So just like the start of any offshore race, the last few days in Alicante were manic. Rushing round trying to sort out final measurement issues, packing my personal stuff as well as all the spares for my various areas of responsibility………which seem to be growing every day and saying goodbye to friends both old and new.
Without going into all the details, most of which some of you seem to know more about than me, mainly from the excellent coverage of the race on the Team Russia and official Volvo Ocean Race websites, my first few days of being a Volvo sailor were busy to say the least. After a conservative start we were soon up and running, and under mast head spinnaker we moved up to the middle of the fleet after only a few hours racing. This joy was short lived as I realised the keel hydraulic ram boots, which effectively protect the all important canting keel system and prevent water ingress, had been ripped to shreds by a new part designed to limit the maximum cant of the keel for measurement purposes. This was followed a few minutes later by ripping our cuban fibre A4 (largest running spinnaker) in half as we tried to avoid a navigational hazard and pushed the sail beyond its wind speed/angle limit. The next 24 hours were a little cramped down below as Jez and Beno worked flat out on repairing the spinnaker whilst I was head down in the ram box.
By the time we passed Gibraltar we were up and running properly again with just Telefonica Blue behind, but still very much in touch with the rest of the fleet. We worked hard to regain lost ground and at one point in the Doldrums got to within 1 mile of second place, this certainly raised a cheer onboard but also made us realise that there was no reason at all why we couldn’t mix it with the best of them. As it happened things didn’t pan out so well and after nearly 3 days of drifting through the Doldrums we ended up firmly rooted in eighth place as we approached the scoring gate of the Brazilian coast. Not to be deterred we put our heads down and worked even harder, constantly trimming and grinding our way back in touch with the fleet once again. As we headed south to pick up the strong westerly winds, we started to make gains on virtually all the fleet and soon passed Delta Lloyd and Telefonica Black. As others ahead had problems we pushed on and closed to within a few hours of Green Dragon and eventually finished only three hours behind Telefonica Blue. Having sailed nearly 8,000 miles this was close racing by anybody’s standards.
In summary, the sailing was great fun which for me remains one of the most important things; you simply can’t do this kind of extreme sport if you don’t enjoy it. We sailed safely without compromising speed and know we can go better for this next leg. We got to Cape Town in pretty good shape compared to some of the other boats and feel confident we can push harder. Oleg will be back replacing Guillermo who has left the team to focus on his new projects and the rest of the crew will remain unchanged. As a result of Guillermo leaving I’ve been promoted to watch leader which coupled with my ongoing work as boat captain should keep me out of trouble!
Despite a long job list, which thankfully our legendary shore crew have dived into, most of the sailors have managed to squeeze in a few days break. Beno and I hired a car and did all the typical tourist things, a quick trip down to the mythical Cape of Good Hope before heading east towards Port Elisabeth and going off on safari. It was incredible to get so close to the animals, in all cases less than 5 metres with nothing but the canvas sides of our 4x4 and a park ranger to protect us. As far as I can remember I think we ticked off: lions, crocodiles, hippos, rhinos, buffalo, springboks, monkeys, elephants…………oh no not elephants as Beno locked the keys in the car the day we were supposed to be riding Nelly and her friends! Anyway all in all it was a great few days holiday followed up by a day of ‘work’ whale watching with our partners the WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) and then on the way home we just happened to fit in a few Vineyard tours to wrap up a great taste of South African life.
So back to the real business, we are off on Saturday and perhaps one of the biggest benefits so far of joining the afterguard on Team Russia is getting to work with the legendary French meteorologist Jean-Yves Bernot. Everyday in the week running up to the start both watch leaders, the navigator and the skipper get together for an hour or two to go through the strategy for the next leg. Jean-Yves then patiently goes through the various scenarios lining up and we discuss how best to utilise the strengths of our boat. Coupled with this strategic planning is also the final preparation onboard Kosatka (the registered name of Team Russia meaning killer whale). We have now finished the repairs, made some modifications and are waiting for the wind to ease so we can get back in the water. It’s currently gusting 50 knots here so not ideal weather!
Anyway it’s bed time now as I look out on a wild, rough seascape from my waterfront appartment in Cape Town, I can’t help but reflect on just how good life is. Take care one and all!