Boat Blogs Day 18 Leg 1, Volvo Ocean Race

Mark Covell/Team Russia/Volvo Ocean Race. Team Russia catching the windy low to Cape Town, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race

Boat Blogs from Day 18 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

GREEN DRAGON LEG ONE DAY 18 QFB: received 28.10.08 1041 GMT

There is good news and bad news from the south Atlantic. The good news is that the depression has aligned itself perfectly to fire us all to Cape Town at record pace. We now have 35 knots of wind at 140 TWA and relatively smooth, but building seas.

The 24 hour record could fall to whoever can keep their boats in one piece and still push hard. In the last 3 hour sched we managed 68 miles and that included a spinnaker peel and putting a reef in. For the last hour we have averaged over 25 knots which would equate to a 600 mile day. Clearly doing this for 24 hours is another thing altogether and we are on the edge.

The deck is permanently awash - as Guo (Chuan – MCM) will testify as he was just swept half way back along it, and downstairs is beginning to resemble a war zone. We have unearthed a few new water features down below and I have a feeling it will be dry suits on above and below decks for the next few days. This is like our 2000 mile qualifier all over again.

The bad news is that all the effort we have put in to getting South is now wasted. We will have lost miles on the fleet as we will no longer be gybing south. I am not too worried about this as I think this will now all be about who can put together consistently high runs without breakage.

It could also be decided in the last 24 hours where light winds should slow progress again. Anybody slowing down could fall out the back of the system and lose days. We are committed to pushing hard and praying it all stays intact. The only other thing on my mind is changing to a smaller more efficient sail that would give us a better chance of a record - right now we still have the spinnaker up!

As I type this we bury the bow hard and I lurch forward in the nav seat - the laughter and joking seems to have quietened down on deck except for Neal (McDonald) who is driving and shouts out 'get in there!'. I think it may be time to open negotiations with Neal about taking the spinnaker down. Watch this space over the next 3 days I guarantee records or drama - possibly both.

Green Dragon out.

Ian Walker - skipper
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ERICSSON 4 LEG ONE DAY 18 QFB: Received 28.10.08 1104 GMT

You all get to see the footage of these Volvo 70's surfing down waves at break-neck speeds and plowing their way through the ocean to their next port of call, but what you don't get to see is the life down below the deck....which can be as extreme!!!

I have just come off my morning watch 6 -10am, so I thought I would give you a brief description of what happens in the 20 minutes prior to going on deck. I could get up earlier and have more time for all this, but sleep is king!!!

0540 - Get woken up by Blood (Phil Jameson). Usually with some sort of crass remarks, followed by a brief description of what is going on outside with regards to conditions and general performance of the boat. This is the most important time of the pre-watch period. I am normally the guy at home who drives my wife nuts by hitting the snooze button three times before actually getting up. No time for that here. The race is on...for the toilet. You could set your watch by my body clock, and at 0542, I need the toilet pretty bad. The unfortunate thing is my watch mate, Joca (Joao Signorini), needs it as well and sometimes one or two of the other 11 guys on board. The only advantage I have is my bunk is further forward, so I generally beat them all to it.

So, out of the bunk. This is about 7 feet in the air and some minor acrobatics are involved there I can tell you, to make sure I don't land on the guy sleeping 2 feet below me, or the puddle of water that has accumulated in the bilge below our bunks. Tip toe to the toilet dodging all the puddles without slipping and breaking your neck, or getting your thermal underwear wet.

0548 - Finish toilet programme (that's a story in itself which I won't go into). Head via galley to grab a bowl of porridge, and then proceed as far back in the boat as I can to have my breakfast and start to get changed. All the weight on board needs to be near the back of the boat when going downwind in these sorts of conditions. Helps to prevent nose diving....hopefully!

0555 - Back to the galley to rinse the bowl. Back to the hanger where all our wet weather gear is hung. Double check you have enough clothing on without over doing it. You don't want to sweat too much in these conditions. Finish getting dressed, and lose your balance, placing your dry foot and sock into the puddle of water mentioned above....! Get over it, both boots will be wet in a matter of an hour or so.

Dave Endean - pitman
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DELTA LLOYD LEG ONE DAY 18 QFB: received 28.10.08 0022 GMT

I’ve devised a scale that pretty much describes the emotional spectrum of sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race. The scale is from 0 to 10 and is of increasing levels of ‘intensity’:

0. Sleep
1. Boredom
2. Zen-like
3. Enjoyable
4. Humorous and fun
5. Fantastical thrill
6. Competitive intensity
7. Frustration
8. Exhaustion
9. Fear
10. Shear terror and survival

Ideally cruising through this race in the middle ranges of 3-6, with plenty of 0 thrown in would be the perfect way to race around the world. This is pretty much how our leg has gone so far. However right now I’m not in that range. Today I am living in Zone 9: Fear.

There is a storm brewing. A very big one. If you lived along the coast in the south of the USA you’d be boarding up your windows and driving your car inland if you saw this storm coming your way. We are sailing towards it right now. The low pressure system to our south is going to merge with another low to the south east, unifying into a deep depression of 970 mb. This system will generate gale force winds. This storm is a gateway to hell. My job over the next 5 days is to make sure that we don’t fall into it and that both boat and crew get to Cape Town in one piece.

For the past day we have been preparing. We’ve tidied up the boat with a bunch of small maintenance jobs. We have organized our stack of gear so that all emergency and repair equipment is ready to deploy if we need it.

We’ve added carbon laminate to our damaged jumper spreader….oh, I hope that you haven’t forgotten about our damaged mast. Have you? We certainly have not. Ever since we’ve completed the repair well over a week ago, we’ve been sailing on port tack. The damaged spreader is on the starboard side of the mast and we haven’t loaded or tested its strength yet. There is an impending gybe in our future that will coincide with a cold front crossing over us as the storm deepens to our south.

We are in Zone 9. My job is to make sure that I don’t put the boat in a location that escalates us to zone 10. These boats are so powerful that they don’t need a breath of wind over 25 knots to set the ocean on fire. However our weather routing software is much braver than I am. It will seek maximum wind speeds to get us to Cape Town as quickly as possible.

To tame the weather routing software, for wind speeds over 25 knots, I told the programme that our boat speed would only be 5 knots. This is not the case in reality of course, but it manually forces the router to hunt through the weather model forecast to generate routes that keep us in wind speeds under 25knots. Over the next week, the hot seat will be smoking as I try to balance survival, keeping the boat in one piece and racing our competitors. It’s a difficult equation to optimise…but challenges like this are what make being a navigator so invigorating.

This screen shot from Expedition, my routing programme, shows the two of the many options that I’m conside