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.



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.


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.


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


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


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

Stay tuned.


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.

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.


(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