Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Finally in Singapore

We made it. Here is an interview that was recorded as I stepped off of the boat and onto the dock. It pretty much says it all : Click here

To all of my friends and family, I miss you all very much and wish I could be with you over Christmas and New Year...

Matt out

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Still Sailing


We are still sailing, which means that we are still in the race. We are almost 200 miles behind the leaders but still pressing on to the finish of Leg 3 under sail.

We are badly broken but not out. Hopefully we can make Singapore under sail, and that would be a victory in itself. One great thing about the Volvo 70 is that even with the throttle set at idle, we can still make 9 or 10 knots, given a decent wind. Not too bad.

But a new problem popped up today. We can’t keep hydraulic fluid in the one remaining cylinder that is holding the keel in the center cant position. This means that the keel slowly creeps to the leeward side. Hydraulic oil is running out of the cylinder and into the bilge. It’s a huge mess. We’ve used all of our spare oil. Now we are collecting the oil/water slurry that ends up in the bilge. We pour it into buckets, let it settle, skim off the oil from the water and pour the oil back into the hydraulic pump.

Yup, this is a long leg. Knowing that we all have a week long vacation when we get to Singapore only makes us more anxious to put this leg behind.

In the mean time, we’ll keep sailing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Up Side of Down


Not so bad, this being broken.

After the initial shock and disappointment of the BIG BANG, it became apparent that we would be able to make the Malacca Strait and sail the boat to Singapore, even with a separated bulkhead and a crippled keel ram.

As ugly goes, this was fantastic news.

Then it dawned on me that my workload as navigator was dramatically reduced. Basic route planning, weather analysis, piece of cake. The logical next goal was a good night's sleep. I got up from my desk, brushed my teeth, washed my face with fresh water and dragged our big masthead spinnaker into a nice corner of the boat. I fell asleep with the thought that I wasn’t going to get up until the sun came up. A couple dreams later, I decided to move into an open bunk on the leeward side. Yes, the strange, unexplored leeward side of the boat. I pressed on in my mission to sleep until dawn.

Later, back to the sail bag.

Later, back to the bean bag.

When I woke up for real the sun was shining down the companionway hatch. Mission complete. Man, I have felt amazing all day today.

Photo by Sander Plujim/Team Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

I drove for couple hours, casually confirmed that we were still heading east, radioed a passing tanker in my best trucker accent, and spent time joking with my mates. That's the great Ryan "Housty" Houston above, left.

This is working. I just might sleep two nights in a row.

Out, until the sun comes up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

HQ, We Have a Problem




I was lying in a bunk catching up on sleep. Dreaming about something, I don't remember what.

I woke to the sound of a deafening explosion. There is just no other way to describe it.

BAM

(!)

Something major. Broken. I sprang up. I waited for the rig to hit the water. I heard nothing. The sails weren’t even flapping.

Screams from the crew


It’s something in the boat.”

“Check the chain plates!’

“Are the bulkheads ok?”

“Did we de-laminate?”

“We are taking the headsail down. Can we have another body on deck?”

“Get the tool box. I need the Allen keys. We need to open the keel box to see the rams”

“Holy shit. This is it! It’s bad!”

“Emergency water pumps ready.”

Grab bags and survival suits were pulled out of the locker in case.

Photo by Sander Plujim/Team Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

I got on the sat phone. The first call was to the Volvo Race HQ. “This is Matt Gregory. We have a problem. We’ve had a massive failure to the port side bulkhead that attaches the keel canting hydraulic ram to the boat. We aren’t sure of the situation yet. Can you put everyone on standby? We might need help from the Russians; they are the closest boat to us. Are you receiving our position through the telemetry?”

After some tense moments we were able to assess our prospects. The hull was intact. Water was not coming into the boat, and the starboard side ram was holding the load of the keel. We had a stable situation, were not in immediate danger, and now needed to figure out what to do next, not to create a dangerous situation.

We called Juan K, our boat’s designer. He helped us determine that the damage was contained to the port side keel ram structures. The starboard side structures and ram would be strong enough to allow us to go upwind and into the waves - east towards the Malacca Straights and then towards Singapore. The closest land, which happens to be the scoring gate, is 400 miles away. We don’t have enough diesel fuel to motor the entire way, so being able to sail in some capacity is important. Also, because the boat heels, sailing helps reduce the pounding loads on the boat moving upwind and into the waves. With the keel uncanted and in the center position, we are able to gingerly sail upwind. This is good news.

Right now, we are making headway in 15 knots of wind, sailing with a reef in the main and a J4 headsail.

(It's a tiny staysail like headsail.)

We are coordinating with our shore team and Volvo Race HQ to manage the logistics of getting the boat to Singapore. This might involve sailing to Indonesia, taking on fuel, and then motoring the rest of the way. But these are details. For now, we are all happy to be safe and for our boat to be in one piece

Well, sort of one piece.

I've adjusted my Christmas wish list.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two Sides of One Coin



Yesterday was one of those days.

We were approaching the turning mark at the 'pirate
exclusion zone' and nicely sailing in about 12 knots of
wind. We needed to simply round a virtual coordinate, freeing us to sail east across the Bay of Bengal. I was exhausted and I was
looking forward to a nap after the rounding.

Then, about 8 miles short, the wind started to die.

By the time the wind got down to 4 knots we were not able to keep up with the current that was flowing against us at 2.5 knots. For 8 hours we struggled to make progress south. Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet made the turn and sailed away in moderate winds, perpendicular to the current.

For us it was like walking up a down-escalator and finding out that iPhones are being given away for free on the third floor of the mall. You can see the stampede of people running towards the Apple store, but you are trapped running as fast as you can, arms pumping wildly, going nowhere, unable to keep up with an endless Stairmaster throwing stair after stair after stair at you.

Finally the wind gods stopped their torturous joke. We got around the mark, but the fleet gained 35 miles on us in their shopping bonanza. Pissed off, exhausted and frustrated I climbed into a bunk for a nap.

A couple hours later the sun set and we were gently sailing along in 8 knots of wind. To find a way to put my self in a better mood, I took an iPod, a water bottle and a freeze dry Chicken Korma up to the foredeck. It was a perfectly clear and dark night. I ate dinner and then reclined on our A4 spinnaker, which makes a perfect bean bag chair. Dressed simply in a pair of board shorts, on a comfortably warm Indian Ocean night, I lay looking up at the mast, sails and an uncountable number of crisp bright stars. The darkness was, every so often, interrupted by a flash of lightning from a thunderstorm that was passing us by far off on the horizon. With "The Cars - Magic" playing in my headphones, I decided that life was not so bad after all. I watched a nearly full moon rise from the east and decided it was time to go back to work.

We've made gains over the past 16 hours and we are clawing our way back into this race.

Matt out

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yo-Yo Parade


The weather brief from our meteorologist, Fritz Koek, has been spot on so far. Simply put, the short sprint from the start, down to the virtual marks that Volvo laid to the south of Sri Lanka, would be full of geographically placed 'bands of wind' and 'bands of little wind'. From the start:

-
A band of westerly sea breeze
-
No wind
-
A band of land breeze from the east
-
No wind
-
A band of 20 knots from the east, funneling between India and Sri Lanka
-
Little wind on the lee side of Sri Lanka as we round the first turning mark
-

And that's where we are as I write. The strategic implications of this brief?

In theory: After the first park up, in no wind, the first boats to work east and south into the land breeze would jump ahead of the fleet. Winning the first six hours would be key in this Yo-Yo race.

In fact: During the first park-up, the entire fleet was separated by only one or two miles. But two miles was all the leaders needed to then leap ahead 30 miles; they got the land breeze first and sailed away.

Yo

Time for the boats in the back to play catch up as the leaders sailed into the next parking lot. We were all separated by only a handful of miles yet again.

Yo

The leaders got south into the strong funneling wind from the east and zoomed away.

Yo

Still blast reaching at 20 knots the trailing boats caught back up to the leaders.

Yo

How many more 'Yo's' are left in this leg?

Stay tuned.

Yo

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas in Singapore?

Three hours into leg three.

The entire fleet is sailing due south along the west coast of India in a nice westerly seabreeze. We are flying our A4, a big downwind sail, and cruising along at 10 knots of boatspeed in 9-11 knots of wind. This won't last forever.

I expect the wind to die in about two hours. We most likely will come to a complete stop. A new wind is coming, however. The winter monsoon, a northeast gradient, should set the tone of things and get us moving south once again. As we leave India behind and turn the corner, we'll add extra distance to skirt an exclusion zone that Volvo has set around the southern coast of the island of Sri Lanka; the zone is intended to keep us clear of a gang of pirates that apparently even have their own 'air force'.

Once we clear the land masses of India and Sri Lanka we will be able to head east across the Bay of Bengal. The northeast monsoon will still be our driving weather pattern through this 1,000 mile stretch of open ocean.

Sailing mostly on port tack, at maximum upwind angles we will have a couple of strategic decisions to make.

To the north of our expected track there should be more wind; to the south, a light and shifty convergence zone that is full of clouds, rain and not much wind. However because of the mechanical forces that propel the boat through the water, going south is easy, going north is difficult. We can reach a bit, to sail faster, but then we will be flirting with the convergence zone and the risk of being swallowed up by calms. Going north then seems like the obvious choice, but we can sail only so close to the wind. Climbing up to the windier areas might be costly if we have to sail in full upwind mode or very costly if we actually have to tack. We'll just have to wait and see what micro weather systems exist when we turn east.The last 600 miles of the race will be incredibly tricky as we sail down the Strait of Malacca, with Sumatra to the west and Malaysia to the east. This is a narrow strip of water that is full of fishing boats, fishing nets, commercial shipping, more fishing nets, and, yes, more pirates. But this is also an area of very little wind and an opposing current. No reason to expect it to be easy.

For the last couple of days before we started this leg, the wives and girlfriends of my team mates were asking if my forecasting models show us getting to Singapore in time for Christmas. I didn't have the heart to tell them directly what I was thinking. The truth is, I don't care when we get to Singapore, except in relation to the fleet. All I want for Christmas is a podium finish.

Monday, December 8, 2008

YOU are going for a wild ride....

Pull your chair up close to your desk, and strap on your seat belt. Thanks to the media guys at Delta Lloyd, I have a really cool video to share with you today. This is an 'MTV style' compilation video of our team Delta Lloyd in Legs 1 and 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

video

If you want to download the high res version click here. It's only 80 MB... a quick download, and definitely worth seeing in the full version!

-Matt out

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It doesn't matter if you like cherries....

Today I was walking through the Volvo Ocean Race Village on my way from our base to the race headquarters for a meeting. While wearing my 'MBA hat', I was thinking about why this stopover has been so overwhelmingly popular. This sort of enthusiasm is common for the Volvo Ocean Race in Europe where the race is followed intensely. However, consider that these fans are not sailors. They know absolutely nothing about sailing nor anything about the history of the race. I asked myself "why are they all of these people here if they are not sailing fans?"

I've figured it out. Strangely, this stopover reminded me a lot of the Cherry Festival in Traverse City Michigan. If you either live or vacation in northern Michigan, the Cherry festival is a 'must attend' summer event. It doesn't matter if you grow, pick, sell, bake, or for that matter, even like cherries, you'd still go to the festival as a highlight of the summer season. Volvo has managed to not only capture the adventurous imagination of the local people of Cochin, but they've also turned this stopover into a 'must attend' event for the local people. 'Bravo' Volvo....this is exactly where the future of the 'professional' end of our sport needs to head.

The 2008 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race seems to be extending the path for the future commercialization of professional sailing. This race is creating a fantastic show for the public to match the intense racing on the water. While this race will always have a loyal technical and sailing fans, this world class event is developing into a traveling 'circus' with attractions, concerts and up-close and personal access to boats and teams. Meanwhile behind the scenes sponsors are using this event to entertain and build relationships with their most valuable customers. Team sponsors are also using the stopovers as a platform for launching global internal communications and team building projects. Throw in a parade of elephants here and there and it's easy to see that there is a lot going on at a Volvo Ocean Race stopover!

-Matt out

Friday, December 5, 2008

"How is India?"

My friends have sent me a million emails, all with the same question. "How is India?"

It's incredible.
(I'm, also, fine... by the way.)


I must admit that the Cochin stopover was not on the top of my list of places that I was 'most' excited about visiting on this world tour. The edge of Rio, the 'homecoming' in Boston, the Midsummer parties in Stockholm, and the finish in Russia, were on the top of my list. I was a bit melancholy about Cochin. It's hot, there are a lot of mosquitoes, eating the 'wrong' food will make you sick and internet access is very limited. Furthermore I thought that Cochin might be a dangerous place considering the recent events in the country.

But none of that matters. This stopover is amazing. I love this place!

A lot of my excitement comes directly from the people of Cochin who are going absolutely bonkers over the Volvo Ocean Race. When we arrived there were thousands upon thousands of people here to greet us. Like rock stars, we were led down 'greeting line', where every onlooker wanted to welcome us to their city and shake our hands. When we walk around the streets crowds engulf us, asking for our names, our autographs and about our participation in the race. Nightly the race village bulges at the seams to make room for all of the people that come for the exhibitions, concerts and attractions . During the day thousands of people wait patiently in ques of up to 5 hours long to ride on the Volvo 70 sailing simulator, walk through the Volvo pavilion and to get an up close boat view of the boats from the spectator platform.

The local military and police have the race village under tight security and they are all armed with very large guns. However, this does not distract from the local 'karma' that is overtly friendly and enthusiastically welcoming. Although the security is very intense, I feel completely safe here.

I'm looking forward to the next 10 days that we have left to enjoy the city of Cochin. Here are some photos that I took today.



Our boat is well guarded




A local fishing boat cruising down the river next to the VOR village.
We passed hundreds of these boats on our way in to the finish line of leg 2. Needless to say the sea food here is absolutely fabulous!


What's a day in India with out seeing an elephant walk by? Apparently it's a rarity.

-Matt out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dockside in Kochin India

Click here for a link to my dockside interview with VOR.

Stand by for some blogs from the shore.... I'll work to keep the blog updated with 'the stopover experience'

Matt out

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rhymes With


Sorry I went silent. This has been the most intense racing of my life. Pure adrenalin and forget about sleep.

With Puma, Green Dragon and Telefonica Negro all in sight, we had a four boat contest where winning would take perfection.

T. Negro made an inside move that flipped them from the back to the front of the pack.

We were second with Puma next door, Green Dragon a couple miles back. The entire group was traveling in a line, fast- reaching for the finish at Cochin.

Bam…

(rhymes with)

We blew up a genoa sheet.

Puma passed.

We will finish just minutes behind them.

We are about 16 miles from the line. The reality that I’m an hour away from arriving in India is starting to sink in. Sailing to India…are you kidding me? Who does that? I can’t believe that a month ago we were in Spain, and now here we are. It seems a bit crazy. I know that when we step off the boat the crew of Delta Lloyd will be in a very different place. I’m looking forward to it!

Matt out

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Howdy, Northern Hemsiphere


Equator crossing number two . . .

. . . aaaand, we're across.

Looking back to our first crossing, southbound through the Atlantic from Spain to South Africa, I missed the crossing. I was asleep, hunched over the keyboard of my nav station. So it was gratifying to be conscious for this second crossing to see the ‘S’ change to an ‘N’. It’s a cool thing to watch if you are a navigator type. For some reason, only sailors make a big deal about crossing the equator. On airplane flights they make hardly a mention. For us, the crossing ritual is taken seriously.

As ourr offering to King Neptune, we donated tomorrow’s ration of beef jerky.

I hope he likes beef jerky.

Unfortunately, those of us who were equatorial virgins and thus duly punished by King Neptune on our crossing, southbound in leg one, didn’t have the opportunity to pass along the ‘spirit’ of the punishment tradition to a new comer, this time.

Or fortunately, for someone. This would have been a brutal passing for a first-timer. Stu Wilson, who’s been over the equator any number of times, informed us, “Neptune seems to be angrier, the slower the boat speed and the calmer the wind”.

Considering that in leg one we were blast-reaching at 15 knots, it was all Neptune could do to organize a slurry of food to dump on our heads. I got off easy. In becalmed conditions and where the first time crossers are outnumbered by 10 to 1, Stu has instigated ‘ceremonies’ that have lasted the entire day. His favorite: Duct taping first-timers' hands to the grinder-pedestal handles.

You are warned.

The Green Dragon is still alongside, 200 meters away. The drag race continues.

And it is a grueling grind through light air to the finish. With Ericsson 4 and Telefonica Blue already in Cochin, the boats still out have special demons to fight. Over the weekend, before it got quite so hard, Matt reflected on the situation in an audio broadcast that you can listen to here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Exciting . . . Becalmed


This is exciting racing, for being becalmed in the Indian Ocean.

Right now we can see Green Dragon, Puma and Ericsson 3. We are all just a couple miles away from each other. It is amazing if you consider that we’ve been sailing for nearly two weeks, across three oceans, between two continents, and here we are a group of four separated by a few miles. Here we see Martin Watts and our skipper, "Chuny," at work.

Photo by Sander Plujim/Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

Is the racing intense? Ha.

Twilight falls.

Green Dragon sends a text message:

“Turn on your nav lights.”

Apparently we were 5 minutes late.

Do you think they’ll be watching us all night long? Yup. Just as intently as we will be watching them.

Hey Ian, I see you seeing me, seeing you, seeing me.

Happy Thanksgiving to my family in Michigan, my sister in San Diego and friends all over. I am very thankful to have you all in my life. See you again when this race is complete. And the audio version of today's racing is here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pick and Roll and

Let’s try to sum up our day in the five minutes available while I wait for the weather download from our satellite communication connection. This could be difficult to write (to tap into the communication brain while the analytical brain is working overtime).

We’ve made massive gains. All our work strategizing about positioning for "Race 2" has paid off. We passed both Telefonica Boats and are ahead of the Russians. Puma is 7 miles off our bow as I type.

Today was a day to ‘pick and roll’ off clouds, sailing in and out of rain squalls with an uncountable number of wind changes and sail changes.

The rain was not only great for taking a quick, warm fresh-water shower, it was also a great opportunity to capture fresh water to relieve the pressure on our injured water maker. Using our mainsail like a funnel and cooking kettles as cisterns, we stocked up.

I won’t bother with sleep tonight. We're skipping cloud to cloud. This is full focus, high stakes racing and it really does feel like I'm sitting in the hotseat. Gains and losses turn on every decision and interpretation of weather data, radar imagery, gut feel.

Whoa, I didn't have five minutes. Two minutes?

Here comes a yellow blob on the radar screen.

Got to run. This rain cloud looks like a doozey.

About two hours later came the following [ed.]

SU:We just passed Puma.
I can see them a couple miles away with my night vision goggles.

Race 2, Leg 2, Apollo 13.2






We're into the second race of the second leg, the passage of the Doldrums.

It looks to be a short crossing, thanks to a nicely timed tropical wave, and we’ve been honing in on that wave for a couple of days as it brings the easterly trade winds farther north. Meanwhile a cyclone off Sri Lanka is creating a westerly flow to the north, bringing those winds farther south. The prospect? A narrow transition and a narrow patch of Doldrums.

We can’t get to India too soon. The first week of this leg was brutal. The fixit list for Cochin is long. The most recent item to break was our water-making system, which filters sea water into drinkable-fresh. The hose that connects the series of in-line filters ruptured from its end fitting and water was shooting everywhere inside the engine compartment until we managed to turn it off. The probable culprit: hot ocean water temperatures softening a high-pressure hose.

Imagine 100-degree air, 90-degree water, and a motley crew without water to drink. To make matters worse, our food is freeze-dried, not edible unless hydrated. Let's say the same thing a different way: No water, no food.

While the rest of the crew pressed on sailing the boat, our master fix-it man Ed (aka Edwin O'Connor) engineered a solution. Every time we break something, it's like a scene out of the movie, Apollo 13. Remember the sequence where the team of engineers is tasked with making a new filter with only a few sparse items dumped on a table, mimicking items onboard the capsule? A boat at sea is not so different from a space capsule. We have what we have and nothing more. Running to the hardware store is not an option.

After some head scratching, Ed concluded that none of the other tubing on the boat would fit the end fittings, nor would they withstand the pressure of the system. So, Ed further concluded, the broken hose itself had to be fixed and returned to service. He starting by cutting off the fractured bit of tube. Then, by rearranging the pumps and filters, he was able to join the pump to the filter. Finally—the ingenious part of the solution—he tight-wrapped the remaining hose with Kevlar sail-repair tape to reinforce the sidewalls, to keep the tube from fracturing again.

So we're making water again. And we are holding our collective breath that the repair really will prove fracture-proof for another four days.

The racing—we continue to increase our lead on Telefonica Black and the Russians while making gains on the lead pack of four. I’m going back on deck armed with night-vision goggles and my handbearing compass. These are the latitudes for cloud stalking. The hunt will be long tonight. I’m not expecting much rest until we transition to Race Three. Look below for a few of Sander Plujim's pics from recent days and hours. Otherwise, this is . . .

Matt out


Bowman Gerd Jan Poortman does his pointy-end thing
Photo by Sander Plujim/Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race



Our skipper, Roberto Bérmudez de Castro—he's done this race three times before and it's a cool name but we just call him Chuny—in driving-lesson mode
Photo by Sander Plujim/Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race



Chuny, Ed van Lierde and Ed O'Conner at work. Did I mention that Ed pretty much put the boat together for this race?
Photo by Sander Plujim/Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

Monday, November 24, 2008

Counting the Races



1500 miles and 4 races to go.

Looking at our track on my navigation computer, you’d think that we’re almost to India. Hardly. We have 4 races left to go on leg 2.

Race 1: The Blast, a boat-speed race on a reach. We are currently sailing in 20 knots of easterly trades with our R1 reaching headsail and a reef in the main. The gains and losses here will be made with brawn, not brains. The fastest boat with the heaviest foot on the throttle will come out of this section ahead.

Race 2: The Doldrums, a race of patience: This 300 mile section of ocean east of the Chagos Archipelago is full of pitfalls. Finding a way around local clouds, riding zephyrs, living on patience will be the focus. Finding the shortest route through this section will be key. Like jumping over a stream in the woods, we’ll want to find a good take off and landing point at the narrowest part of the stream. The boats that make the right bets will make huge gains.


Race 3: The getaway and set up for the finish. Six hundred miles and an equatorial crossing. The boats that get out of the doldrums first will be focused on putting distance on the poor souls that are still stuck with sails flapping in 100 degree heat. Everyone will be eager to make the getaway. The wind will greet us from the west and we will once again make steady progress. Speed is always key but finding the best heading to set up positioning for Race 4 will be paramount.

Race 4: On to the finish. This will be scrappy. The mainland of India will be to our east and there is a likelihood of storms. The wind gradient will most likely be light for the last 200 miles of the race. Conventional thought would be to head for the coast to pick up sea breeze by day and land breeze by night. However, water temperatures in this part of the world are around 90 degrees F (30 C) so there isn’t much potential for wind generated by land/sea gradients. Who knows how we will get through this part of the race? We don’t. We’ll continue to monitor the Indian monsoon weather patterns and formulate a plan, but between now and then we have 3 other races to work out.

Advanced Biology



Day eight, leg two, and the fast sailing continues.

Even with yesterday’s ‘mellow’ conditions, our odometer has been ticking. We have logged over 3,500 miles since the start of the leg. Doing some crude math, that's an average of better than 400 miles per day at an average of better than 17 knots.

No one expected this leg to go so quickly. We are into our fifth weather pattern and each has nearly-seamlessly linked up with the next. Each has produced winds allowing us to sail in the direction we want to sail. A week before the start of leg two, when teammates asked when we’d arrive in India my response was, Never. Twenty-three days seemed not out of the question, making the leg three start for Singapore a worry in itself. Wrong. We are well ahead of schedule.

Again we have our favorite sail up, the Fractional Zero, and again we are power reaching in easterly tradewinds. We will crank out another 450 mile day. When the sun comes up tomorrow we will be at the threshold of the doldrums. The leaders will lose the tradewinds first, and the fleet will compress.

From here, the final 1200 miles to Cochin will be tricky. The water temperature is nearly 30 degrees C in this part of the ocean. Hot water, hot air, and calms breed squalls and thunderstorms. I’m not expecting to get much sleep as we try to link cloud to cloud. Think six days more and expect some shakeups in the leader board.

Stop press. The sun just came up and we see the Russians. They are just to leeward and ahead, no longer a blip on the computer screen. Time to do some hunting.


But before I go, this scene from Saturday:

Gerd Jan ‘Johnnie’ Poortman, climbs onto the deck and sez,

"Where am I? I went through the wrong door of the time machine. Beam me up Scottie.”

A lot had changed during his four-hour slumber.

Sun. Warmth. Nice smoooooth waves, 15 knots of wind. All these had mysteriously arrived. The boat was silently, gently, brushing aside a bow wave at 14 knots.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve had an action packed day. We’ve been moving the boat through a wind transition zone, like a queen attacking the king on a chess board. That's kept me occupied. Otherwise I might have been nominated to clean up the ‘super fund’ toxic waste site onboard Delta Lloyd. Fortunately, I can tell the story in the third person and not the first.

Our boat, for safety reasons, is divided into four sections, each separated by a water-tight bulkhead. In each bulkhead is a door permitting passage from one compartment to the next. We live in the middle two. There is an aft compartment that contains all the steering mechanisms. There is a forward compartment, just two feet square, barely big enough for a person to climb into. We use it for storing trash. It is now known as the super fund site.

Two days ago, I was sitting in my nav station, holding on for dear life because of the violent motions of the boat, when I noticed two guys making a tremendous commotion up front. When I looked up, they said “Hey Matt, get up here. You have to see this.”

They were laughing.

Bad sign.

When I crawled to the front of the boat they handed me a flashlight and instructed me to look in the forward compartment. So I did. I grabbed the flashlight and poked my arm and my head through the door . . .

It was horrible. I lurched back. The laughter was now hysterical. I managed a chuckle and a comment: “Oh, that’s not good, not good at all.”

What it is:

The three trash bags that we had stored in the bow from our first five days exploded. I’d use a word more dynamic than exploded if I knew of one, because ‘exploded’ honestly does not even come close. Left-over food, empty freeze-dry packages, tea bags, toilet paper, candy wrappers, all were plastered to the walls and ceiling. The rest of the trash was floating in a cauldron, a cist. A swamp of sea water that had penetrated the compartment completed the brew, and it had been shaking around up there for three days. The smell was very, very, very, very bad.

Did I mention that it smelled bad?

We shut the door and called it a problem for a calm day.

Since today Scottie beamed us into this parallel universe of calm seas and gentle sailing, we decided that today was The Day. Soon we will be in 100+ degree heat. This is a project we could not put off until India. ‘Dutch’ Ed and ‘Media Man’ Sander were the brave souls who volunteered for the clean-up. When they went in, I wasn’t sure that they would ever come back. Going anywhere near the opening in the bulkhead made me choke. I ran away before I passed out or . . .

I'm an engineer. I don't have words for supergawdawfulness.

Ninety minutes later Sander and Ed emerged. Like soldiers just returned from the front, they have fallen silent, exchanging glances between them that seem to tell tales only a veteran could understand. I assume that both will suffer post traumatic stress for the remainder of the race.

The door to the forward compartment is shut. I don't know the details and I don't want to know the details but I assume our slurry has been rebagged and that is the best that can be done. I assume that the next seven or so days of sailing through the tropics will cook up quite a biology experiment. I assume I hope I think I can pretend that part of the boat does not exist.

Matt out out out

Friday, November 21, 2008

Go Blue



The story remains the same. More fast sailing.

We just gybed and now we're heading north towards India, hitching a ride on another low pressure system. The sea is relatively calm, considering winds in the mid twenties. We have our favorite sails up, the fractional zero and a single-reefed main. Every ounce of weight is stacked in the most extreme-aft position to keep the bow, and the speed, up. With small waves the boat makes 23-26 knots for minutes at a time, since we aren’t crashing into waves ahead.

I’ve spent a lot of time strategizing over how we should position ourselves on this new course. The Delta Lloyd team made the decision two days ago to ignore mid-course scoring gate positioning. We want to get to India, and we want to get there in good standing. That is our focus. The boys are pushing the boat hard, and we are catching boats in front of us. After a tough start to the leg, we are crawling back. We passed Telefonica Black and the Russians this afternoon. Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon are just miles away and we are closing.

And then:
A special ‘thank you’ to the University of Michigan Sailing Team. During the Cape Town stopover we received a letter from the team wishing us the best of luck in the Volvo Ocean Race. They included a burgee. Being a fanatical University of Michigan double-alum (once to study mechanical engineering and again for an MBA) I’ve mounted the burgee on my navigation computer.

Being part of the Sailing Team at ‘U of M’ is a life honor. Many of my favorite people and best friends came out of that college sailing team, and now I get to take the team's burgee for a loop around the planet. Hopefully there will be a big group of Wolverines in Boston waving the M flag when we arrive there in the spring.

“Go blue.”

Photo by Sander Plujim/Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

More news: The London Times has asked me to write a weekly column. My deadline is every Thursday, but I’m not sure whether the piece will appear on Friday or over the weekend. And that is your heads-up.

Matt out

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hubcaps and Potholes




We are sailing with our Fractional Code Zero. This is a brilliant sail. The Weapon. This sail does everything well.

Right now what is it doing really well?

Scaring the crap out of me.

We are sailing in a rough sea state at 40 degrees south. This is a cold and isolated part of the planet. The local road commission needs to get down here and fix some pot holes. We drop into square trenches that make the boat shake in a very scary way. This might be our most violent ride so far. The windspeed varies with the clouds cruising by. We are seeing anything from 25 knots to long periods of 38 knots of wind. The sun just set. We have Chuny, our new skipper, driving. He is amazing in this stuff, very good at keeping the hub caps on the wheels.

A couple days ago I talked about the importance controlling emotions. This is one of the times where I stay calm because of my confidence in the crew.

(20 minute break) --- back space back space --

I was typing the next sentence in that thought when I was interrupted with a call from on deck.

"Furl the zero”.

Now we're sailing with the staysail and we still have a reef in the main. This is a perfect example of the reason for my confidence in this crew that Chieftain Racing / Ger has assembled. The guys can handle the boat when we push hard, then make a sober decision to throttle back when breaking the boat becomes a concern.

Not that the throttle is that far off the floorboards.

We are still hitting 28 knots.

With only the staysail up.


P.S. We just pulled out the fractional zero again. Looks like we will be on and off the throttle all night long.



I thought I’d be feeling better. I was right.

We changed sails earlier today to the R1, our high-clew reacher. We are sailing in 25 to 40 knots of wind and 8-meter waves.
Surf's up.

Did I mention we changed sails?

Now, that was an adventure.

Almost all the time, downwind, we fly our J4. It's a small jib foresail set on a furler off our staysail halyard. But during our sail change the tack pin broke. That severed the connection between furling unit, sail, and deck. So imagine 30 knots of wind. Imagine the head (top corner) and clew (back corner) of the sail still attached. Imagine the tack (should-be forward bottom corner) whip-slapping the air with a three-kilogram metal furling unit attached to the end of the whip. We're talking violence. As we tried to wrestle the sail to the deck I heard a voice remark,
Boy, this is dangerous . . .

Okay. (Deep breath.) Here goes. I’ve dreaded writing the blog entry on strategy and route to India. I can't do it with a simple screen shot and words. I think I’d need a 20-slide powerpoint deck and live commentary. Crossing the Indian Ocean, Cape Town to Cochin, is a complicated route. It has about five moving parts. Being adaptable and managing risk are key. Let's take a shot at a simple version:

Right now we are sailing on the backside of a low pressure system, as shown in the current position picture. The system is allowing us to fast-dash east, riding the southwest winds in this sector. We will head almost due east and past the scoring gate. For this leg our mid-scoring gate is Longitude 58 E. The boats farthest east will pick up the most points at this mid-leg gate.

Click to enlarge:



Just about the time we arrive at the scoring gate, the wind will shift to the northwest as another low pressure system catches up with us. This system can be seen on the Nov 21 projection below. This will allow us to turn to a northeasterly course, as you see from the red predicted course on the diagrams. We will follow this system for a day and a half as we head towards the prevailing east trade winds that live north of Latitude 30. The green dot at the end of the red line in each screen shot shows the location of the trade winds.



The transition from low pressure-driven northwesterlies to the east trades? That could be rough. I’ll spend the next few days working out the details of how to play the shift from one weather system to the next. Currently, we are too far away and it's too early. I don’t have all the information I need. We’ll stay adaptable.

The easterly trade winds will take us up to the doldrums. The last part of this leg is going to be tricky. The monsoon season is changing off the coast of India, so it’s tough to know whether we will finish in a southwest monsoon or a northeast monsoon. I’m keeping an eye on it (I'm probably not alone) and following the trends. Strategy decisions for that section are ten days away.

In the mean time we have some blistering fast sailing to do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Volvo Flu



As a fleet, we have been sailing south into a nice westerly.

Last night there was an opportunity to make an aggressive tactical call. I would have preferred to be positioned to the south side (right) of the fleet, but it was a risky call. The move would have involved tacking away from boats within sight of us—all sailing on our same tack. So, instead we played a conservative card to stay with the boats alongside. This fit our pre-race plan, to sail with other boats for some bench-mark testing, but it worked against my maverick streak. I was sure that tacking and moving into the westerly position was the correct move. What to do? Go for the kill or stay with the fleet and test?

Puma and Green Dragon hunted on the right side.

We held and tested.

Puma and Green Dragon gained about 5 miles as a reward.

Grr.

When we woke up this morning we had Telfonica Blue and Ericsson 3 still with us. Testing continued.

Throughout the day the wind built through the high teens and into the low 20’s, a nice day of downwind sailing. We spent most of it with our A4 (the big mast head spinnaker) flying and gauging our performance on the boats around us visually. Testing… testing… testing.

When the wind hit the high 20’s, it was too much for our A4. We switched to the A6. Conclusion, this sail is horrible. Code name it ‘the lemon’. Telefonica Blue and Ericsson 3 sailed out of sight and over the horizon. Testing complete.
This sail has a very narrow sweet spot. No, let me take that back. Anything that narrow does not exist. There is no sweet spot. Our A6 might make a nice tent for somebody, but it's no high performance racing sail.

Each sail, like a golf club, is made for a particular shot. The shot that we want to play is VMG, downwind, lots of wind. The A6 wallows. Then, when you come up to give it power, it goes unstable. We're forced to sail an angle that we don’t want to sail. In the last report since we put this thing up, the fleet has gained between 2 and 5 miles on us.

In the next couple of hours a cold front will pass. We will see winds increasing into the low 30’s with a dramatic wind shift to the southwest. This will turn our trajectory from southeast to east. As a fleet, we will be aimed directly toward our scoring gate, about 1600 miles away. The forecast also shows that ‘the lemon’ will be flying for the next 48 hours. We hope that in the bigger breeze this sail will develop a less bitter version of a sweet spot. We hope.

I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow, emotionally and physically. I’ve developed a cold over the past two days. It’s most likely a reaction to the five immunization shots that I was required to receive, by racing rules, just before we left Cape Town. I have lost my voice and gained a fever. [These symptoms are rife through the fleet: Ed.]

Thanks for allowing me to vent. I can’t let the boys know how sick I feel or how frustrated I am with the lemon. As a team we need to stay positive and keep the boat moving. Emotions are contagious so I’ll keep smiling and encouraging performance and looking for the fastest path to India. Now it’s time for me to go on deck and do some sailing.

Cough.

(Cough.)

Smiles.

Matt out

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So We're Off




Our race started with a Table Bay 'tour’ and plenty of fanfare for the spectators. At a distance to go of 4,450 miles, we launched toward Chochin, India with a triangle race to show off the fleet before heading for the open ocean.

We completed the triangle and—

And sailed into a hole, a huge hole. In half a mile we went from blast reaching in 20 knots—the breeze funnels around Table Mountain—to sitting, parked, like bumper boats on a pond. If a mountain can be a funneler, a mountain can also be a blocker.

Give it an hour of commotion, with some boats making big gains, and the fleet, in effect, restarted.

After some tense moments, all of us broke free and made it out to sea. Both boat and crew feel more at ease out here. The VO70 was not designed for round-the-buoys racing. As surgical tools go, it's a sledge hammer. But forget that metaphor because everything changes on the ocean. For a Volvo 70 the open ocean is a playground.

In the evening and into the night we sailed upwind in a southerly direction, aiming to position ourselves in a windy system that is filling in from the west. By sailing this direction we will, very soon, be able to put up our big downwind sails and head east in a hurry.

Over the next few days, I'll talk about strategy for the crossing to the subcontinent.



An early highlight of leg two was passing though an area of luminescent algae just after nightfall. It’s almost impossible to describe the vibrance. No one, not even Stu, who has sailed around the world four or five times, had ever seen anything like it; not even close. The ocean was glowing. Looking down you wondered, who turned the lights on? The whitecaps were luminous, bright, whitish-green. It was even blinding and . . .

Not because I'm blind, but I gotta run, A bag of freeze-dried sweet & sour chicken was just placed in my hand. Yep, I'm truly back at sea. I actually missed this.

I can’t believe I said that.

Oh look, there's a spoon in the bag. I embark upon a brave new world.

Matt out

Editor's Note: At just about the time Matt was writing, the VOR office was according Delta Lloyd a "nominal lead" in the fleet. Later, that was adjusted in favor of Telefonica Blue. Obviously, it's early in a long race to read anything into anything, and six hours in, the top 7 were all listed within an eight-mile range on the distance-to-go meter. The fleet was split between a group hugging the African shore and a group working deliberately offshore, all beating into a 17-knot southerly clear of the Cape of Good Hope. Delta Lloyd had adopted a middle course along with Ericcsons 3 and 4 and the two Telefonicas.

There is no accumulated wisdom for this leg, because no one has ever raced Cape Town-Cochin before. A VOR press release cites "tricky winds, tough currents, monsoons, hundreds of small vessels and the threat of pirates." Puma skipper Ken Read says, "I have never entered a race or a leg of a race so confused about how the outcome may turn out."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Grabbing the Sides of the Bed





I took a week and a half off from writing to enjoy the sites of Cape Town.

It took that long to recover from Leg One.

Now we're legging out to Cochin, India, through waters where people have sailed before, but never raced. It's easy to wonder, will that be an equalizer, or?

My first five days back on land were disorienting. You’d think that after three weeks of never sleeping properly I’d spend a couple days doing nothing but sleep.

Nope.

I couldn’t sleep. Oh, three hours, maybe, and I'd then wake up grabbing the sides of my bed thinking the bed was shaking or it was going to capsize . . .

It didn't.

I lost five pounds during leg one. That’s huge for me. In Cape Town I ate non-stop. I'd kick off daily with a bowl of corn flakes, half a package of bacon, 4 eggs and 2 slices of toast. Every day. An afternoon snack of french fries, smothered with mayonnaise (I am sailing for a Dutch team after all) and a Häagen-Dazs chocolate shake has been tiding over my favorite-food-cravings of leg one.

We worked steadily, but in a relaxed matter. I spent the first five days slowly bringing the stress level back down to manageable. We had one day off, and only one. In fact, it was the first day we've had off since I joined this team. To take maximum advantage, two friends of mine, Ryan Houston and Stu Malloy, hired a taxi for a tour of the area around Cape Town. If you are ever visiting this wonderful city you absolutely must call our new friend and tour guide, David (+27 078 617 8151). He took us on a tour that included visiting shanty towns, eating fish and chips on the beach, touring two vineyards and visiting an animal park where we were able to interact with zebras, cheetahs, owls and hawks. Most people that know me well know how much I detest cats. I really hate cats. However, being able to see a cheetah up close, petting a cheetah, that was pretty cool.

Photo by Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race

Okay, leg two. This is Saturday, and we're on our way. It's 4,450 measured miles from Cape Town to Cochin, a commercial hub in India's southwestern state of Kerala. Cochin is also a place steeped in history that celebrates the holidays of Hindus, Christians and Moslems. In ocean racing terms, we're making some history ourselves. They've never seen the likes of us before.

We had plenty of breeze at first and then:

Extra Extra

Big wind hole early scrambles the fleet leaving Cape Town!

On the other side of that hole we began to settle into the race.

Matt out

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Life At The . . .



Volvo brands its round-the-world race as "Life at the Extreme". When I reflect on this slogan, now, as a competitor, I realize that there has been a shift in my interpretation. I used to hear "-blah, blah, blah- EXTREME".

"Life at the" sounded like filler, mere words for propping up "the extreme" and conjuring images of boats ripping through waves at 30 knots. Now, 23 days and more than 8000 sailing miles into leg one, I realize that the operative word in this slogan is "Life". Participating in this race is a 9 month lifestyle.

This is our last night on leg one. Tonight will bring an end to our 23rd day of sailing a 70-foot carbon shell from Spain to South Africa, via a scoring gate off Brazil.

What were you were doing on October 11th, the Saturday we left Alicante for Cape Town? This might take a moment. It was a Saturday. Have you placed it yet? How many times have you taken a hot shower, shaved, gone out to dinner, talked to a friend on a phone, been to the gym, gone for a run, sipped a beer, slept eight hours straight, hit the snooze button, or surfed the web? I haven’t done any of these things for 23 days.

These were basic elements of my lifestyle before this race started.

Particularly the snooze button.

Our life on the Delta Lloyd is one dimensional and simple. We are racing a sail boat. That’s all we do. We wear the same clothes every day, so we don’t wonder what to wear, or for that manner, what's clean. We eat one of three flavors of freeze dried food every day. The only decision we make about what to eat is the order. We don’t have a main street full of restaurants, a menu or a refrigerator full of options.

As navigator, I’m not on a watch, so I sleep when I can, typically for about 30 minutes at a time, right here on my nav desk seat. Once a day I’ll climb into a bunk for an hour. In total, I sleep for about 3 or 4 hours a day. I don’t have an alarm clock, I don’t have a bed time, and I can not be late to work. In fact, my commute simply involves sitting up, spinning my legs under the nav table desk, and rubbing my eyes. Today we were talking about how ridiculously stupid we all look with beards. However, I have no idea what mine looks like. I haven’t seen myself in a mirror for 23 days.

I am oblivious to what is going on with the presidential election in the USA, the global market crash, the latest gossip amongst my friends, or the new season's story line of my favorite TV show, Entourage.

Participating in this race is the experience of a life time. This is my "Life at the –blah, blah, blah"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pure Magic

What an epic morning — perhaps one of our best thus far on this adventure. I was I was asleep, dreaming of Cape Town, on my nav station bench when Stu Wilson, dripping wet in his foul weather gear, gave me a wake-up nudge and said, "I think that we should give the fractional Code 0 a try, we just got the knock [wind shift] we've been waiting for." After some quick calculations on the computer I threw on my dry suit, boots and harness. Jumping up on deck and assessing the situation, I agreed with his call. As we completed the sail change the sun had risen on what was a cold, clear, and brisk spring morning down here in the Southern Atlantic ocean. With the new sail flying, the boat lit up. We had no idea that the fractional Code 0 would perform so much better than our A6. The Russians had walloped us over the past 24 hours and now, after seeing the fractional Code 0 in action, we realized that the A6, AKA “the lemon” was to blame. It's quite depressing and bitterly frustrating to be rolled as quickly as we were. But, not knowing sail cross-overs is one of the difficulties with a late-entry program such as ours. But, we are learning.

After a brief turn at trimming the main sail, Stu looked over at me saying, "Matt, its your turn to drive — send it". I smiled, handed off the mainsheet, transferred my harness tether to the wheel and jumped up on the steering platform. For the past couple days we've been sailing downwind true-wind angles. With the fractional Code 0 we could give the boat some heat and sail 110 to 130 TWA, which made for excellent surfing. Like a surfer, we could now ride down waves, execute a bottom turn, head back up the wave, and then ride the same wave over and over again. Did I send it? Oh yes — I pushed the throttle through the floorboards as hard as I could. I was hoot'n and holler'n the entire time. I’ve found that the boat likes it when you talk dirty to her as you’re caning it. Then, as if I couldn't be having anymore fun, this morning became legendary as an albatross pulled up along side. She glided, without a single flap of her wings, only 50 meters away, for about 20 minutes. This is the first albatross that I've ever seen. Overwhelmed with excitement, I realized that this is just about as good as ocean sailing gets.

Safety Lessons

Safety is an important cultural element amongst the crew of any Volvo Open 70. Take us, for example:

I am just jumping back into my nav station after spending a rotation on deck of trimming, grinding, and driving. In these conditions, everyone on deck is clipped in, and our harness doubles a manual inflating life jacket that holds a personal EPERB and strobe light. (We convert our life jackets from automatic inflation to manual because these boats are so wet.) Just like a rock climber is frequently saved by her harness, her rope, and her belayer, we use our harnesses to keep us onboard.

Each position on deck requires a different technique for surviving a wave that’s washing over the deck. The trimmer sets his tether up so that it’s short and tight so that he can keep both hands on the sheet. When a wave hits, we lean against the tether and ready ourselves to give the sheet an ease as the boat slows down and the apparent wind angle moves aft. The collision with the wave is intense and the pull on the chest harness practically squeezes the wind out of you sometimes.

When we’re grinding, we clip into a jack line that runs down the middle of the cockpit floor, but there is plenty slack in the six-foot tether. If a wave were to sweep you off of your feet, you’d be washed to the back of the cockpit before the tether pulls tight. When a wave reaches the cockpit, I find that squatting a bit and bear hugging the pedestal with my arms and legs keeps me in-situ.

The wheel has an attachment point (a “synthetic” padeye that’s usually made of Spectra or Dyneema) for the harness at its hub. Driving is an incredibly physical job in tough conditions such as these and my arms are aching from my 45-minute helm session. Trust me, it’s a full bodywork out.

Beyond the basics of clipping in and holding on, the Volvo Ocean Race requires all sailors to attend a safety course in Northern England. This two-day course gave us a compressive demonstration of all our onboard safety equipment and first-aid tools. We shot flares, extinguished fires and practiced CPR. The most eye-opening part of the series of drills included the liferaft, MOB, and abandon-ship training. Their intention was clearly to scare the crap out of everyone. We then suited up in our dry suits and harness/life jackets at a “special pool”. The first exercise was simple; swim around the pool. Jokes were told in a relaxed manner as we flopped around while floating on our backs. Meanwhile the pool started to produce rolling, one-meter waves. “This is a pretty cool pool. I like swimming here.” The jokes kept coming.

After our swimming lesson, we climbed out of the pool and were taught how to deploy our life raft. We then deployed our back flips, cannon balls, and belly-flop skills as we all were instructed back into the pool. Our instructor was not amused with our shenanigans and commanded us to start swimming attached to each other as a group. Then, the waves were turned back on but this time they were twice the size as before. A couple laps later howling wind fans were turned on. It was becoming difficult to swim. After another lap, the valve to the rain jets was opened, and our jokes were replaced by the sound of 11 guys choking and gagging on water. Next, the thunderstorm was activated as the pool lights dimmed and strobe lights and thunder took over. We could no longer even see the sides of the pool! Over a loud speaker we could hear the command, “Get in our life raft.” We searched the pool for the raft, still swimming attached as a group. After a couple minutes of searching we found the raft, got in one by one and pulled the canopy down over our heads to protect us from the rain.

It was pitch black inside. With the sound of the thunder echoing outside and the wind and the rain lashing the canopy, we had to scream to communicate with each other. Amongst the chaos we quickly realized that our raft was flooding. As we learned in the classroom that morning, all life rafts have a hole in the floor so that if the raft is inflated upside down it won’t suck itself to the water as it inflates. We were all crawling over each other to find the valve, as the storm kept raging and our life raft rocked and rolled with the swell.

Finally, we managed to close the vent and congratulated ourselves for completing the drill. We then sat in the raft for 5 minutes before somebody mumbled, ”When do you think that they’ll let us out of here?” Five more minutes transpired. “I don’t think that the drill is over yet,” crooned a cynical observer. Another five minutes passed, and we started to lose track of time. Finally, the drill ended as the lights were turned on, the waves subsided, the water jets were extinguished, and the thunder and strobe lights were turned off.

At the end of the drill our life raft was full of 11 guys that were scared straight.

Because of this, our number-one mission of this race is to stay on the boat and to never, ever get into that life raft.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Russians Are Coming!

SILENCE. The boat swerves a bit as we straddle a wave.
SCREACH, SCREACH, SCREACH: - the grinders haul in the spinnaker sheet. Reverbrations echo throughout the boat, temporarily drowning out almost everything else, save the sound of our hull mashing through the seas.
RUMBLE, RUMBLE, RUMBLE: We careen down the wave. The water rushing past the hull becomes deafening, usurping the SCREACH of the spin sheet. Concentration varies between hard to impossible.
*BOOM* - we crash into the bottom of the wave in front of us. The entire boat shutters violently.
*WOOSH* - several tons of water come crashing over the foredeck and through the cockpit in the form of a wall of water that’s a full meter thick. Spray this is not.

"How'd we go on that wave?" the guys ask.
"Our best shot of the day so far: 30.3 knots," I reply.

(Silence)
"Send it boys, here we go again!" I call.

Two evenings ago, I blogged about the emotional roller coaster of sailing in this race. My objective for today was to avoid Code 10: Terror. Mission accomplished!

At that time, if you recall, we were downwind sailing on port tack flying our big gear. As the wind speed built to the mid 20's, we pealed to our A6, our small fractional spinnaker, and then we put a reef in the mainsail to reduce sail area. But the wind kept building and the waves kept building. So, we had a tough decision to make based on the following facts:

1) Sunset was only 2 hours away.
2) A major boat-handling maneuver in extreme conditions, in the pitch black of night, with our damaged rig and a spinnaker up would cause Code 10: Terror.
3) A cold front with 35-40 knot winds would pass us sometime in the AM hours.
4) The cold front would also bring a 100-degree wind shift, requiring a gybe (remember, so far with our jury rig we have only sailed on port tack, meaning that our starboard shrouds and spreaders were still untested.).
5) We could not be certain that our rig would stand up on starboard tack after a gybe or in a knockdown broach.
6) We had a 70-mile lead on the Russians.
7) The race leaders would be very difficult to keep up with, let alone catch, with our rig handicap.

So, we did what anybody would do in given these factors: we made a plan. We took down our big spinnaker and hoisted a manageable reaching Genoa in its place. This required us to sail a higher wind angle, taking us on an easterly heading while the rest of the fleet continued heading southeast. We also decided that we would wait until daylight to gybe. I spent much time reviewing the weather models and satellite observations from our midnight download and I concluded that the cold front was going to pass us at 9AM, and that we wanted to be set up and sailing for about an hour on starboard tack. At first light — around 7AM — we started restacking the gear to the new windward side. To be overly cautious, we hoisted the J4, our smallest jib, and took down the reaching Genoa. This process took an hour with the full effort of all 10 of us.

It was now time for the moment of truth. We gybed. The rig didn’t tumble. Deep relief! We loaded the mast and rigging by pulling in on the mainsheet. The rig stood: Our repair worked! However, as the engineers at our mast manufacturer told us, we are only safe on starboard tack as long as we don't fly masthead kites. With confidence, we hoisted the A6 - our fractional spinnaker.

With the rig scare averted, we were now heading for the cold front to tackle it head on. With little drama, a brief spell of 40-knot winds, and lots of water, we punched through it and were comfortably sailing yet again. Because we felt confident with our rig and now had a comfortable gap between us and the center of the low, I switched from “survival mode” to “racing mode”. At the 2200 position report we learned that the Russians had closed our lead gap to 25 miles. Time for Code 6: competitive intensity.

An hour later the windspeed dropped to the high teens. OH NO!I feared would happen when we reached the back side of the front! We were wallowing and need the power of our big, masthead spinnaker and our full mainsail. Code 7: Frustration. Given our mast situation, Code 6 was now impossible.

I had faith that we would be saved by the virtue of patience. Since we can't change our sails to suit the wind speed, we needed the wind speed suits our sails. I knew that more wind was coming but so were the Russians! Two hours later the wind built to the mid 20-knot range. We staved off the Russians, who are now only 20 miles behind us. Back to Code 6: Competitive intensity.

*WOOSH* ... "28.7 knots on that one"
Code 5. Fantastical thrill

This race is a rollercoaster!

Congratulations to Ericsson 4 for breaking the 24-hour distance record today. Brilliant work!!

-Matt out

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Scale of Heaven and Hell

I’ve devised a scale that 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”. It goes like this:

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. Sheer 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 experiencing these good numbers. Instead, I’m living in Zone 9: Fear. You see, there’s a storm brewing, a very big storm. If you lived along the coast in the southern states of the USA you’d be boarding up your windows and driving your car inland if you saw something this wicked coming your way. Us? We’re sailing towards it right now. You see, the low-pressure system to our south is going to merge with another low-pressure system to the southeast, unifying into a deep depression of 970mb. This system will generate gale-force winds. For us, this storm is a gateway to hell. My job over the next 5 days is to ensure that we don’t fall directly into it (just use it to our best-possible advantage), and that both boat and crew get to Cape Town in one piece.

Given the severity of the storm, we've been preparing for the blow for the past day. Here’s a look at our work list thus far: 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. We certainly haven’t! Ever since we 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. Talk about trial by fire for our jury-rigged spreader!

Right now, we are in Zone 9. I need 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. That said, 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 program that our boatspeed 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 25 knots. Over the next week, the hot seat (AKA my nav station) will be smoking as I try to balance survival, keeping the boat in one piece, and racing against our competitors. It’s a difficult equation to optimize…but challenges like this are what make being a navigator so invigorating.

But what’s really fascinating is the report from Expedition, our routing software, as I plot our track for arriving in Cape Town. According to Expedition, there are two paths that we can go by, a scary route, and a more sensible route (again, keeping in mind our damaged spreader situation). The surprising bit is that the ETA in Cape Town is the same for both routes, which actually helps simplify my life. At least for now…



This screen shot from Expedition, my routing program, shows the two of the many options that I’m considering for our track to Cape Town. This is a snap shot of the South Atlantic weather on Oct 29th at 900 GMT. The bull's eye in the lower middle section of the frame is the low-pressure storm. The red line represents the scary route, and the black line shows the sensible way to get to Cape Town…you might be surprised that the black route and the red route both arrive in Cape Town at almost the exact same time…. Try and guess which route we'll choose.

-Matt out

Monday, October 27, 2008

Questions Answered

I love receiving reader questions, and I typically try to weave these queries into my stories. So, today's entry will be dedicated specifically to answering reader's questions. I'll punch through 3 quick ones and then spend the bulk of this entry addressing Jay Palace's fabulous question on team building. Here we go.

Is the Volvo Ocean Race covered on TV in the USA?
-Yes. Weekly shows will air on PBS and monthly recaps will air on Versus.

Have we thought about building spoons out of carbon?
-Yes we did. However, instead of building new ones we are using the scoops from the sports drink containers.

Where do we get the power to run all of our computing, communication and electronics, and how much power does the system take to run?
-The boat has 2 Volvo Penta Engines, one large and one small. The large one is used for powering the propeller when we are motoring in and out of the harbor, and for pumping hydraulic fluid in the rams for our canting keel. We only use this large engine for the quick, 80-degree, full side-to-side cants when we tack or gybe. We also have an electric pump for slower and smaller cant adjustments to the keel position. The small Volvo Penta engine runs our watermaker and a very big alternator that charges our 24-volt DC power-supply system. We make water and charge our batteries for an hour 3 times per day. Our entire electrical system pulls about 12 Amps in normal operation.

And now for the big question of the day:

“Did you spend any time thinking about how to quickly bond with the guys on the team? You were the last addition, right? What was that like? And... as the navigator, the team looks to you for an intensely important part of the game.... how does that all impact your "on-boarding" process? And... lastly, did your skipper Ger O'Rourke do or say anything to help you? -JAY PALACE

-I love this question. I've been a part of two Americas Cup teams and now, one Volvo Ocean Race team. Not one of these teams organized strategic team-building exercises. After my two Americas Cup campaigns I went back to school for my MBA at the University of Michigan, where teaching leadership and team building philosophies is a core part of the curriculum. Considering how mission critical it is to develop a 'high performing team' at the VOR and AC level, I'm shocked that teams spend so little time working with external consultants to implement practices and techniques that have been proven [successful] at the executive level within corporations. Most professional sailing teams, you might be surprised to find out, develop their team dynamics in a sort of haphazard, organic way. This strategy, or should I say 'lack thereof', can sometimes have disastrous consequences. I have seen several Americas Cup and VOR teams implode, despite having all of the necessary equipment, funding, and raw human talent to be champion-level competitors.

Despite my late addition to the Delta Lloyd team, I've already started to spearhead team development discussions while we've been sailing on Leg 1. The most important discussion that I've lead is to establish, at a conscious level, self-awareness of individual attitude. I believe that everyone is either on a virtuous or a vicious cycle at any [given] moment. Moreover, both states of mind are highly contagious to other teammates, particularly in the intense and stressful environment of racing Volvo 70's around the world.

To address Jay's second question about my personal integration into the team, I can admit that it was a difficult process for me. On the day that I arrived, I was not introduced to the team nor did I have any sort of orientation. For the first time in a very long time I was sailing with an entirely new group of people, whom I didn't know at all. The day that I flew into Alicante, from San Francisco, everyone was already working on the boat when the taxi dropped me off. I set down my bags and then headed up to the boat to develop a work list for [the] navigation system. I knew that a strategy of being quiet and humble would be my best initial strategy.

The reality is that I'm gregarious and feel comfortable “leading the charge.” I decided to leave my reputation with the team to my performance during the in-port race series. Right up until the in-port race, I deferred all planning activates to the shore-side management. Even though no one had given me a proper initial introduction to the team, I did not attempt to over compensate for this by reciting my “resume” in an effort to promote myself or [my] experience. Then, during the inshore race in Alicante, I took the reins as my job description entails. As soon as we pushed off of the dock, amongst all of the fanfare that goes along with a “show” at this level, I immediately called everyone into the cockpit and led a meeting to lay out the [game] plan for our race day. This was the first time the sailing team was alone, together, to come together as a group. During the in-port series I led the team in the typical tactician/strategist role.

The in-port race turned into a great team-building day for us, and it also led to the crew's trust in me as the team's navigator and leader. It's important for the crew to trust their navigator, particularly when you wake them up on their off-watch to gybe and restack the boat. Trust and confidence is a paramount relationship amongst all levels of a Volvo Ocean Race crew, and I can happily report that we are on the virtuous path.

Matt out

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Controlling a Beast

Going south, going south, and I just finished my turn at the wheel. Warm, sunny, 21 knots of breeze with long, rolling waves and we are making 16 knots on an upwind reach. The Volvo 70 is an animal in these conditions, and there is power to burn. You feel like you are controlling a beast. It's a great feeling.

Questions came in about our trajectory to Cape Town, and I understand if it's puzzling.

You might wonder why we are 60 miles off the coast of South America after leaving Europe for South Africa. Why are we on the "wrong" side of the South Atlantic?

I could ask myself the same question as I look at our Velocity Made on Course (the component/vector of our overall speed that is taking us towards Cape Town) and I see 1.2 knots on the display. Geez. We're going 16 knots through the water, yielding 1.2 knots toward the finish, with 3300 miles to go? Why not just stop in Rio for a burger? (Freshly ground sirloin cooked medium with cheddar cheese, avocado, tomato, grilled onions and a soft toasted sesame seed bun, basket of fries, hot fudge mint malt . . .

Sorry, where was I?

Well, the answer is, we're on this route because of the South Atlantic High Pressure Zone. It's in the way, between us and Cape Town. There's little or no wind at the center of the High, so it's faster to sail around it than through it. We're out here for another 12 days, probably, with our familiar three varieties of freeze-dried feasts and zero remaining spoons.

The High, in general, hangs out between South America and Africa at about 20 degrees South Latitude. Straightlining toward Cape Town, we'd sail into the High and slow down big time. And when we finally broke out on the eastern side of the High we would be faced with gale force headwinds for the last several hundred miles to the finish. That would be wrong twice. Thus we are chillin’ like villains over here on the sunny coast of Brazil. Our winds here are the easterly trades that flow across the top of the High, making our assault south very quick.

Once we get down to about 25 or 30 degrees South Latitude we will turn and burn to Cape Town. (We are currently at 9 S, Rio is at 23 S and Cape Town is at 35 S, with each degree of latitude being 60 miles.) It is reasonable to hope to ride a southern ocean low pressure system after we turn. The weather patterns along that late portion of the route are perfect for breaking 24-hour records. We should be able to stack up a few 500+ mile days.

Here's a screen shot from Expedition, my routing software, showing our expected path (red line) based on the 10-day GFS model and a snap shot of the weather model forecast for Oct 29th. The green dot in the middle of the screen along the red path is where we should be on the 29th. The blue lines represent MSL pressure contours. To the north of the red line is the South Atlantic High. To the southwest of Cape Town is the low pressure system we aim to latch onto.

Gives me itchy fingers. Click for the large view. Matt out

Friday, October 24, 2008

Neptune Yes, Spoons No


It's a tough day to write a blog entry. My keyboard and I are bouncing out of synch.

I zig.

It zags.

The boat's motion is pretty violent. We are blast-reaching toward Fernando de Neronha, our scoring gate, and making 17 knots.

Early this morning we crossed the equator and—every bit as reliable as Santa on Christmas— King Neptune boarded us at 10 am. A clever fellow, Neptune. He timed his arrival to coincide with a change of watch and, not to disturb us unnecessarily, disguised himself to resemble our crewman Johnnie Portman. (Johnnie crossed the equator in the previous race and so was not a rookie to receive the traditional ceremonial hazing.) I was a rookie, so there I was, and there was Neptune with a beard, crown and cape, trident in hand.

One by one, we first-timers were punished for our sins.

Sins that included, for example, coming onto watch late, leaving personal gear lying around the interior, or hoarding candy bars. I was punished for my persistence in maintaining our boat's heading. Neptune was not happy. He told the crew: "Matt pokes his head up on deck to tell the guys, 'We're sailing two degrees too low, the course is 240.' Fifteen minutes later it's, 'We're three degrees too high; the course is 240.' And fifteen minutes after that, 'The course is still 240, can you press it up 2 degrees?' "

Apparently, after thirteen days, this gets annoying. Who would have thought?

My punishment was to sing the Star Spangled Banner to the crew. Then a ladle of "brew" was dumped on each rookie's head. The "brew" was made from seawater and freeze-dried detritus that had been left to fester below in the heat of the doldrums for the past couple of days.

It was a great way to start the day and, actually, I mean that.

Getting back to what we're here for: Today, due to our easterly position on the fleet, we launched past the Russians and have left them over 40 miles in our wake. As I write, Ericsson 3 is eight miles in front and to leeward. We are closing quickly. We have only 60 miles of runway to Fernando, however. We hope we can catch them before we pass the scoring gate.

P.S. For those of you who are keeping track of our 'spoon count', Stu broke our last one today.

Editor's note: One of Matt's dedicated readers suggests that we offer further reading on the traditional transformation from Pollywog to Shellback at the crossing of the equator. Here's a wikipedia link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deliriously Tired


"Kimball, this might need a big edit, I'm dileriously tired ... "

Well, after we respelled deliriously, you were good, Matt. Get some sleep, will ya . . .



"Sailing" in the doldrums is agony. For three days we've been wallowing along at three knots of boat speed, with only the occasional puff from a cloud to boost us along.

Earlier today everyone on the boat lost their sense of humor.

Was bored of boredom.

Desperately wanted to be sailing again.

To twist the knife deeper, the race schedules showed that Green Dragon, Puma and Eriksson 4 had escaped the doldrums and were were already blasting away toward the scoring gate at Fernando, some 600 miles away.

I'm not sure. Were we more envious that they were winning? Or were we more envious that they were sailing and we were stuck?

This evening, our metamorphosis began.

A family of whales swam past, during dinner. Almost at the same moment the wind gently started to blow and the sun set, beautifully. A joke was told, a chuckle ensued and smiles returned.

After four hours of steadily building breeze we entered a wall of isolated squalls marking the southern boundary of the doldrums. It seemed that we had one more cloud to navigate ourselves around and we'd be clear to sail towards the scoring gate in the trade winds. However, due to a bad approach angle we were sucked into the squall. All hands jumped up on deck for a quick tack and a sail change from our masthead zero to our large reaching genoa. Then, just as we were cleaning up from the maneuvers, a gentle rain escalated into a downpour. In jubilation at the prospect of a fresh water 'shower' someone yelled
"hurry, get the soap". The dish soap came up on deck and we all jumped at the chance for a shower before the rain had a chance to subside.

Amongst the commotion of passing the soap around, and a joking accusation that Bert dropped the soap on purpose, we heard a heckling laughter coming from the companionway. It was our media crew, Sander, with his night vision video camera. The stern camera that recorded our spreader break the other night had been activated by Sander again. Sometimes we forget that our boat is wired with cameras like the set of Big Brother. Sander claims that he is going to make a fortune when we get to Cape Town with his video. I'm not sure if his intent is to blackmail us or to go internet-live with the website
www.dutchsailorsshower.com.

Time will tell, In the meantime we have a couple
boats to pass on our way to the scoring gate at Fernando.

And . . .

Recalling our spreader break and my accounts over the last couple of days, here is a pic of (do I have to call him by his real name?) Gerd-Jan Poortman up the rig to effect a brilliant repair.



And this is the repair.


Images by Sander Pluijm/Team Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race





Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to the Big Code Zero


We're off again after one of the most incredible on-the-water repairs I've ever seen. Martin and Johnnie invented a fantastic system for fixing our top mast jumper. They saved leg one.

Roller coaster emotions?

We were in an intense duel with the rest of the fleet.

We broke our rig and it was all over.

We're back in the race.

The events of last night—breaking our jumper—were all recorded in high def video thanks to a 'crash button' in the companionway. If there is an event on deck, a crew member can hit the button and the previous two minutes and the next 6 minutes of action are stored in our stern-mounted camera. Last night's scene is
something to watch. We are uploading the video to Volvo Race HQ as I type.

We see the spreader falling, then hitting the side deck just inches behind Ryan, the trimmer, to leeward. It bounces back high, passes between Stu and me (we were grinding across from each other on the rear pedestal), then glances off my back and hits the deck again, then lands in the very back of the boat. Incredibly, just as the spreader failed, I rotated 90 degrees and took a halfstep forward. I have no recollection of taking the step or being hit, but it's all on film. It's a miracle that none of us took a direct hit. We were all standing in a five-foot circle and the spreader cracked the deck and the self-tailer of one winch when it came down between us.

We might claim to be pretty tough, but we're softer than the boat.

Now we are happy to be sailing at full capacity again. We can worry about the new problem de jour; We are running out of spoons. We started with ten. We're down to two.

Maybe Martin and Johnnie can make us some.

Matt out

Bounced Off Me


The doldrums have scrambled the Volvo Ocean Race fleet amidst calms, squalls, and black clouds. Green Dragon's stealth move carried her to the front of the fleet, but today that lead is dwindling. And life aboard Delta Lloyd got very complicated, very quickly.


Last night we attempted a sail change to our Mast Head Code O foresail. It was pitch black and we had unknowingly fouled a halyard around the leeward upper jumper spreader.

As we attempted to get the halyard onto its halyard lock we heard a BANG. A second later a bolt hit the deck. A second later, something big crashed down. The jumper. It had broken away from the rig. It fell 90 feet. Fortunately it bounced off the deck a couple times before it bounced off me.

In a state of shock I chased the thing down ("we might need that") as it headed for the back of the boat and I nabbed it about half a meter from the transom. Our collective state of mind was disbelief. We were all thinking, “Our leg is over, we broke the rig.”

We took down the mast-head code zero and put up a fractional code zero to unload the top of the rig. At this point, we were the southern-most boat in the fleet, a position we had worked hard for two days to gain. Now we're slow and the fleet is pulling bearing on us to the west. For sure, they have their big code zero’s on while we are sailing with a fractional. I feel absolutely gutted.

However.

Marti Watts, our rigger/mast expert, must be just about the most positive-minded and resilient problem solver we could ever hope to have on board. While I took a nap and worked on a weather solution to tiptoe through the doldrums, he worked through the night on a problem that is really difficult. Consider: It takes a specialized part to replace the end fittings that broke. They aren’t parts that we have onboard as spares, and . . .

I was just up on deck to see how things are progressing, and it looks like a fabulous solution. Martin has built a ‘bracket’ to sandwich the spreader and to butt up against the mast. He has a plan for using the fittings that are already on the mast, some ratchet straps, and the compression forces from the shroud to hold it all together. Then we can sail on starboard tack with more than a reef in the main and a fractional foresail. If he can pull off this repair I am going to be astounded. He is one talented mast guru.

In an earlier missive that now seems moot, Matt wrote about the living conditions aboard Delta Lloyd in the Doldrums. For example:

The hotseat is HOT today and don’t mean metaphorically. I am sitting in a sauna. It is well over 100 degrees down below. My only option for cooling myself is pointing the small fan at my nav desk directly at my head while drinking water with sports drink powder added. The water is desalinated from the sea, which is hot as well. Neither seems to be of very much help.

Matt out