Friday, March 31, 2006

Sea Fever

The days are warmer, the evenings lighter, and daffodils are in bloom - yes, spring really is coming. And with it thoughts turn to the waters again. Not just the re-start of the Volvo Ocean race (more on that tomorrow), but that inner voice that reminds one of the wind on the cheek, the taste of salt spray, the endless open horizon, the feel of the wheel under hand, and the motion of deck under boot.

In other words Captain JP is suffering from what doctors and John Masefield would no doubt call a clear case of Sea Fever.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Storm Warning

Sailing must be one of the most environmentally friendly ways to go from A to B. Not just low emission but zero emission, using the power of the winds and tides alone.

Its also connects you with nature, with the call of the sea gulls, the smell of the brine, with moments of magic with dolphins, whales, and even turtles.

But even sailing is not going to be exempt from the effects of global warming. All that CO2 being produced by industry, for power and heating, and for transport is changing our planet and the oceans we sail on.

And what changes can we expect? Typically - but not always - warmer weather, which in the doldrums that could make the unpleasant unbearable.

Then there's the sea level rise. From a few centimeters to maybe as much as 10m. Think of that next time you're in the marina and work out what would be left when your head is convered by Greenland's melted ice. A whole new coastline, maybe miles back from the current one.

And new currents. There is a real possibility of the end of the Gulf stream that warms the UK and speeds boats towards world speed records on the transat. That could lead to Britain becoming as cold as Canada in winter while still warmer in summer.

Then there's the effect on wild-life. Most of the coral reefs we love will die - killed by rise in water temperature, a rise too quick to allow the reef to be re-established in cooler waters.

Plus storms, more storms, stronger storms, as the energy pumped into the system is released.

Its time to get real. Business as usual isn't going to happen. Either we must change how we use energy or we can expect the world - and the seas we sail - to change on us.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ellen's Latest

Is anyone that interested in Ellen's latest venture? Sorry Ellen - you're still our top sailor and all, but its hard to get excited by your tour of the far East. Are the records really that significant, sailing wise? It seems more a case of raising B&Q and your profiles in the far East.

But it must be exciting to be sailing in new waters and its good to get more markets interested in yacht racing - particular where there could be many well healed sponsors.

Anyhow for those that are following it, the news is Ellen is riding out a storm (in the picture above) by sheltering behind Yaky Shima island, off Japan.

Picture from

Happy Sailing (hic!)

Its clear what makes Mike "Moose" Sanderson happy - a certain Emma and those 52.5 points he's clocked up so far on the Volvo Ocean Race.

Its also clear what makes the ABN team happy - happy hours. Check out their program of events here.

In summary they have had the following events:
- 22 March - Barbecue
- 22 March - Happy Hour
- 19 March - Happy Hour
- 18 March - Happy Hour
- 16 March - Social Dinner
- 16 March - Happy Hour

See the theme here? Well they are in Rio, where the air is warm, the nights welcoming, the beach a slice of heaven and the women......

Picture from

Sunday, March 26, 2006

One's Rio Party

Rio is a party town, but there must have been just one party to be at last night - ABN's celebration of another victory for Moose and the boys on Black Betty.

And they deserve it. Yes the boat is clearly fast, but they also sailed a clean race without any of the screw-ups that slowed down the others. If you need any evidence of that, just look at where ABN-2 came in.

And it was good to see the two most troubled boats having good races. Movistar with the open doubts about their boat after their near sinking and Ericsson with their much published crew problems got the two other podium positions.

Not such good news for home team Brazil or accident prone Pirates. But then isn't there a tradition of pirates over-indulging themselves in wild on-shore debauches before staggering out to sea? It reminds me of this quote from the journals of that famous "buccaneer" William Dampier from his pirate days:

"There were about forty Frenchmen aboard one of the ships where was a good store of liquor, till the after-part of her broke away and floated over the reef. She was carried out to sea with all the men drinking and singing. Being in drink they did not mind the danger, but were never heard of afterwards."

ABN-1 now has a commanding lead at half way point of the Volvo Ocean race. I am resigning myself to not hearing from Emma about our promised day sail until at least the end of June when the distractions of her fiance's string of victories will end.

In the mean time I will cheer myself up on a grey London afternoon with some memories of the parties I enjoyed in Rio nearly a decade ago.

Picture from

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Turning Tide

Ellen's off again! Not on her own this time, but sailing a fully crewed B&Q, off to break records on the Asian Record Circuit.

It's a shame, for we don't have a chance to wave her off from some British port and watch her head off into the Atlantic.

There seems to be more action in the waters of the Far East at the moment - with the Clipper fleet also re-starting from the Philippines.

But like so much of sailing today, race organisers must take into account the needs of sponsors, who are more and more likely to come from Asia. Sailing in Britain has rarely broken the mainstream - with Ellen being nearly the sole exception.

In the past it was the Whitebread, before the cost rose and the brewing company asked what's in it for them when it's customers were mostly football fans, not sailing fans. So now its the Volvo, and there's only a stop-over in Portsmouth, not the start and the finish.

There are also greater global forces at work. Recently Britain was surpassed by China who's GDP grew to become the world's fourth largest. With a booming economy comes demand for luxuries like yachts and a need to gain the publicity that sailing can bring.

And not just in China. LG of South Korea must have pleased by its sponsorship of the last but one Global Challenge, when its boat dominated the race and caught the attention of at least this techy buyer.

There are a billion Chinese and only 60 million Brits. The universities of both of India and China educate more engineers each year than all of those in Europe in total. We better get used to it.

After all China was once a great sailing nation - remember the fleets of Admiral Zheng He.

Picture from

Farewell, old sailor

A personal note to this post as yesterday I was at the memorial to an old sailing friend, the father of some of Captain JP's cousins.

He loved cruising on his Westerly 28, moored off his retirement home in Dartmouth. He was famous for taking friends and relatives across the Channel and over to the Scilly Isles.

There were many stories from those that sailed with him of their voyages - and from the non-sailors of their escapes.

His three children all inherited his love of the sea. One for a time crewed super-yachts, while another sailed in last year's Fastnet (and came in 2 places above my boat, darn him).

We never sailed - it was always a case of sometime or next time. Now we never will.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Something missing

It was one of the traditions of the Volvo Ocean race - but not this one. The iceberg - a floating white mountain brooding on the horizon. Crew woken to take a look, to know they really are deep in the southern ocean (as if the chill of the water wasn't enough).

And the stories that go with the photos. Blasting downwind with an iceberg to the left, an iceberg to the right and beads of sweat on the helmman's forehead. Spotters on the foredeck and the sounds of growlers bouncing off the hull.

And not just the Volvo - the other races that venture into the south including the Vendee Globe have faced the same threat. Dee Caffari was recently becalmed in a field of six giant 'bergs.

This Volvo has told a different story. The northerly marks have led to frustrations of wind holes not the fear of ice. A bit of me thinks it's a shame - that we have lost something in the rush to be safe. The majesty of the iceberg has been banished from the management plan of a race for professionals.

But would even the thrill seeking armchair sailors, safe with their laptops and capuccinos, really want to see carbon fibre shells of a boat flying through rock-hard ice at 30 knots?

I remember my brother asking me to contact the organisers of the Around Alone 1994 - 95 to ask about the dad of one of his college friends. His name was Harry Mitchell and there was no news, ever. He was last heard of 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn.

There are enough thrills already - from keels dramas, near sinkings, and speeds of up to 40 knots, without bringing icebergs back. Better something missing than someone.

Graphic from Volvo Ocean Race 2002

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Skippers and Crews

So Ericsson has announced its crew for the next offshore leg and their thinking is getting clearer. There's a new crewman Ross Halcrow - who sailed on illbruck with John Kostecki who says he's "one of the best trimmers I know". And he also knows about sails.

And that could be where Ericsson has been weak. Looking back at Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean race it was clear that at times - such as at the start - they were matching the likes of Pirates for boat speed. It was just later on that they fell back.

That suggests not a hull problem but a sail and trimming problem.

But there is something else. To keep trimming over thousands of miles requires motivation, something that is probably lacking on boats where winch handles are raised in anger. If I was Steve Hayles I'd have not just second but third thoughts about this leg.

For the one thing you can't do mid leg is get off. Mid ARC we were a thousand miles and a week's sail from anywhere, and stuck with our ship mates. The biggest factor in crew moral is the skipper that sets the informal rules of what is acceptable and what isn't.

We were lucky. For example one night when the spinnaker guy broke we were woken by the skipper's cry of "all hands on deck, please". The use of that last word is one reason I'd be happy to sail again with her and her sail company Blue Spirit Yachting.

Conversely a bully can demoralise the crew, splintering it into groups.

Kostecki better make it clear to Guillermo Altadill that winch handles are only acceptable for one purpose. Because Leg 5 is another long one, and you've got to concentrate on trimming not for days, but weeks.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Not a happy ship

How can it go so wrong? The tension on board Ericsson clearly is much worse than appreciated. According to today's Sunday Telegraph conflict between the navigator, Steve Hayles, and one of the watch leaders, Guillermo Altadill expoded into a "physical confrontation involving a winch handle".

Thats no way to run a ship, certainly not a happy one. And it'll result in more changes to the Ericsson team, with Hayles leaving at the end of the next leg in Baltimore.

That's beyond a mere disagreement - that's the sort of aggression that a good skipper should stop instantly, diffusing and working on resolving. Maybe thats what was meant by other crew saying that Neal had too little ego. Maybe they needs a firmer hand to steer the boat to a common goal.

It's not hard to guess what caused the tension - something about being last, again. On the TV show on Friday night Steve Hayles seemed reasonably confident in the decisions he'd made. Was he right?

Looking back at Ericsson's route over the last Leg of the Volvo Ocean race its not obvious they made any significant tactical mistakes. Yes on day 3 they were a bit further north than the the fastest pack. But they were a lot better positioned than ABN2 which ended up overtaking them and taking the last podium slot. And they didn't get their tactics so misjudged that they had to drastically head south, dropping from first to last in the process as did ABN1.

Indeed often the losses for Ericsson happened during drag-races - such as when the fleet was heading to Cape Horn or past the Falklands. That's a boat speed or a trimming issue. But they started ok, just got increasing less competitive.

So maybe its the watch leader that should be leaving.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Two skippers down

There is much for the crews of the Volvo Ocean race to talk of over those welcomed beers in the bars of Rio. Not just stories from Leg 4, of the routine of life on board, of gybes and out of control surfing, of calms and storms, of boredom and fear, of routing disasters and triumphs, and of the girls of Ipanema as they walk by.

With the longest leg over there is also time for re-assessing campaigns, with unsurprisingly Ericsson leading the soul searching. And it is the skipper Neal McDonald who takes the fall, demoted to watch leader with John Kostecki taking over as skipper. It's ironic - not just given the competition between the two on the last Volvo, but also because the reverse happened that time too, with Neal being promoted into the skippers seat.

It was interesting hearing the comments from the crew on the Volvo site - full of support for Neal. One possible insight on what was wrong was when one said about Neal "He is incredibly humble and doesn’t have an ego. Maybe that is part of the problem". Sounds like friction within the crew - the sort that needs a leader to bang some heads about.

There is also the on-going doubt about the performance of the boat. Built from the same design team as Pirates - runner up of the last leg - it seems measurably slower.

But even with one design fleets there can be subtle differences. Take the Global Challenge with its in theory twelve identical 72 footers. But its always Save the Children trailing somewhere at the back, and boats like BP are pushing towards the front. Some boats just are that bit slower.

And the other adventure sailing global race has lost a skipper. In this case its David Pryce of the current leader Western Australia who won't be joining for the re-start.

In either case it hopefully will mean one thing: for both races the competition on the next leg will be invigorating. No doubt the legs on the girls of Ipanema have a similar affect on the crew as they sip their beer in those bars of Rio.

Picture from Volvo Ocean Race

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Open to debate

When there are problems within teams on competitions like the Volvo Ocean Race they are usually resolved behind closed doors. But for movistar the frustrations and fears became too much and the skipper and crew invited cameras into a fascinatingly frank discussion, shown on the tv broadcast late friday night.

Having had to fix the boat five times so far and nearly sinking in the deep southern ocean near Cape Horn, there were open doubts about whether the boat is safe. One crewman asked what could be said to their kids if the boat sinks and they don't come back. Another said he had "zero faith in the boat and the people fixing it right now". And the skipper Bouwe Bekking said Farr "just deliver the plans, they're not liable for anything".

Farr have responded - a press release on their web site admit the design failures on Pirates and Movistar, putting them down to the learning experience. As they ruefully put it "It is humiliating that this system has been the cause of such upsetting consequences to two
great competitors in this race"

Is it the VO70 spec or the Farr design that has failed? The success of the ABN boats suggests the latter. But its been painful for movistar's skipper and crew. And unlike the crews on the other boats, they are still at sea, days away from Rio.

Graphic from Farr Yacht Design

Friday, March 10, 2006

Watching from Sugar Loaf Mountain

It's the final hours of leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race - at least for the leading boat ABN1 as thoughts will be turning to the rituals of arrival. The sound of the horn as you cross the line, the feelings of elation and pride in completing the journey, the welcoming sight of your mooring space, the first beer, the first shower......

And those thoughts seem to have stimulated Brazil, pulling them as if on a thread towards their home country, overtaking ABN2 and with Pirates firmly in their sights.

But its not all fun, with Mike "Moose" Sanderson morning the loss of his beloved dog, ABN2, as noted, has lost another place, and poor old Neil still struggles at the back of the fleet on Ericsson.

Remember it will all be worth it very very soon - for I've never been to Rio without having a great time.

And I imagine I was again on Sugar Loaf this evening, watching the glorious sunset over the beaches and favelas of Rio. What would I see in the distance? Would it be the navigation lights of ABN1 on the horizon, getting ever closer, announcing the arrival of Black Betty to claim another victory?

Graphic from Virtual Spectator

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Inching forward

The's nothing more frustrating to a sailor than lack of wind. The worst thing about last year's Fastnet was the time drifting around Lands End before gently bobbing out into the Celtic Sea. So it could be worse for the boats of the Volvo Ocean Race, and by the look of the forecasts it might well get worse. At least we had the dolphins to look at.

The next 24 and 48 hours looks like above - dark blue (thats the lowest wind colour) and arrows all over the place. At least at the moment they're moving - around 10 knots is half what they want to be doing, but hey, it will still get them there in just over 2 days.

Keep thinking of Ipanema Beach boys!

Graphic from

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Coasting along

As the fleet approaches the end of leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, the forecasts for the weather at the finish are coming into focus. With ABN1 only 800 miles from the end, there should only be 2 or 3 days worth of GRIBs for the navigators to worry about.

The mini low to the east (as pictured in the last post) has caused place changes, with ABN2 being punished for being too close, letting Pirates slip through. Now all the fleet is hugging the coast in the final push for Rio.

(as an aside - why hasn't Sao Paulo got a mention on the Virtual Spectator map?)

Coming up are light winds, mostly in the right direction (southerlies) but gradually changing full 180 degrees to northerlies as can be seen in the forecast below for 48 hours out.However the change is least pronounced the further north you go where there are easterlies. So if ABN1 gets lucky it might be approach Rio at that time and have nice reaching weather for the finish.

If only they can get there in time.....

Graphics from Virtual Spectator and

Monday, March 06, 2006

Under a thousand...

...nautical miles to go - at least for Moose and co, as they break that milestone on leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean race. Behind them is yet again the Pirates, overtaking ABN 2, then Brazil, while at the back is still Ericsson. Ok, not right at the back as Movistar staggers forth to re-join the race, and not as far back as if they'd joy-rided through the Falklands sounds, but still a bit depressing for Neil and co.

The weather forecast you can see above is for mild winds for the next few days, with the gentlest of lows hanging off the Brazilian coast, so it will be pleasant sailing over the next few days, maybe even till they finish this long leg.

And on a cold, wet evening in London it would be very tempting to jump on a plane to be able to welcome them to the wonderful Rio.

Graphic from

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Go East, Young(ish) Men!

In the end it was a unanimous decision – all the boats of the Volvo Ocean race went to the east of the Falkland Islands. It maybe longer but the winds are better and memories of those that went west on previous races are not happy ones.

At Cape Horn it looked for a minute like more boats than just Brazil would take the Le Maire Straits route – ABN AMRO ONE until the last moment was heading that way, but was this a change of mind or a decoy? Who can tell?

There was of course another choice at the Falkland Islands – go between them! I’d have been tempted if I was on Ericsson to say “Sod-it – we’re last and likely to remain there. Let’s have some fun”. Imagine blasting up the Falklands Sound at 20 knots – that would not just give some great PR photos but also cheer up the weary crew too!

On the other hand its been a long leg and Rio is a city worth rushing to.

Image from Virtual Spectator

Thursday, March 02, 2006

When good news is bad news

Well there's finally good news for Ericsson - they're not last any more. Buts it's a sad way for it to happen as yet another Farr boat has keel problem. This time its Movistar which nearly sank in the freezing southern ocean, water breaking through under the relentless pressure of driving at over 20 knots.

For a time it seemed that Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean race would be the one where you could count them all out and count them back in, and for once the VO70 hulls, keels, their hydraulics, and the rigging would all keep in one piece. Then this. But look on the bright side - they say worse things happen at sea... er. .. I mean....

And (I can almost cut & paste this) its congratulations to Mike "Moose" Sanderson and the boys on Black Betty for being first again, this time to Cape Horn. I'm sure it's a lot more satisfying than just 3.5 points, for the Cape is the most significant landmark of all for round the world yacht racers.

And now there's the routing decisions of which side of the Falklands to go. The forecast for 24 hours out from stormsurf below suggests more wind the the east, which BB would probably like. But after that there's a ridge of light winds, and how to cross that?

Graphics from Virtual Spectator and Storm Surf

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Close Quarters

There's some close sailing going on deep in the south Pacific as the boats of the Volvo Ocean race sprint towards Cape Horn. Movistar and Pirates are locked together fighting for the chance to challenge Black Betty, and both gaining - if ever so slightly - on ABN AMRO ONE. At the back ABN AMRO TWO has overtaken Ericsson, who are fighting back hard.

Its been a long slog across the empty cold wastes of the planets biggest ocean, but there's no chance to relax as the pressure is on all the boats for the points within reach at the scoring gate just 400 miles ahead.

With no tactical decisions for navigators till the turn north it's a case of trim, trim, trim and gentle on the helm. And either elation or despair when the scheds come it.

Picture from Virtual Spectator