Volvo Ocean Race: Drag race along the icegate

Camper backs off as crew repair damaged bow structure

Saturday March 24th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Volvo Ocean Race charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems

Positions at 1255 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 46 21.300s 135 35.150w 18.5 93 4470.8  
2 Telefonica Iker Martinez 46 35.550s 136 17.200w 17.8 89 4489.1 18.3
3 Puma Ken Read 46 27.050s 136 52.650w 20 95 4514.6 43.8
4 Camper Chris Nicholson 45 31.030s 136 55.980w 14.7 80 4544.9 74.1
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 44 59.000s 152 17.730w 8.7 125 5117.2 646.4
6 Sanya Mike Sanderon 39 48.080s 165 49.080w 11.2 357 5918.5 1447.7

And then there were five. As the Volvo Ocean Race leaders make fast but tough miles towards the next ice waypoint limit, so the Mike Sanderson-skippered Team Sanya is limping back towards New Zealand after her starboard rudder sheared off on Thursday.

“It’s unbelievable, I’m just lost for words,” Sanderson said after the incident which tore a hole in the stern of the boat flooding the aft compartment. At the time of the incident Sanderson had been at the nav station when he heard a loud bang. “I wasn’t sure what it was but I knew it was bad. It could have been one of two things. It could have been a wave coming up and slapping the side of the rudder; or, it could have been we hit something in the water again. I’m not sure.

“The rudder snapped in between the boat and the deck, which is just the worst thing that can happen, because then it just leverages itself off the boat and leaves a pretty messy trail." Sanderson said they had secured the emergency rudder and fixed the hole in the aft watertight compartment. “We have made a piece of carbon plate and used a lot of the fastenings that were there to hold the rudder bearing together. We have a fairly nice surface to bolt to.”

“We’re devastated, we really are,’’ Sanderson continued. “We were very pleased with our leg from a performance standpoint. We won the Pro-Am race, we got a fourth in the in-port race, we led the fleet out of Auckland and we were in the lead when we pulled out, so it’s obviously really, really sad.” The team are currently looking at their options to see how they can remain in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Leading this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race clearly isn't a place to be. Camper overtook Groupama on Friday night as the boats were approaching the western limit of the ice gate they must stay north of. Racking up a 24 hour run of 530 miles, Nicholson reported: “Right now we have got the hammer down and pushing pretty hard. We are in about 35 to 40 knots and we think are the only boat to still have the spinnaker up so we are going to try to hang on to it until dark and then go for a jib. It’s the age old question of just how hard do we push it? It is a very fine line. I don’t feel comfortable talking about being in the lead right now because with one slight problem it will evaporate in no time."

And sure enough last night, the Kiwi crewed VO70 reported delamination in a forward beam after they had fallen off a wave heavily. They have since slowed to effect a repair. Nicholson said: “The boat is in no immediate danger and the crew is fine, but with the bow now flexing and the weight of wind we cannot push on as fast as we would like. We are starting on repairs that will allow us to get going as fast as is practical.”

This follows repairs the team have had to make to one of the forward bulkheads earlier in the leg. “We have cut half the bulkhead out and re-laminated it," Navigator Will Oxley described. "There has been jigsaw, grinders and lots of noises you don’t expect to hear in the middle of the ocean up in the bow of the boat. We are now waiting for about an hour for it to cure and then we hope it will be strong enough and we will be good to go.”

It has been a testing time for the crew as the helmsmen tried not to drop Camper off a big wave while below Rob Salthouse and Mike Pammenter were using a jigsaw or grinder, a situation where it would have been easy to saw off a hand instead. “It is the high speed slams when it feels like the boat has just dropped off a two-story building, which have contributed to the damage,” Oxley continued.

So back in the race and Groupama are in front once again with 230 miles to go until in theory they can turn their bow southeast. At present the leaders are in strong southwesterlies to the northwest of the centre of a giant Southern Ocean depression. This sector of a depression is renowned for it irregular sea state, hence why the VO70s have been suffering so badly.

“There's nothing to do, but keep our heads low and to make miles while minimising problems," described Telefonica skipper Iker Martinez. "Later if the breeze drops we can puff our chests back up. The boat could sail at 30 knots the whole way, but I don't think it'd last more than ten minutes without falling apart like that, so we're going at 18-20 knots, 'chucu-chucu' as my wife Barbara calls it."

The weather scenario is slightly odd at the moment for the giant depression is forecast to halt its eastbound track over the next 48 hours. This means that the boats will continue on in the southwesterly and then will have to cross the fronts associated with the depression until they get into the northwesterlies to the east. So it seems likely that the boats will head ESE on starboard gybe until they reach the front and then will gybe when they emerge into the northwesterlies. Once into the northwesterlies the boats will be able to make some truly big speeds towards Cape Horn.

Behind Ian Walker's team on Abu Dhabi has been suffering but for entirely differing reasons. They are currently trying to negotiate the ridge. But it looks like their situation is going to get worse as the high to their south is forecast to shift north right across their path over the next 24 hours.

Following Sanya's rudder breakage MCM Andres Soriano wrote:

The adrenaline levels took a while to subside, but eventually they did, and one by one each one of us fell hard asleep if only for a little while. The heavy airs passed us, and at first light we re hoisted our main and started to make our way northwest back from where we had just come, only to watch our competitors that at one point only got further behind us, continue on and take the lead that we had held.

The mood is light, what can I say, we are all hurting but we have some amazing personalities and resilience onboard and true talent lies with those who do not dwell on the things in life that one can not control. Though very difficult as the competitor in all of us is struggling hard to accept the reality, we are coping, and light smiles and good humor remains a staple on board.

Last night after the chaos had settled, we gathered around the wheel of our weathered yacht where Mike stood. There wasn’t much to say then, and even now it is difficult to find words that would do our feelings justice. Mike simply reminded us, “We need to be proud of what we have done… There was nothing we could or would have done differently, we have been sailing brilliantly, and obviously this hurts… It hurts a lot… but we need to pick our heads up, pick each other up and remind ourselves that we did nothing to bring this one, it is what it is…”

It’s been a rain and fog filled day, a thick gray cloud has settled over us in a very cliché fashion. I know everyone is probably wondering what our plans our, and all I can say is that when we know, you will know. We know that our ace shore team is scrambling to find us our best possible option for getting back to this race as soon as super humanly possible. Our shore team is made up of some of the world's best super humans so we have no doubt that soon we will have a solution.

For now, priority is getting the boat, and us; her crew back to shore safely. That is still a few days away in predominantly upwind conditions with the possibility of one or two windy sections along the way.

Lastly, all of us onboard are totally grateful to still have the support and love from all our fans from all over the world. It really does help our spirits to know that we have such a strong backing, so from all of us, thank you immensely.

All for now …

Andrés

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