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.


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.




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.


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"