Sam Davies: Oman Air Majan - My alternative Route du Rhum!
Sam Davies: Oman Air Majan - My alternative Route du Rhum!
Being a skipper on land during a race......
I have just “done” the Route du Rhum with Sidney Gavignet on board Oman Air Majan – a 100 foot monster of a trimaran.
How can that be? I hear you ask, as the Route du Rhum is a single-handed transatlantic race. Well, I did this race on dry land! It is frustrating to see my friends (and normally competitors) sail off over the horizon and not be out there with them, pushing myself to the limits that I never imagine I could reach. But that is life. My dream is to be there for the start of the Vendee Globe (the round the world race) which is in 2012, and to be there, as one of the favourites, I need to secure the budget and find the sponsors who wish to share this magical adventure with me.....
SO, in the meantime, I am here, on dry land, watching and learning, whilst I work to secure the budget for the Vendee Globe.
YES – learning! Sidney asked me to join his team to help with the shore-based part of the race. My tasks have involved many things such as helping him learn about filming, editing, compressing and sending images.... that is a harder task that you can imagine. I have followed the preparation and training, giving my input when necessary. However the big work started as the race began.
As a solo sailor, I understand the pressures on the skipper before the start. Having another skipper around helps relieve this pressure. In the days before the start, I helped with the last navigation preparations and tests on board and I also spent a lot of time with the sponsors and VIP guests, explaining about the race, the weather, life on board.... therefore letting Sidney get more rest. This was a very interesting and enriching experience for me as I also got to find out about life in Oman, a new country and a new culture for me!
On start day I had another new adventure – that of TV presenter! I did two live programs on France 3 (national) – one at 06.30 (ouch!) and the main program which was 2.5 hours long during the start. It was interesting commentating (in French!) on TV and I actually forgot to be sad about not doing the race... in fact, I think I was more nervous about being on live TV than I would have been if I had been on the start line!!
After this brief “interlude” of “stardom” I came back to earth with a bump as the Media Centre in St Malo buzzed into life, as media and PR people rushed to get the first press releases out, everyone wanting to get theirs out before the rest of the world! The Oman Air Majan team has a particularity that we were communicating in THREE languages – English, French and Arab! Therefore we needed some strict co-ordination to get all three stories to say the same thing.
Then there are the photos and videos..... on the start day there were no less than SEVENTEEN helicopters in the air with numerous photographers and cameramen from many different teams. Even with seventeen helicopters there weren’t enough for the demand and I belive that there was some “hotbunking” going on (or whatever the term for sharing helicopters is!)
So the media centre was struck by “waves” of teams coming back from the start: the first “wave” was those that had been lucky enough to see the start from the air, the photographers and cameramen running in to their desks to edit and upload the images as quickly as possible. The second “wave” were the journalists and the PR teams and who came in off the first lot of passanger “VIP” and press boats. Likewise, this lot were all in a hurry to get their story off to the press. The final wave came in quite a bit later, and that consisted of the shore crews who had been fighting the crowds on the water to protect their “baby” and stay with their skipper until the very last spectator boat had turned around. These guys were in no rush, and there was an “emptiness” about them as they suddenly realised that their work was over and they could finally relax (this “wave” did not stay long in the media centre as they had an important rendez-vous with a “thank goodness they’ve gone” beer!!)
As things calmed down in the media centre, our team started to bond. Salma Al Hashmi is communications director of Oman Sail – she was our co-ordinator – then Anne Massot did the com in French, Lucy Harwood for English, and Bader Al Hinai for Arabic. I was helping the team and also working with Seb Chenier on the performance side. Seb was already in Paris setting up our headquarters....
As night fell and the skippers finally settled into their rythm (one that I envy!) offshore in peace, the media centre in St Malo started to “dismantle.” The Race press centre for the early part of the race was in Paris, so most of the teams had decided to base themselves nearby. This was what the Oman Air Majan team had done. We decided to travel in two “teams” so that if something happened we would be ready to react and not all stuck in one train.
Finally, at about 01.30 on Monday morning we were installed in our team headquarters in Paris Montparnasse. However, this was not the end of the day’s work. Part of my job was to help Seb with the “watchkeeping” – checking the tracker beacon hourly to make sure that all was well on board and that Sidney had not fallen asleep with the boat-speed low. We set up a watch system to share the watch (with Loik Gallon) so that we only had to wake up every three hours.
At 9am Anne and I went to listen to the radio vacations..... the Pen Duick team had had a sleepless night transferring their material from St Malo to Paris, and their 9am radio links were a technical challenge to the sound team!! I do firmly belive that on this first night the skippers actually get more rest than the teams on shore! It really is an interesting experience for me to learn all about what goes on “behind the scenes” on land and I will surely appreciate the work done a whole lot more having witnessed it first-hand.
SO, the days passed in a blur of “watchkeeping”, position reports, sending Sidney information “gathered” from the other skippers radio vacations, photos and websites, video and audio interviews, translations, weather forecasting (for the coms teams as Sidney was working with Marcel Van Trieste), and many other jobs within our efficient international “team”.
Until we got the call: Sidney was in trouble. He had broken the front cross beam, and subsequently dismasted. Oman Air Majan was stricken and in trouble. Sidney, however, was fine.
Our team immediately switched into crisis mode and we moved swiftly into the Race Headquarters to manage the accident and the rescue, plus all the communication required to go with it. Thankfully we had a well prepared crisis document which served us well, and all went extremely smoothly, thanks also to the Pen Duick team. (see Sidney's on board video here)
Again, as a skipper, I learnt so much from this situation and the rescue, both on land and from Sidney. It is encouraging to see how fast the messages travel and how quickly the rescue was put into action. Sidney was rescued in less than 4 hours. I have a lot of notes from our experience which will be written down in a debrief. As a team we learnt lessons and we hope to make our experience available for other teams to learn from and prepare themselves for such eventuality.
So, now Oman Air Majan is in Horta, safe, and Sidney is in France, the story is on pause but I think there will be more adventures to follow in the future.....
I enjoyed my work. I learnt a lot.
However, I am a sailor and I am meant to be on the ocean and not in an office in Paris ;-) the next race I shall be cold, wet and HAPPY to be offshore!!