Volvo Ocean Race: You do 100 little jobs and you get 100 little gains

The Sanya race village, during the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.

Shore teams In the Volvo Ocean Race are launching a major operations effort to optimise and overhaul their yachts after surveying the damage caused by racing through some of the world’s most hazardous waters.

Having crashed into trees, snagged fishing nets and even impaled nails head first the six Volvo Open 70s each have extensive work lists.

Fortunately for the shore crews the Sanya stopover affords one of the longest periods of time for work and, more importantly, time for improvements.

'You do 100 little jobs and you get 100 little gains, it all adds up to something in the end,’’ said Groupama sailing team’s technical shore manager Ben Wright.

It is these incremental gains that the French team are counting on to give them an edge over race leader Team Telefónica, having lost by just over 20 nautical miles after a 3,051 nm race to Sanya last week.

Exactly what Groupama are planning is 'top secret' said Wright, who joined the team in 2010.

'It’s all related to performance or making systems function better, making the boat lighter, helping the guys sail better, the winch systems function better, making it more efficient,’’ he said.

'That’s the nature of this race, you must do better, not just get back to square one every time.'

Conversation is slim over the loud roar of grinders, spray guns and compressors inside the shore crews’ outdoor work area where the public can only watch from behind fences.

At Puma Ocean Racing site the Volvo’s 'oldest nipper' shore crew member Murray McDonnell, 61, has been busy repairing the team’s keel and dagger boards which were damaged by a tree and net in Malacca Strait.

Surprisingly, the steel keel has sustained more damage than the carbon dagger boards explained McDonnell. The front edge of the keel’s fin has three gauges out of it, likely caused by a rope or cable on a fishing net.

'We’ve got to clean it out, grind it down, put on some undercoat anti-rust primer, then some epoxy putty and paint,’’ he said. 'It’s very important to have a smooth surface because it helps the boat go fast, any break in the flow makes it slow.'

Next door Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand are tending to their red boat. Boat builder Guy Endean said there are 'no majors', only minor repairs for the team who have consistently finished on the podium in all three legs.

The yacht’s mast has been removed along with almost every other movable fixture and will be given a 'good service' Endean explained. The team are also tending to the hull in what appeared to be cosmetic work to the yacht’s paint job, but was more about maximising speed Endean said.

'With all the fishing nets and fishing boats around on this leg there’s a fair bit of paint damage with all the boats,’’ the New Zealander said. 'Ours has taken a few knocks and we had a nail in our bow, which interestingly had gone in head first.

'We’re just doing some paint repair and getting the boat back to top shape. It’s important for good flow, with the light airs it’s important to have as smooth a surface as possible.'

Inside Telefónica’s sail loft at the teams’ base, sail coordinator Stew Gray is working with his two colleagues on repairs and creating new sails.

There is plenty of work to be done as two sails were damaged during Leg 3, the J1 on the sprint from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah and the code zero within the first three hours of the race from the Maldives to Sanya, China.

Gray said the J1, which went overboard just six miles from the night time finish in Sharjah, required 'quite a bit of work', while the code zero was being replaced with a new sail.

'We’re also changing over a few sail bags, sheet bags and cables, but that’s work that we were scheduled to do,' he said.

Like many members of the shore crew Gray expects that plenty of midnight oil will be burned between now and when the Leg 4 race to Auckland starts on February 19.

'In the last two or three races this would have been considered a short stopover,' he said. 'But with shorter stopovers this race this is now quite a long time, but we’ll still be working flat out until the day of the start.'