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.

"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

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.


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

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shakeup Coming?

My parents and sister sent an email this morning wishing me a Happy Birthday. They asked “What flavor birthday cake will you have on board? Can they make that in freeze dried? If not, will anything else take the place of your favorite Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream cake log?”


I would do anything for a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake log roll right now.

Someone reading this blog should, immediately, go out to get one and write me a detailed description so that I can live vicariously. Since we left Alicante we’ve been eating freeze-drieds. We have three (three) varieties: Chili con Carne, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Chicken Tikka with Rice. We have three servings of each per day. On Wednesday, spaghetti bolognaise popped up in the daily food bag and there was absolute euphoria on board, having a new flavor. The crew sang Happy Birthday to me early this morning, which was followed up with a special treat: Freeze dried custard with blue berries.Tasty but not quite up to par with a nice thick slice of, you know.

Meanwhile, there's a race going on. We are just about to enter the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, otherwise known as the Doldrums. This is an area between the Northern and Southern hemisphere’s easterly trade winds. It is an area known for light winds, squalls and, generally, difficult sailing.

Right now we are headed right for a very large convection cell. This cloud is about 75 miles in diameter and depicted in the screen shot, 250 miles to our southeast: The cell is moving to the west at just about the same speed that we are traveling south, and for now it is building. By evening, however, the daytime heat convection that is fueling its growth should be reduced and the moist air, suspended at high altitudes, will start to fall. The moisture in the cloud will condense into rain. This will yield winds that are sort of helicopterish; that is, in the middle of the cloud the wind will be falling out of the sky; towards the edges the winds will radiate outwards.

The fleet should be positioned to the North of the cell when it passes. This means that the northeasterly gradient wind will be canceled by the southerly wind that the cloud produces. Or, perhaps, the cloud could build so much pressue that we will be sailing upwind in a southerly as it passes. I’m waiting for the 1800 GMT and 0000 GMT weather forecasts to see how this cell moves and changes.

How does this play into our 24-hour strategy?

It is impossible to get in front of the cell, so our escape back into the easterly gradient winds is to go east when the cell arrives; the new wind will fill from there. Fortunately we have a great eastward position on the fleet and are bow forward of everyone except Puma and Ericsson 4. I think there will be a big shake up in the leader board after this cell passes.

Matt out

Friday, October 17, 2008

Records, Leverage, Mint Chocolate Chip

I don't know about you, but I keep track of my personal 'speed' records. I have all sorts.

My top instantaneous speed on my road bicycle is 53 mph. My endurance solo speed record in a car goes back to a drive from Michigan to California a couple years ago: I did one stretch from Ann Arbor to Wyoming, 1300 miles, in 16 hours including gas fill ups and food stops.

Yesterday was another day for personal records. We sailed a long gybe, heading west away from the African coast, and covered 255 miles in 12 hours. Even more impressive; we were VMG-running (optimizing our angle for downwind gains. not straight-line speed). I'm sure this pace will be repeated over and over again over the next 9 months, but nonetheless, it was another fantastic night of sailing and a new personal best.

The next tactical decision in this race is picking a line through the doldrums, a region of confused winds that hover around 10 degrees north latitude at this time of year. Right now we are tracking west at 17 degrees north, toward the Verde Islands. We have the Green Dragon and the Russians several miles abeam to the north. I've positioned us here to leeward for a reason.

Sander Pluijm/Team Delta Lloyd/Volvo Ocean Race

There is a tropical wave passing to our south. This tropical wave will bring us a big right shift when it comes through, from the 35 degree wind direction we have now to probably 90 degrees. It should happen within the next 10 hours. Even more critical is how the shift will come to us. The shift is moving up from the south, meaning we should get it first.

It took two extra gybes in the middle of last night to set this up, and there is potential for big gains if the scenario plays out.

Once we get going south, we have to pick a line through the doldrums. While it's a difficult call to make now, we should cross through them at around 30 west longitude. It's going to be a restless night in the hot seat.

Editor's note: This is the sort of pressure that could make a man feel a year older overnight. Or perhaps it's as sister Caroline writes:

"The big question for Matthew Gregory on October 18th is: What flavor birthday cake will you have on board? Can they make that in freeze-dried form? If not, can anything else take the place of your favorite Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream cake?

Inquiring minds want to know...and we wish you a very

Caroline, Mom and Dad"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

SSBs? Sextants? Slide Rules?

I've been asked what I'm using in the way of onboard
computer, software and communication technologies. This post is for the tech-heads out there. You know who you are.

Computers? We have five of'em.

Navigation Station: There are 2 Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 computers in my nav station. I interface both of them through a USB mouse and keyboard. On the left-side machine I run Expedition software ( exclusively. Expedition is my software of choice for performance analysis, navigation, weather routing and competitor tracking. The right-side computer is configured for messaging, writing this blog, reviewing weather charts and satellite imagery, refining sail charts, logging sail hour usage, and interfacing the media desk. I also run Expedition in the background on the right-side computer. Left and right are tied together via our onboard network. In case of a failure, the computers are set up identically, making either capable of running the entire system.

Media desk: 2 Apple computers. This is an incredible system that is provided by Volvo. The desk is a complete IT system that controls our onboard cameras and enables our media man, Sander, to edit video and audio. It controls our satellite broadband connection and allows me to download our weather packages from Volvo. The physical size of the 'box' that contains this hardware is 2 x 1 x .2 meters. One of the Mac books is embedded in the media desk and controls the media system. The other sits on top of the media desk for Sander to edit video and to interface the Media Desk.

The 'data computer': This is a custom piece of Volvo-provided hardware that's about the size of a brick. This computer interfaces an output from our instrument system to send all of our boat's data to Race HQ, for monitoring and for competitor tracking on the event website

Instruments: We are running a new B&G H3000 processor in the boat's legacy H2000 infrastructure. We have 2 GPS sources that are immediately swappable as inputs into the B&G system. In case of a B&G system failure, a GPS NMEA feed is available to either computer via a simple software switch. Thus if we lose our instruments, my navigation capabilities are not affected. We have redundant boat speed, wind wands and heading sources that can be exchanged by a series of switches on our instrument panel.

Communication: Thrane & Thrane, a partner of the Volvo Ocean Race, supplied each boat with an extensive communication system that includes the following hardware::

2 Sat C's:
One is a messaging terminal. Through Easy Mail software on my right computer I can send or receive messages from other boats or race HQ. The other Sat C specifically sends data from our 'Volvo' data computer to Race HQ for tracing, safety management and use for online spectating on the event web site. Both are interfaced to our GPS system and capable of sending distress signals at the push of a button.

A you'd expect we monitor channel 16 on the VHF. If all goes well, I won't need our SSB and will probably never power it on.

I'm new school; I don't know how SSB's, sextants or slide rules work.

Fleet 500:
This is our broadband satellite communication system. We use it to download weather data and to send HD video, photos and audio clips back to Volvo. Daily, we push about 350 MB through its pipe. It also acts as our alternate sat phone option.

Fleet 33:
This is our primary satellite phone communication tool. It also serves as a data backup in case of a Fleet 500 failure.

We carry hand held VHF, Iridium sat phone and GPS on board for use in emergency. Also every crew member has been issued a personal GPS-enabled EPIRB.

Gosh, I hope that covers it.

Matt out

Editor's note: Puma grabbed the lead today and has been running an indicated 20 miles or so ahead of Ericssons 4 and 3. According to the technology, Matt's hopes of yesterday, to leverage into fourth ahead of Green Dragons, has come up short, but only by 15-16 miles. The gain was big. Team Russia skipper Andreas Hanakamp writes, "No real passing lanes so far, except for Delta Lloyd. They played the Capes of Africa perfectly and gained with every move."

Volvo interviewed Matt about setting up for the doldrums. You can find the link if you CLICK HERE.

Up Another Notch?

Another upbeat day for Team Delta Lloyd. We passed Telefonica Negro in the dawn hours and moved up to fifth.

Next target, the Green Dragon.

Right now, 90 miles of leverage separate these two boats, but their lead over us is only 10 miles. We are in a race to the 1018 isobar line, and I did my best to help with that, during my time at the wheel.

North of the 1018 line we have 15-18 knots of wind; to the south there is 20+. The fleet spent today's daylight hours north of 1018 (a circulation around the high that is centered to our north west), but we are just about to cross into the breeze; Green Dragon is 100 miles above it. That gives us a chance to move up another notch on the leader board. Puma and Ericsson meanwhile are doing well in front of us and continue to set a quick pace for the rest of the fleet.

Expect Delta Lloyd to continue to sail down the coast of the Western Sahara tonight on port tack. In the early morning we'll be banging the beach. Then we'll gybe back to starboard and head west. The big strategic decision that I need to make tonight and tomorrow morning is whether to take one more short hitch south. The alternative is to strike out westward on the trade winds.

I'll let you know when I know. Take a look below.

Matt out.

Editor's note: Delta Lloyd is the former ABN AMRO ONE, winner of the last Volvo Ocean Race. Skipper Ger O'Rourke has this to say today: "I am excited to say that "Betty," the only grandfathered boat in the fleet, is holding the pack, and as well as enjoying the race, I enjoy the challenge of this project—the first generation, low budget campaign—and taking on the big budget campaigns. The next-smallest is four times our budget and the largest is 20 times ours. I hope this brings more first and second generation boats into the race in 2011."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Twenty Somethings

I am so ecstatic about how our day has gone, it's hard to know where to start. I've just come down to the nav station from some incredible sailing.

Wind speed: 20 something
Boat speed: 20 something
Sky: Clear
Temperature: Warm
Moon: Full and bright
Smiles: All around.

When our morning started, we were sitting in 7th place with quite a bit of ground to make up on the boats in front. They were bunched together about 70 miles ahead of us. Because this group was all in sight of each other, and preoccupied with each other, we had a great opportunity to sail our own race.

We started the day on starboard tack in about 12 knots of wind. Since we were anticipating a left shift in the breeze, we took the opportunity to gybe away from the pack and gain some leverage.

We interrupt this dialogue for a small tutorial:

The game of sailing is like climbing a ladder. If you are on the same rung as another guy, you are even. Wind shifts are the equivalent of tilting the ladder, or rotating it. If a wind shift moves you up a rung, you are gaining. If the ladder rotates and rungs pass you by and you drop to a lower rung, you are losing.

Narrow ladder/wide ladder: If you are close to the competition and on the same rung (on a narrow ladder), you have little leverage and wind shifts have little impact. If you are on a wide ladder at opposite ends of a rung, small shifts make for significant gains and losses. Managing leverage is a key to effective strategy.

Back to the game we played today:

Having anticipated a shift of the ladder rungs, we decided to
increase our leverage and gybe. After about an hour, our competition gybed as well. As we hoped, the wind shifted our way, we moved up the ladder rungs, 'rung the register' and gybed back toward the competition. In the process we crossed the Russians and made a big gain on the leaders.

To our surprise the group matched our gybe and positioned themselves just to windward and ahead of us. We were all heading west on starboard tack again.

This was fantastic news for us. We had the opportunity to make another gybe maneuver to 'lever up' yet again. Some wind pressure looked to be building along the African coast later in the day, so once again we broke away.

The rest of the fleet followed suit, thirty minutes later.

We were in a drag race to the coast of Africa, where we hoped to
capitalize on the confluence of stronger gradient/a left shift/a
late afternoon seabreeze.

As we gybed back to starboard we found ourselves in
a building breeze and it was shifting left. Oh, baby. Puma and
Ericsson 4 were the only other boats to carry on port for as long as we did, and once we gybed back to starboard, the fleet was in the position we had hoped for. As we extended on starboard, the breeze built to 18, then 20, then 25.

We had our big gear up: a full main, an A4 (our biggest downwind runner) and a staysail. We have been tearing a hole in the ocean for the past 7 hours. The best part is that the boats to our north are not in as much wind as Puma, Ericsson 4, and us. Furthermore, those boats have to either navigate their way all the way around the Canary Islands (where there is less wind) or go through them. Puma, Ericsson 4 and our boat are all passing between Africa and Lanzarote with the prospect of holding the maximum breeze.

I'm willing to hope for some great news to report from the 'hot seat' tomorrow. Later in the week I'll respond to reader questions that revolve around detailing our on board computing, communication, software and technology set up. Keep sending in your questions to my editors at SAIL Magazine, and I'll try to get to all of them.

Matt Gregory, from the nav station of Delta Lloyd

Editor's note: Volvo Ocean Race rules prevent Matt from having access to the internet, so his dispatches are routed through the VOR Duty Officer, then posted at Sail West. That is, Matt can't get to the internet, so he can't post his own blogs. But, since none of the other navigators in the race can get to the internet, he feels secure in writing whatever he wants. I will cheerfully forward your comments to the boat, and if you prefer you can ask questions at, and I will forward those.

It's a kick to be part of the adventure—Kimball

P.S. Things indeed went well for Delta Lloyd in this interval. While Green Dragon has chosen the Canaries passage for its 12-hour stealth mode, we see some changes in position, per below:

PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) DTF 5436
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) DTL 2nm
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) DTL 37nm
Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) DTL 67nm
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) DTL 89nm
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) DTL 90nm
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) DTL 107nm
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) StealthPlay

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spotlights and Leverage

“Hello, boat with the spotlight following us. This is the Volvo Ocean Race raceboat Delta Lloyd. It’s a great night to be out sailing, isn’t it?”

Thus the first of our escorts in the Atlantic . . .

Leaving the Strait of Gibraltar we put up our largest downwind spinnaker and headed south along the coast of Morocco. Due to the angle of the wind we could sail for only about an hour before we had to gybe and head in a more westerly direction. Just after the gybe, a black stealth boat, with no lights at all, came out of nowhere, set up close alongside, and lit us up with a massive spot light.

The guys on deck were a bit startled, as you might expect. They called me up from the nav station, and right away I knew it was the Moroccan navy.

Morocco maintains an exclusion zone on their northwest coast. During our Navigator’s Briefing before the start, Volvo Race Management warned us about the possibility of ‘harassment.’ The discussion during our briefing included polling the teams to perhaps make this region a restricted mark of the course. The vote was no, and since this region was not restricted I had decided to take a chance. Crossing through a corner of the zone saved about four miles of sailing distance, but yes we were taking a chance. This chance.

So there we were, sailing along at a nice pace in the middle of the night, blinded by spotlights and scared now that we might be stopped for a search. Finally, over a loudspeaker we heard a word in some other language.

The command was repeated.

And repeated.

“They told us to stop,” one of our guys aid. My retort was, “Stop? How do we stop? Besides, we can’t understand what they are asking us to do. Stay on target speed and true wind angle. I’m getting on the radio.”

I ran below, grabbed our handheld and came back on deck. Over Channel 16 I said, in an effort to shower them with kindness, “Hello, boat with the light that is following us. This is the Volvo Ocean Race raceboat Delta Lloyd. It’s a great night to be out sailing, isn’t it?”

Their reply: They turned their spot light to strobe mode.

“Great, we're going to jail," one of our guys joked. "This is not how I expected leg one to turn out.” I’m not even sure who said it. We were blinded by the light, all of us. After some nervous laughter all around, another guy said, “We’re not stopping; keep going.” We sailed on, with the stealth boat just 15 meters away. Add five minutes of stress and the stealth boat suddenly switched off all lights and vanished as quickly as it had come.

Escort Two: We started our day surrounded by about 50 dolphins. If having one dolphin swim along with a boat is considered good luck to sailors, then our luck was spilling over. I went down to the nav station, touched the teak strip along the edge of my nav desk—to add to the string of superstitions—and got to work. As it turned out, we had a very good day! We have been playing the shifts and we've managed to leverage ourselves to leeward of the lead pack. In addition to gaining that strategic leverage (we hope to cash it in over the next 48 hours), we have, in general, been sailing in more wind than the competition.

By gybing on a couple of shifts, and by staying in better wind, we have gained all day long.

Thank you dolphin-friends. I hope we’ll have breakfast together again tomorrow. Until then, touch wood.

And as for readers: At bottom you will find a screen shot from my computer. It shows a high pressure ridge (the blue rings) building to the northwest of us. This will dominate the weather scenario and send us southwest in northerly winds until we reach the easterly trade winds to the south of the screen shot.

Matt Gregory from the nav station of Delta Lloyd

Which Way To Go?

I't's a nostalgic moment. I'm down in the nav station of the Delta Lloyd analyzing the latest weather models and listening to Bob Dylan.

A favorite memory from my college sailing days is driving in the middle of the night back to the University of Michigan from regattas at the Naval Academy and listening to Dylan with my best friends. During my Junior year, in 1997-98, our discussions in the van revolved around the latest news from the Volvo Ocean Race. Dylan was background.

After a busy first-24 hours the reality of this race is sinking in ...

And what a crazy 24 hours it has been. As I wrote in my last post we had a great sail out of Alicante, blasting along at 28 knots. At the click of a finger we put 140 miles between ourselves and the mayhem of the starting-line spectator fleet.

Then in a single instant we sailed into a huge hole of no wind.

We tried to gybe to escape but we were trapped.

Even worse, the rest of the fleet squeaked ahead and sailed off onto the horizon.

This was not the way we wanted to start this leg. However, the Mediterranean is a tricky place to sail. As I write, the guys ahead of us are sitting in a parking lot without wind. We are bringing the wind with us, sailing at 12 knots, and closing the gap. When we clear the Med for the Atlantic the wind will be variable. Very. The navigators on all of the boats are definitely in the hot seat as we try to find our way south to the trade winds.

There certainly has been a lot of head scratching today, trying to decide where to go. But there are already many other story lines from life onboard. Today we performed a surgery onboard—to our media station.

Said media station is provided by the race organizers and is a vital communications link to the Volvo Race HQ. Not only does it send photos and video to race fans, but it is also the portal that allows me to access weather data. In the midst of the frustration of being stuck without wind and having the pressure of nine guys asking me, "where is the wind going to fill," our media desk stopped functioning.

Right away I called on our satellite phone for technical help from Race HQ. Twenty minutes later, our surgery began. Parts and pieces were everywhere.

Sander, our media man, and I put on our head lamps and started to dig into the brains of the media station. Our search ended with a blown fuse. We replaced the 5 Amp fuse with a 10 Amp fuse and once again we were online.

It's time to log off, the guys are asking 'which way to go'

My next report will come from the Atlantic Ocean . . .

Editor's note, this line arrived later:

We have some catching up to do . . . finally made it out of the med . . . that was brutal!

Matt Gregory, from the nav station of Delta Lloyd

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Highs To Lows

Into the Med, headed for Gibraltar, headed for the Atlantic, headed for Cape Town. A 6,500 mile race and that's only leg one.

And what a send off.

We shook hands with the King of Spain and the Royal Family and left for the start line with Rage Against the Machine’s Bomb Track raging over our heads.

Carlos Sastre, Tour de France winner this year, joined us on board for the parade to the start. Interesting to hear his opinions on Lance Armstrong’s return to pro cycling, but this is no time to lose focus on the Volvo Ocean Race . . .

Because we are in it now for sure. Next goal: Clear the Med for the Atlantic. We are looking at 25-30 knots of wind, so we’re putting quick miles between ourselves and Alicante as we make for Gibraltar.

Delta Lloyd leaving Alicante: Photo by Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race

The weather is the story for the next 36 hours. It has been windy, really windy. The night before the start, UB40 was supposed to play on stage, but the concert was canceled because the race organizers thought the stage would blow over during the show. Looking ahead, the big obstacle is a break-off low pressure system (the main low is out in the ocean to the west of Gibraltar) that may materialize and situate itself just to the east of the straights. This could turn very tricky late tonight. Or, it could fade and leave us a simple ‘point and shoot’ straight out of the Med.

Better not count on that.

The escort frigate turned back two hours after the start. No more photographers. No more escorts, at least until the Strait of Gibraltar. Delta Lloyd is pointing south with the speedo pegged at 28 knots.

This boat has legs!

Matt Gregory, from the nav station of Delta Lloyd

Editor's note: At SAIL, we may be adding images and notes as they become available from race organizers. It's early in the race and early in our process of helping Matt put this blog before his readers. We're making it up as we go, and it's a kick to share the adventure—Kimball

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Counting the Hours

I can’t sleep, can't.

Haven’t had a proper night's sleep for at least a week.

I get up in the middle of the night and work on my computer, then crawl back into bed. The first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race starts on Saturday. It's 6,500 miles to Cape Town and I'm down to counting days instead of weeks and hours instead of days but as of Thursday I've finally made it to a normal prep mode. Jonathan McKee on Puma is doing the same things I'm doing today. This is good.

On my mind, on my mind. There are the obvious weather forecasting and navigation riddles, but this event is different from any other race I’ve ever done. I know that the reason I'm restless is more complicated than trying to figure out what this low pressure system or that high pressure system is going to do to the Med for the first 48 hours of sailing. This is the Volvo Ocean Race, after all. ‘Life at the Extreme’ is the promise. At times I'm overwhelmed, and it's all about emotion. I’m going to sail around the world.

Delta Lloyd tested after relaunching on Wednesday, Photo by Rick Tomlinson

It’s meaningful that we start from Spain, considering the many explorers that embarked from Spain ‘back in the day.’ This leads directly to another emotion: Fear, utter fear, and I'm not afraid to tell you. As a navigator I know the world is not flat. I know we will not sail off a waterfall at the edge of the world. I know that we will not be attacked by scary green sea monsters rising from the abyss. However, I am scared of the beast, the boat itself. In our training we saw the power and unforgiving nature of the Volvo Open 70. These boats hit speeds of 30 to 40 knots. They break people.

Hopefully, tonight will be the night that I get a full night sleep, although in truth I'm too up to care if I do or don’t. Our Irish skipper, Ger O'Rourke, says, “We’ve got a bit on, but hopefully we can give the crew an early night tonight and a day off on Friday.”

We'll see.

This writing will soon morph into a blog at I invite you to follow Team Delta Lloyd around the world. I'll try to share what life is like onboard, and I'll share the decision-making processes directly from the nav station. Because the Volvo Ocean Race has a system to prevent teams from gaining outside assistance, I can tell you anything without fear that it will be used against us.

Feel free to send blog requests and questions to SAIL magazine will sift through for the best questions and forward them to me onboard. This race will be a first. For the first time ever, race fans can interview sailors in near-real time.

Here's the team.

Photo by David Branigan/Oceansport