Steve

Steve

Friday, April 10, 2015

Volvo Ocean Race - Leg #5 - "Things Break"

                                                                  Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR
Imagine this scene … You and the ladies aboard Team SCA are sailing merrily along at about 30 knots in the Southern Ocean aboard a sleek 65-foot sailboat at night.  The wind is howling at a steady 35 knots, the sails banging and popping as if angrily alive, as you surf giant 30-foot waves rolling north from frozen Antarctica.  The water is a bone-chilling eight degrees.  Every time the boat hits the bottom of a wave, a fire hose wall of water comes crashing over the bow and envelops the whole boat as if under water.  Everybody on deck is wearing survival gear and is strapped in so they don’t get washed overboard.  And if that isn’t scary enough, you are entering Point Nemo, the most isolated area of the planet earth, named after the submarine captain in Jules Verne’s classic novel "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".  You are 1,670 miles from three coast lines: Ducie Island to the north, an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Islands; Motu Nui to the northeast, a tiny islet off Chile’s Easter Island; and frigid Maher Island to the south, off the Antarctic coast.  You are in Nowheresville and everything is trying to kill you.
                                                             Anna-Lena Elled - SCA

And then comes the Chinese gybe, otherwise known as the "death roll".

Abby Ehler was working in the pit aboard SCA when it all suddenly happened, and here is her story.
                                                                 Anna-Lena Elled - SCA

"It was in the middle of the night and pitch black.  We … got too much pressure on the helm, a little bit too high on the wind angle and you start to lose control over the boat and it wipes out and turns to windward.
                                                                Matt Knighton - Abu Dhabi

"That's basically what started the chain of events. We had a wipe out and it took us a little time to recover, we eased the front sail and it was flapping a lot and as a result all the flapping caused the sail to explode… the whole sail was in the water acting as an anchor."
                                                                     Armory Ross - Alvimedica

This sailing stuff can get confusing, especially with all the terminology.  So, I'm going to describe what happened.
                                                               Matt Knighton - Abu Dhabi

The wind is blowing hard off the right side of the bow and your sails are on the left side of the boat.  You are being blown over, so you stack all of your gear  above and below deck – on the right side, including the canting keel which weighs several tons and is positioned all the way to the right.  The person at the helm keeps inching the boat's bow toward the wind, trying to maximize speed.  Suddenly you get hit by a big wave from the left, or the wind shifts, and the helmsman loses control. The boat jybes and the sails are now on the wrong side of the boat and usually in the water, along with all the gear, and the wind keeps the boat pinned, making it impossible to steer.
                                                             Armory Ross - Alvimedica

The crew is also on the wrong side and they must climb a slick fiberglass wall covered in tangled equipment so they can get to the lines that control the sails, all of which are now above their heads, and release them.  Meanwhile, the keel motor must be turned on and the keel must be moved to the opposite side to pull the boat back upright.  
                                                                 Yann Riou - Dongfeng
All of this takes a long time, and the entire crew is in a state of panic as the ocean tries to suck the boat under the waves and they fight to get to the high side.
                                                                      Yann Riou - Dongfeng

Broken boats are a big part of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) and near misses a big part of the lore.  This is why many of the sailors were actually quite angry when the start from New Zealand was delayed for two days in order to avoid Cyclone Pam.  These boys and girls really like to dance along the razors edge.
                                                                   Yann Riou - Dongfeng

A few days after SCA almost turned over into its watery grave, their radar broke loose, and then their electronic systems stopped working, leaving them sailing in the dark.  The next day, while heading downwind in 45-knots of wind, they executed a controlled gybe and their J3 sail ripped apart.
                                                                Anna-Lena Elled - SCA

And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any crazier, the sailing gods threw them a few more curves.
                                                                Anna-Lena Elled - SCA

Anna-Lena Elled described another day from hell.
                                                             Armory Ross  - Alvimedica

"As is so often the case, when you least expect something to happen it does and – BOOM! – we hit something with the port rudder. The boat turned around, tacked and capsized, and once again, we were on our side. A few hours later we had one more hit, this time in the keel – and before sunset another one. What are the odds?”
                                                                    Stefan Coppers - Brunel

MAPFRE and overall leader Dongfeng also got to practice their Chinese gybe skills in the daylight.  And a few days later, on their harrowing approach to Cape Horn, at the Southern tip of South America, Dongfeng’s mast snapped without warning while they were barreling along at 25 knots at night, the broken mast section and main sail flapping above their heads like a loaded gun. They were forced to quit the race and motor to Ushuaia, Argentina where the boat could be transported to Brazil for repairs.
                                                           Rick Tomlinson - VOR
                                                          Rick Tomlinson - VOR
                                                          Yann Riou - Dongfeng
                                                           Yann Riou - Dongfeng
                                                                     Yann Riou - Dongfeng

And it’s not just boats that break, the sailors do too. 
                                                                     Stefan Coppers - Brunel

We tend to think of Volvo sailors as grizzled old seafarers, but for the first three days of the race, the sea state was like an endless roller coaster, and almost everyone in the fleet was constantly seasick and unable to keep down any food.
                                                                     Matt Knighton - Abu Dhabi

Annie Lush, aboard SCA got launched from the aft side of the cockpit and got wedged into the comms cage.  Luckily, the tether on her harness prevented her from getting washed overboard.  But she couldn’t sit after that and spent the rest of the voyage eating pain killers.
                                                                   Stefan Coppers - Brunel
Martin Strömberg on Dongfeng, came really close to losing a few fingers when his hand got stuck in a block while trying to remove a knot on a rope.  He had trouble using his right hand the rest of the race.
                                                                   Francisco Vignale - MAPFRE

In the end, it was another photo finish with veteran skipper Ian Walker leading Abu Dhabi to victory.  After 7,200 miles of extreme sailing, the top four boats finished within 55 minutes of one another, with  a battered but unbowed Team SCA limping into Itajaí harbor two days later.
                                                                       Ainhoa Sanchez - VOR

Next Stop – Newport, Rhode Island




                         VOLVO LEADERBOARD

Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3 Leg 4 Leg 5 Overall
Abu Dhabi 1 3 2 2 1 9
Alvimedica 5 4 3 4 3 19
Brunel 3 1 5 5 4 18
Dongfeng 2 2 1 3 DNF-8 16
MAPFRE 7 4 4 1 2 18
SCA 6 6 6 6 5 29
Vestas Wind 4 DNF-8 DNS-8 DNS-8 DNS-8 36

1 comment :

  1. Steve, please email me. Clifton.cox63@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete