutely cracking! Blue sky, big waves and solid breeze from behind. Can’t beat it…The Southern Ocean is truly an awesome place.”

I can personally attest to Paul’s sentiments towards the ‘down below’ life. It’s completely insane…we often just find ourselves laughing out loud. There is no plane, train, automobile or simulator that could possibly emulate the violence ‘down below’. It’s simple, if you are not hanging on as if you are about to ride off a cliff and nosedive into the ground – you’re going to take a spill. I do several times a day, and the only thing I can do is control what I’m going to hit. Yesterday I was thrown from the top of engine box, directly sideways with no forward motion, into the top forward bunk. (A good two metres air born.) My shoulder cracked the frame, and subsequently when Nocka went to tuck into his off watch sleep, the bunk collapsed. I wasn’t laughing then…

date: Thursday, 29 March 2012 13:25:15 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 29th March 2012

Thursday, 29 March 2012 | by ADOR


Right now the Southern Ocean is showing us who is boss. We are just shy of 50 degrees south and since the passage of the front 36 hours ago we have had sustained 30 – 40 knot winds. We are sailing with two reefs in the main and the J4, which is pretty controllable, but the sea state is horrendous as it remains confused behind the front.

We are sailing hard but trying to minimise the slamming as much as we can. It has been an eventful 24 hours with nighttime surfs up to 40 knots (Si Fi claimed that one), helmsmen being washed off the wheel (well that was me and luckily I landed in Craig’s lap) and the piece de resistance the crash tack. Nocka can claim this one but had mitigating circumstances as the wind gear blew off the top of the mast and the numbers he was steering to in - the pitch black - went haywire.

My last words to him before he started helming were ‘whatever you do… don’t Chinese gybe in to windward’. He took me to my word and as the numbers indicated he was going to crash gybe he steered hard up to weather. The net result was an inadvertent tack and ensuing capsize. It was bizarre down below trying to get dressed standing on the walls. It was remarkably peaceful. Once we got some boys on deck we managed to tack the runners, centre the keel back down and get sailing again. After a good check of everything we were off again.

A very lucky escape. So we have just under 2,000 miles to Cape Horn and it looks like it will be windy all the way. Hopefully the waves will sort themselves out a bit but either way the next five days are going to be anything but dull.

date: Thursday, 29 March 2012 11:59:58 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 28th March 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012 | by ADOR

Once More Into The Breach, Dear Friends, Once More

Not only are have we finally joined the battle in the Southern Ocean, but we just hit forty knots while surfing down wave. Finally! We’re into Azzam’s conditions – keep an eye on the scheds, at the moment we are averaging around 23 -24 knots of boat speed with a reef in the main and a j4. So far it has been plenty of sail area and will probably keep us on our ear throughout the night. The forecast has us into this frontal line for at least the next 24 hours. 25 -30 knots of breeze with a following sea and we’re pointed right at the barn door – should tick off the miles nicely now.

It’s amazing what the addition of adrenaline does to a team’s mood. For the past 4-5 hours we have all been on deck hooting and hollering at whoever is driving, egging them on for a good stack into the next wave. Paul [Willcox] managed to fill the cockpit up enough to make it look like an above-ground swimming pool. Needless to say, we all went swimming. The boat is handling fantastic – this is the first time we have really had her in this kind of situation and everyone is very pleased.

The night has brought a bitter cold. You are able to see your breath down below, and the condensation has become ridiculous. Everything is soaked. Jules [Salter] and I are in our little war trying to keep electronics somewhat dry and functional. It’s difficult though, nothing is meant to work in this type of environment. Sometimes you’re better off just closing everything up and going for a ride on deck. Definitely one of the better night skies you will ever see on the planet.

date: Wednesday, 28 March 2012 14:59:49 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 27th March 2012

Tuesday, 27 March 2012 | by ADOR

Soon we will be able to lay the ice gate and it will be time to gybe and head south east for Cape Horn. This will mark the first time in a long time that we have been able to ‘point at the target’ and therefore stop losing miles to the leaders.

Jules’ original estimate when looking at the weather was that we would end up 1,500 miles behind the leaders and as always he looks to be fairly accurate. Preparing ourselves for this has been the key to not letting frustration creep in. Hopefully the fun can now start as we try to pull the miles back. We have a fairly windy forecast ahead but hopefully nothing too dramatic. To be honest we need some wind as this must be the longest time (8 days) it could ever have taken a Volvo 70 to sail 2,000 miles from Auckland! The important thing though is that we are still in A1 condition and ready for the long distance that still lays ahead.

I am gutted for my friend ‘Nico’, skipper of Camper TNZ. I have spoken to both him and Volvo HQ by e-mail and we have agreed to keep a close eye on them in case they need assistance. They have great guys onboard so I am confident they won’t need our help but soon we will be within one day’s sail of them. We have also learnt of Telefonica’s problems but we don’t know the real extent of them. Hopefully we can reel them in by Brazil whether they have to stop or not.

This is always the point in this race when you question quite why we are out here in these crazy boats. We are over 1,000 miles from land (a tiny island to the north) and over 2000 miles from both Auckland and Chile. We live in a world where help is nearly always at hand if you need it but right now we are about as far from help as you can possibly get on this planet. I will be a happy man when we start rattling off the miles to Cape Horn. First things first we need to pull off a gybe in 25 knots in the dark – no pressure!

date: Tuesday, 27 March 2012 20:50:34 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter– 27th March 2012

Tuesday, 27 March 2012 | by ADOR

Day nine, leg five, and back in the Volvo Ocean Race on the mighty Azzam. Joining this team was an easy decision - I've raced with a lot of these guys before, Ian, Jules, Si-fi, Robbie, Craig - my word, good guys. And then there's Wade from Sydney, my home town. Big Wade (Bubs) is solid and that is what you need out here when it’s all on. When you’re pushing hard in the Southern Ocean on a Cape Horn leg you know it's going to get tougher and tougher. You need to be with guys you can trust when there is so much water coming over the boat you can hardly stand up.

And you have to keep smiling - when it gets hard, humour up. Last night, two am, cold and wet on deck and boy were we into it. I had a good soaking from a random wave that came over the deck with my name on it, and then I heard a quiet Australian voice next to me say, "go hard or go home son..." so I looked over and saw a big smile on Wade’s face. Good mates - good company!

date: Tuesday, 27 March 2012 14:21:25 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana – 26th March 2012

Monday, 26 March 2012 | by ADOR

A3 spinnaker up on port board – we’re off. It should be the old ‘one and in’ to the horn now, but that’s always a big call from this distance. Not to mention the funny weather patterns that we are seeing right now for this time of year.

Over the next 48 hours we should see a progressive build in pressure. The sea state shouldn’t get too crazy for three days or so, but the air and water temperature will no doubt drop off quickly. It already has a bite to it now, so I can only imagine what it will feel like with the wind chill and fire hose all revved up. As Rob puts it, “it’s pretty damn cold right now, but I can’t say that too loud because the bowman will tune me up for complaining. Thankfully I don’t have that job!”

There is no question the anticipation is building on board. In fact, most of the day we sit around surmising what might have happened to Camper or Telefonica recently. All we can see is that they have been off the pace for the past 24 hours and seem to be heading due east towards Chile rather than the horn. We all have our theories, but the suspense is killing us! Hopefully everyone is safe in the rest of the fleet…

date: Monday, 26 March 2012 13:44:28 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 26th March 2012

Monday, 26 March 2012 | by ADOR

After two days of next to no wind we are finally moving again. We have the spinnaker up and are heading east along the ice wayline in about 10 knots of wind. So far, with the exception of the first day out of Auckland, we couldn’t have experienced a more different leg to the leaders. We have been praying for wind whilst I suspect they have been praying for the wind to drop much of the time.

It seems surreal that the leaders are now 1100 miles ahead but it doesn’t faze us. Bizarrely moral is very high onboard despite our predicament. I guess this is due to the fact that it has been beyond our control and because of the belief that we will get a break at some point. This leg could still be all about who makes it to Itajai in one piece.

I suspect this will be the last time we see the wind under 10 knots before Cape Horn so we have spent time preparing the boat and sails for windier days ahead. We have a good forecast now and we will race the clock but keep things under control between here and Cape Horn. There is a long way to go and anybody can have problems between now and the finish – including us. The main pass time on our boat has been trying to second guess what may have happened to Camper. They have been slow for 2 days now so must have major problems. We hope the guys and the boat are OK. It appears Telefonica have had problems too.

As any coaching manual will tell you the only thing we can do is ‘control the controllable’. We cannot control those guys. For us we need to make it to the eastern ice waypoint before the next front passes over us, then the hammer will be down all the way to Cape Horn. Hopefully we will soon stop losing miles and some form of fightback can begin.

date: Monday, 26 March 2012 13:43:13 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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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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