Sunday, April 30, 2006

Movistar's the star

It was a good days sailing for Movistar as they win the Volvo in-port race in the Chesapeake Bay. The winds were below 10 knots which meant the day was as bad for Juan Kouyoumdjian as it was good for the Farr boats, with ABN1 coming in a disappointing 6th out of 7 (more here).

Its good to see a bit more competition at the top of the leader board. Movistar was on the water early and should have had time to fix the bugs. But it didn't, with a host of problems around their keel. Like Pirates, the team has taken time to get into the grove, but now seems to be firing on all cylinders. So more boats need to get used to being overtaken by the Spanish boat, as happened to Captain JP on last year's Fastnet (above - and again on the delivery back to the Solent).

There are changes on the leader board - not just with Pirates getting past ABN2, but the renamed Brunel with a meagre 0.5 points. But still no sign of a break through from Ericsson.

Sailing childhood

On the TV show about the Volvo Ocean race broadcast in the UK at unholy hours on saturday morning, there was a nice piece on Mike "Moose" Sanderson.

As well as discussing his relationship with fiance Emma Richards he talked about how he got into sailing and yacht racing in particular. In his case he was inspired by the book by Grant Dalton's book "Watch me next time". I had a look for it on both Ebay and Amazon and couldn't find any mention, but Mike described it as his description of racing on Fisher & Paykel in the 89-90 Whitebread, so maybe he meant "Come hell or high water".

For me it was reading the Arthur Ransome children's series "Swallows and Amazons" (see here). Initially for the stories of dinghy sailing on lakes, but later was drawn more to the larger canvas of the bigger boats. The best is probably "We didn't mean to go to sea" in which the children are left onboard a yacht, and then as fog descends they are washed out of Harwich harbour into the North Sea with the wind rising to a near storm. In the end they are forced to sail the boat themselves, ending up in Flushing in Holland.

What got you into sailing?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Euphuisms from Ericsson

Ok, simpler competition (no prizes but glory). What's the object to the left?

Yup, that's right, a winch handle, in lurid maroon to go with your Musto jacket (see below).

However on the Ericsson web site has announced that "navigator Steve Hayles has resigned due to personal reasons".

Nothing to do with a confrontation that got physical with a winch handle then. Right.....

And Neal McDonald is back as the skipper with new navigator plus Ken Read and Ian "Barney" Walker. I'm not sure this stage in the day another round of crew changes can help that dramatically but lets give them a chance to show their stuff in the in-port race.

Another competition

There's a chance to win a lurid maroon Musto Jacket with the Volvo Ocean Race logo and signed by all the skippers on the Volvo site here. All you have to do is read their web site and answer a couple of questions.

The question thats bugging me is how long it would take those signatures to be worn away by sweat, salty water, and the wash cycle!

Image from

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hot and Cold

Extremes of temperature are no fun for sailors. Unfortunately thats just what two circumnavigations have to put up with.

The Clipper fleet is crossing the north Pacific and experiencing "Heavy blizzard conditions, zero visibility, snow on deck, air temperature below freezing without wind chill factor, 40 knots apparent wind speed, deep reefs & storm sails, and 99% humidity below decks" as it explains here.

Meanwhile Dee Caffari on Aviva is getting close to the Equator on the long treck North to the finish. Conditions on board are stifling hot as she heads towards the doldums, and she is suffering from Panda eyes (above), described in this story.

Meanwhile chez Captain JP the trees are brilliant green and the central heating can be switched off. Spring has finally come!

Image from Yachting World / Aviva

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Secret of Success

After the end of leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race there is a massive 34 points difference between leaders ABN1 and trailing Ericsson. The two stories of "what's wrong with Ericsson" and "what makes the black boat go so fast" have led to speculations about hulls and keels, such as this.

Recently the focus has switched from whats going on under the boat to what's above it, with a series of comments and posts about rigging and sails. On the Volvo TV show last week Tom Braidwood of Ericsson pointed out that with their hull so similar to Pirates - if not better - it must be some other issue, such as the rigging or sails.

And Ericsson's switch from Doyle to North Sails was also raised by Kostecki in an interview reported here. And there are some other interesting comments about choice of sails for the last leg to be found here and here.

Leg 5 was a tighter race, with movistar finally giving ABN1 a run for their money. And the fight between them, ABN2 and Pirates for 2nd is going to be intense all the way to the final finish line. Hopefully all the keels will work so the teams can focus on what will give them the edge, right above their heads.

Images from

Friday, April 21, 2006

Solent Sailing

I'd say there was more eye candy on the boats I was with last weekend - sailing from Portsmouth to Poole and back via Yarmouth - but no doubt that would get me into terrible trouble.

A fun easter sail even if the sun kept itself hidden away. And that broach wasn't strictly on the plan (it was really only a mini-broach). But there were nice force 3-5s from behind both ways with a good run with the spinnaker up along the Needles channel, and great company.

Slight feeling of regret at not joining those racing the Red Funnel weekend (sorry I wasn't there to help, Anna) - especially on finding out my old boat came, alas, last in its class. Clearly in need of its old watch leader / navigator!

Picture from Captain JP

Volvo TV Eye Candy

Bit of a shock watching the hour long TV show on the Volvo Ocean race. It was flashback time as they told story starting at the Melbourne to Wellington leg and ending at Rio.

However it was worth it for the cherry-picked glorious clips of the nail biter finish at Wellington and the fleet storming off into the southern ocean from Wellington.

If its coming up on your TV schedules don't expect many surprises, just relax and enjoy.

Picture from

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sailing IT

Technology is wonderful. The yacht I sailed on over the weekend had this on-deck chart plotter nicely placed between the two wheels so you could sit by the helm engrosed in the numbers.

Bit of an eye opener really - big step up from the GPS and Nautical Almanac of previous boats. Very useful in spotting buoys, watching VMG, showing tide flows....

I want one.

Of course you must still be able to do the calculations by hand if the systems fails. The display already had a hazy bit where condensation had crept inside the screen. And electrical systems are known to fail. On the ARC we had a power surge and the instruments reset and refused to do anything without us entering a security code. We had no security code to give it so had to rely on the wind vane and handheld GPS.

Buts it's not just electronics that can have the odd bug. Yatching World's diary has got its tide times wrong - they forgot to correct for daylight saving time. Oops.

Luckily there is the EasyTide to predict tides over the coming weekend for the main ports in the UK - and it has a special button to click to get the times in GMT or summer time. But there's still the possibility (or indeed probability) that someone will forget to click on it and not check the times.

And the moral of the story is..... er.... em........ hang on....

Image from

Yes! That's it! Plan ahead and double check!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Volvo Leg 5

All the boats of the Volvo Ocean race have now crept their way up the Chesapeake and are moored in Baltimore no doubt enjoying Maryland crab cakes washed down with many a cold beer.

The winner was yet again Mike Sanderson and the crew of Black Betty who crossed first to extend further their lead.

Behind them there have been changes in places on the table as movistar finally gets a leg free from major breakages to show the promised potential, and Pirates continues her fight back to get within half a point of ABN2. While at the back the fight between Brazil and Ericsson finally went to the Latins.

So where does this leave the race? Well its congratulations again to ABN1 and well deserved. For while the boat does have an extra gear over the others, we mustn't play down the sailing skill and hard work of all, from skipper, to navigator to each of the crew. The winning margin was only 16 miles over movistar, and it would have taken only small slips in sailing or routing to have lost that.

Its interesting to note the burst of speed that gave ABN1 the edge was when both were reaching in trade winds, which seems to be the black boats sweet spot. For other conditions the boats are much more evenly matched: if only we had access to the full telemetry history to be able to give a more detailed analysis!

And it's commiserations to others. Like Ericsson, who yet again are trailing the pack and seemingly not knowing why. Whether it's the boat or management of the crew - either way morale must still be pretty low.

But for all its time for all to relax and enjoy themselves. And those crab cakes.

Image from

Friday, April 14, 2006

Off Sailing

There's about a thousand miles to go for front runner ABN1 until the end of leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race. The reaching in steady trade winds which Black Betty so likes has gone, replaced by fluky winds that give the chasing boats a chance. But still Mike Sanderson is hanging on to about a 30 - 40 mile lead over Movistar.

Behind a big gap has opened up, with another 90 miles to Pirates, which has finally broken free of Brazil which is now battling it out with Ericsson. And then at the back is ABN2, nearly 300 miles behind her sister ship.

There might be only a few days to go but the weather is so variable that it is hard to predict routes and strategy, other than using the short term tactic of maximising VMG. The figure above (from here) shows the forecast 30 hours out and along the line to Baltimore there is wind from pretty much every direction. Looks like another nail biting finish.

But I shall miss it as off to the Solent to ease into the season with a gentle cruise between Portsmouth and Poole. Easterlies to get us there, westerlies to bring us back, and a big fat book to read on the way.

See you all Monday.

Graphic from stormsurf

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Familiar Waters

The boats of the Volvo Ocean race have raced past the islands of the Caribbean in little more than a day. It's waters I feel I know - though having only sailed them once, arriving into St Lucia at the end of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). So not much chance of trying to pretend to have recreated the old(ish) man and the sea.

But that one trip means I can remember sailing ever west, ever closer to land. I remember the swell, the trade winds, the warmth, the flying fish, and the squalls that soak you in seconds.

And the wind that fails and shifts, as has happened recently to the Volvo fleet, with the wind directions varying all over the place:
- ABN1 - 190 degrees
- Movistar - 077 degrees
- Pirates - 173 degrees
- Brasil - 023 degrees
- Ericsson - 205 degrees
- ABN2 - 165 degrees

That must be pretty stressful sailing! Time for a relaxing memory from 2003.......

Images from Virtual Spectator and Captain JP

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Uncle JP

Personal note today as Captain JP celebrates the birth of another nephew, to add to the existing four neices and two nephews: many congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law!

A present has been bought and is waiting to be wrapped - not for the day old junior, but for his siblings, so they don't feel left out. And the present? A toy pirate ship, so they will grow up big and strong and eager to crew for their uncle.

This approach seems to be working - another nephew already spends his summers in dinghy sailing camps. All I need now is a couple more and we'll be ready to take on the Fastnet!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Scary Numbers

ABN1 has remorselessly powered past the rest of the Volvo Ocean race fleet and now has a 38 mile lead, revelling in the steady trade winds and the reaching conditions its design excels in. The figure above compares the performance of Black Betty (as she's affectionately called) with her nearest rival movistar, measured in terms of the difference between the two of their distance to finish (DTF).

While there are pauses in the black boat's charge - and even the odd temporary reversal - the average over the last few days is around 0.6 - 0.7 knots faster and sometimes it's a full knot quicker every hour for a whole day.

Thats the sort of numbers that keeps the opposition awake at night - or at least used to until they became resigned to following in Mike Sanderson's wake and have now focussed on the other two podium positions.

Chinese takeaways

There were two race re-starts from the Chinese port of Qingdao as both the Clipper fleet and B&Q head out into the Yellow sea.

Ellen has another short hop - this time to Shanghi. But the crews of the Clipper boats are in for the long leg across the north Pacific all the way to Victoria in Canada as in the figure below.

Happy sailing guys!

Picture and graphic from Clipper Ventures

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ericsson Stops

Until yesterday Ericsson was bearing down on Pirates creating a fight between the similar Farr boats for third place in leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

But today the gap has stretched to 20 miles and Brasil as slipped through to overtake Ericsson. What went wrong?

Something funny seemed to happen Saturday evening. Ericsson's track on Virtual Spectator stopped not once but twice. What could have caused that?

I remember being asked before the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers or ARC
"but where will you moor up for the night?" Alas, I explained, there are no nice marinas let alone bars and showers mid-Atlantic.

So given the rest option is out, what could it be? Maybe there's been a sail accident like a wrap or split, or maybe a halyard broke.

Looks like Ericsson's luck hasn't turned yet.

Graphics from wikipedia and Virtual Spectator

Saturday, April 08, 2006

VO80 looses half a point

Movistar hung on to their lead just long enough to deny ABN1 the prize of being first to round the Fernando de Noranha scoring gate. I think Mike Sandersons great pile of points can cope with being half a point smaller than it might have been if only - for example - his jib hadn't come tumbling down just after the Rio start.

Over the last two days there has been a near drag race for the gate where boat speeds can be compared, and its no surprise to see that the greatest ground was covered by ABN1.

Interestingly the next best averages were from Ericsson, who are gradually catching up with Pirates, so maybe their luck has changed - unlike the boat's skipper's name in Virtual Spectator which seems a bit behind the times (see graphic above).

But what is the source of Black Betty's power, what Bouwe Bekking has called the first VO80? Over the last 3 days it has averaged about 0.7 knots faster than the rest of the fleet. That's a significant difference and is the subject of much speculation.

On Sailing Anarchy there's been an interesting theory on the forums about how the keel's weight is not symmetric around the attachment and there is sufficient flex in the keel blade to permit it to twist and cause a downwards lift that increases the righting moment. Its a good idea, but apart from being illegal, there would also be problems with drag and the flex could permit oscillations.

Other clues have come from the emails. For example there was an intriguing comment from Mike here when sailing parallel to Pirates in the southern ocean "they changed to their sail as close to ours as they had and for sure they were closer in speed. We might have given away a little bit of a secret to our mates, the Pirates, but I am sure they will keep it too themselves."

That would suggest sail differences. Paul Cayard also made some comments here where he says of ABN1: "
They had the time to build their second boat with the knowledge from the first, optimising the strength and the weight and making the bulb as heavy as possible. This, coupled with greater overall beam, makes for a much more powerful boat with the possibility of a wider sheeting angle, something very useful at the moment with a lot of reaching on the menu."

So there are other options than twisting keels to explain ABN1s speed. But it must be frustrating when one boat is clearly significantly faster making the Volvo Ocean race winner so little in doubt.

While the key battles to watch are for second and third, never forget the goldern rule "to finish first you first must finish". It ain't over yet.

Graphics from Virtual Spectator

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Light trade

The tracks of the boats of the Volvo Ocean race on Virtual Spectator have lost their aimless drunken sailor stagger, and the odd wind arrow can be seen - yes, the first signs of trade winds are here. The figure above shows the current forecast - the aimless hodge-podge of arrows is still there north east of Rio, but the fleet has reached the steady parallel lines of the trade winds.

Just not that much - 6 - 10 knots. Enough to keep the light air boats like movistar happy - not so good for the ABN twins. But the wind is growing with every mile north the fleet goes. And Mike Sanderson has enough points that finishing from now on mid pack is all he needs to win.

Graphic from

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sailing blogs

I followed Tillerman's comments back to his blog and felt a bit like Keats:

With eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, - and all his men
Looked at each other with wild surmise-
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Not just Tillerman's enjoyable blog, especially interesting for Laser sailors, but finding all those many links to other blogs.

More latter - when I've had a chance to read some and updating my list of links.

Slow Volvo

Slow going at the start of leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean race. The triple zeros reported by ABN-1 might be a telemetry fault, but the those figures are plausible given the stop / go "which side of the cloud are you" nature of the race so far. Bad for nerves, but good for the luck or skill of movistar which leaped into a 40 mile lead.

Hopefully the trade winds will soon kick in and normal service will be resumed.

Graphic from Virtual Spectator

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rendezvous in Qingdao

Congratulations to Liverpool for winning the first leg of the re-start of the Clipper Round the World race. It can't have been easy for crew to convince their employers to let them re-shedule holidays - even to take account of something as drastic as a whole fleet worth of keels about to fall off.

Captain JP is especially pleased for his fellow crew-mate on the St Malo run who's been sailing on Liverpool for Leg 4.

And they will soon be joined by Ellen and co. on B&Q which is due in Qingdao in China on Thursday.

Picture from

Competition for Navigators

Dee Caffari has turned the corner on her challenge to be the first woman to sail the wrong way round the world single handed. Now off Cape Town she will be heading back up the Atlantic blown by the trade winds towards her finish line at Brest. Her target is the 11th of May - 172 days at sea without no company but the birds and all the satellite gear that can be squeezed into a 72 foot Challenge boat.

And there's a challenge for armchair sailors and navigators - to predict where her return track will cross the outgoing one, with the prize £ 5,000 of travel vouchers.

Give it a go by clicking here!

Graphic from

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bon Voyage

It's farewell to Rio for the boats of the Volvo Ocean race. There will be one last look at the statue of Christ and Sugar Loaf as they round the mark off Copacabana Beach before heading north east to the open sea.

Its another long leg - a full 5,000 miles to Baltimore, with scoring gate at Fernando da Noronha. But the crews have had time to recuperate after the southern ocean leg, basking in the warmth of the traditional Rio welcome.

Some teams should be leaving particularly re-energised - ABN1 with their win, Ericsson with their new captain, and movistar after their good recovering to take 2nd in the in-port. Others less so - like Pirates, Brazil and ABN2's less inspiring performance.

The forecast is for a mini high / ridge off the Brazil coast. The boats are likely to want to hug the shore initially to avoid it, then enter the trades steadily blowing from the east / south-east all the way to the equator.

Nice reaching conditions - another drag race. This has typically been good for the ABN twins, but the wind is lighter here, so expect to see Pirates and maybe even Ericsson up there too.

Its a long way to Baltimore.

Graphic from

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Security Breach

The Volvo Ocean race is reeling from a serious security breach in the early hours of today. As the crew enjoyed a well earned party amongst the bars and clubs of Rio, the ugly side of that famous city was at work in the docks.

In Rio the rich and poor mingle cheek to jowl. Favelas and penthouse apartments are just yards apart, and the inequality breeds anger, funnelled by the gangs towards drugs and violence. Up to now muggings and robberies were the rule, but early this morning saw the most audacious of crimes - theft of an entire Volvo 70.

As Paul Cayard and crew drank the night away, cut-throats led by a well known Rio resident Mr "Long" J. Silver over-powered the security guards (which proved surprisingly simple as CCTV footage showed the so called guardians too busy practicing their tango to notice till too late) and took Pirates out to sea, jolly roger flying in the moon-light.

It would have been yet another case for Interpol, yet another boat offered in murky deals in the pubs around the Solent, if only they had not chosen a Farr hull to steal. For hearing the news there was one thought - it was all hands to ABN1.

It was quite a sight. With the fair Emma at the wheel (more Jane Russell than Keira Knightley), Mike "Moose" Sanderson led a crack team of Volvo's on a recovery mission. If the air had been lighter Silver might have had a chance, but with their greater power Black Betty over-hauled the Pirates as dawn rose, golden sky flaming red in the East.

The boarding party was led by Paul Cayard himself, knife between his teeth as he lept across the angry sea to re-claim what was his by right. There was hand-to-hand battle across Pirates deck until Long John was decked by a winch handle welded with surprising skill by one of the Ericsson crew.

By mid-day all boats were back in port and the incident was like just a dream.