Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Holiday

With the end of the Volvo Ocean Race Captain JP is going to take a summer break. Over the next month there are five family birthdays, three parties, a friends visits, and a friends birthday. There isn't a free weekend till mid August.

At the end of July is there a break, when with three others I'm crewing the delivery of Selene (IRC 2 if you check on the RORC web site) doing the Lisbon to Gibralter leg.

That should be a lot of fun so will report back - but not till August.

Have fun and see you then.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Final Scores


For the last half of the race there has been little doubt as to the overall winner. With a crack team, able manager as skipper and Black Betty's magic ABN1 has shown how the VO70 class should be built and sailed. The routing has been only near perfect - a couple of times (legs 4 and 7 spring to mind) they have made sudden lurches to the south, going from first to last between two scheds. But with the boat speed to rely upon in both cases they were back in pole position in a few days or even hours.

ABN1 has shown what the next Volvo should be all about and proved the many critics of the VO70 wrong. It is not the class that is wrong, but the steep learning curve. Maybe the smartest thing Mike Sanderson did all the way round was to throttle back, to avoid the breakages that cursed so many other teams.

Ok, with Moose getting married during the Portsmouth stop-over maybe the second smartest thing. Hopefully the end of the Volvo will mean Emma will finally get in touch with Captain JP.


What can be said that hasn't been said before? This team has known triumph and tragedy on its way around the world. So lets remember the good things - the world speed record of 563 miles in 24 hours, the way they pushed hard their big brother ABN2, and the great seamanship shown in recovering Hans and rescuing the crew of Movistar. Kids no more, the men on ABN2 did good.

Brasil - 6 / 10

Its great to see more nations getting involved in the Volvo, especially from young dynamic countries like Brazil with links to the race via the stop-overs in wild and wonderful Rio. There's less to say about them than other boats - though that is a credit to their professionalism rather than a criticism. They gave a solid mid-pack performance than can be built on in future races, and after their dismasting on Leg 2 a great nick-name - "Brasilia, queen of the desert".

Brunel - 4 / 10

This was always an odd entry. It changed its name a couple of times, lost its points, stopped racing, started again, and so was only a part time member of the Volvo fleet. It was also an odd design - on the dock side at Portsmouth it looked like it didn't fit in with the sleek Farrs let alone the powerful ABN twins. But with a reduced fleet it was good they were there towards the end after Movistar sank, even if they did miss the mark coming into Rotterdam (oops!).

Ericsson - 5 / 10

So what went wrong? With the experience of Neal McDonald and a boat from the same team that built Pirates this team should have been a contender. But from the first in-port race it was downhill all the way. For a while the underlying failures were masked by keel breakages, but by leg 4 it was clear there was a major speed problem, and worse, a major morale problem. Maybe nice guy Neil wasn't the right guy to sort out physical confrontations involving winch handles. Or maybe there was nothing anyone could do - the boat was just slow. I can't see any major tactical errors - the boat was usually around the leaders pack. But when ever there was a drag race Ericsson began to lag behind.

I hear that Ericsson is seriously thinking about a team for the next Volvo: that would be great, but there's a post mortem to do to learn the lessons from this one.

Movistar - 8 / 10

These guys should be on the podium at at Gothenburg. They had a great team, experienced skipper, fast boat, and lots of preparation time. They were the only boat to consistently push hard at ABN1 for the lead, pipping them at the Wellington post. But they were let down by a shore crew that never fixed the boat, let them sail into Southern oceans and Atlantic storms in a yacht that wasn't safe, that nearly sank off Cape Horn and finally was abandoned in the Western Approaches. Kudos for saving the boat the first time, and more kudos for just afterwards letting the cameras in for a frank exchange of views, and hope its better luck next time.

Pirates 8 / 10

Who can not have enjoyed watching Pirates of the Caribbean sail around the world. With a character like Paul Cayard on board, the scull and cross-bones on the sails, and a major sponsor behind them this was always going to be a boat to watch. After the disastrous first night of the first leg they pulled themselves together and by Rio were well in the grove, finally picking up their first leg win and overall second place by the finish. But if Movistar were still afloat would they be third not second?

Edit: gave Ericsson an extra point as they were better than Brunel.

Photos from:

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Volvo on TV

The poor coverage in the UK of this Volvo has not helped Britain and Portsmouth's bid to remain involved in future races.

The company with the TV rights -
ITV - has given the Volvo totally piss-poor support. Not only have they chosen to broadcast it at 4am on its lowest priority ITV4 channel, it feels it can re-arrange the schedules bumping the Volvo at will.

Two recent recordings I tried to make both failed due to last minute re-schedules that failed to make the EPG so all I had to watch over the weekend was yet more football. Consequently I missed all the TV coverage of the Volvo while in Portsmouth - ironic really given it was the only UK port of this race.

I hope that future rights go to a broadcaster that treats it better. The only thing worse than what ITV has done would for it to go to a subscription company like Sky, which would basically lock out the majority of the UK's population who don't or won't subscribe.

Given the rate of technology movement, why doesn't the Volvo itself stream broadcast quality feeds from their web site? 2 Mbps broadband is common now and we can envisage 8 Mbps being widely available for the next race, easily enough for DTV quality.

The objective of the organisers is publicity for the sponsors and that can not be helped by TV rights to companies like ITV with so little interest in promoting it.

The Next Volvo

As predicted by the pretty Volvo girl (and reported here) the next Volvo is only 2 years off, with a 3 gap between starts. And as predicted again the VO70 design is here to stay. Yes it is extreme and yes for some sailors too extreme.

But there are many many others can not turn down the offer for a chance to race on the world's fastest yachts, to surf at 30-40 knots, to be part the premier offshore yacht race.

And these boat speeds means more of the planet is open to race organisers, more markets for the all important sponsors.

I hope that won't mean an Ellen MacArthur style tour of the far East. And if the race's roots in Portsmouth are forgotten or overlooked that would be very sad.

But the vision of ten Black Betties sailing around the world - and soon - can only be welcomed.

Black Betty's Boo Boo

As the last leg of the Volvo Ocean Race comes to a close there is no doubt that Mike Sanderson's ABN1 has dominated this race. Its performance has been clearly superiour both in boat speed and her crew's sailing abilities.

It's therefore interesting to see a rare tactical mistake off Denmark. As the fleet pushes through the light airs around the centre of a high they encountered a severe wind shift between the right and left hand sides of the course. In the figure above the wind direction - shown as a yellow arrow - can be seen to change through a right angle.

Consequently while at this snap-shot on 08:08 Friday 16th all boats are on starboard tack the angle they are making - black lines - is very different even when sailing close together.

Clearly the boats to the right can make a much better vector and those to the left are severely punished, with ABN1 in particular going from first to last in a few hours.

It just shows the importance of tactical decisions and the influence of getting the forecasts right.

Graphic from Virtual Spectator

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Gates are closed

Tidal gates are not something you expect from the Volvo Ocean Race. It's that word "Ocean" that implies you'll be far offshore where there are prevailing currents but not tricky currents with springs and neaps to worry about.

But just like an inshore race such as the Round the Island or Fastnet, tidal gates have split the Volvo pack into two. Nothing to do with tactics and all to do with timing, with ABN1, Brasil and Ericsson making a clean get away from the northern tip of Scotland, leaving ABN2, Brunel, and Pirates enviously watching from behind.

At least the wind will fill in which should be enough to get them there by close of play Saturday for the in-port race revised times on Sunday. The forecast below shows there could be nearly 20 knots of wind along the East coast of England Saturday morning.

But then the weather's always changing around Britain.

Forecast from

Dragging Race

What’s a slow drag race? The Volvo fleet might have turned the corner up by the currently mild mannered Cape Wrath, but there is a long way to go and no signs of the longed for big winds.

It’s always been the problem with the Round Britain Race for me – there are few over-taking lanes, and few big tactical decisions. Most of the ones I’ve followed (never having done one) the winners have been those with the right sails and the best trimmers.

This leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is looking like it will be no different. There has been talk of a radical eastern track down the North Sea. You can sort of see the logic in this forecast for this evening.The centre of the high is the middle of the North Sea, so there are southerlies by the British coastline and northerlies by the Norwegian. In theory that would mean a nice downwind run on the right hand side of the course.

However not only is the distance much greater but there's a patch of bad wind between the fleets and the far side. So its a big risk, and I’d guess the boats would rather be tacking upwind on the left hand side and getting the increased apparent wind than risking the far side of the course.

Either way, better keep tightening those belts chaps, it’s a long way yet till the bars of Rotterdam.

Figures from Virtual Spectator and

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Drifting - 3: VORs across the Celtic Sea

This leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is not going to plan. They never seem to do so, and never in the same way.

The last leg suffered from too much wind, too strong - all the time too strong. This leg has gone to the other extreme with slow drifting conditions, boat speeds often below 10 knots.

It reminds me a bit of last year's Fastnet when we all drifted aimlessly across the Celtic Sea, entertained by pod after pod of wonderful dolphins (above), going ooh and aah when we should have been trimming.

The decisions the Volvo fleet have taken to avoid tides in the channel seem similar too - stand off Portland Bill then duck in close to the land by the Lizard.

But at least we got the wind nicely around the rock - as you can see here:

We were late getting in and on arrival at Plymouth had nearly no food or drink left onboard but for water. Again the Volvo boats have a similar problem with rationing being enforced.

But at least one thing on this leg is as expected: ABN1 has taken the lead. The fat boat's got agile in light winds thanks to souped-up sails.

What could one do to get a chance to sail on her I wonder?

All pictures (c) Captain JP

Drifting - 2: Round the Island

As the sun rose glowing fresh above the mist of the Hamble river we were forced out of snug sleeping bags at 05:00 to head out to the unfeasibly early start of the Round the Island Race.

Our class start was 07:00 with first gun at 06:50, but with plenty of time to spare we could see the Open 60 head off after their start, followed by the multi-hulls with the Volvo 40s taking the lead with impressive speed.

The early starters favoured the southern or island end of the line, but as the tide built the preference moved north to the middle. We were a bit too far north for our start for my liking, and our timing wasn't brilliant, but at least we had the tide with us almost all of the way round.

Which was just as well as we certainly didn't have wind all the way round. There were big wind holes at three corners of the Isle of Wight, namely the Needles (below), St. Catherine's point, and just after the Bembridge buoy (race course can be found here).

But its hard to complain when it was so sunny and we were out with over 1,500 other boats - from Open 60s to little dinghies. With around 12,000 sailors it is the UK's third biggest participant sporting event.

It was a day when sun cream and water was passed around time and time again.

The most annoying wind hole was after Bembridge when we should have gone hard in-shore following the examples of Brazil and Pirates. Instead we sat there wondering how those boats could be moving while we were drifting between a buoy and a lobster pot. I comforted myself with remembering that Mike Sanderson and ABN1 were in the same position the previous day.

And at least we got round, unlike half the fleet: stuck by the Needles wind hole when the tide turned they had no chance.

Ands whats more we got a mooring in Cowes without any rafting out, were in the beer tent by 18:30 and having a spicy Indian by 19:30. Though by 01:00 in the early hours it was feeling like a very very long day.

My favourite bit? Helming at the end towards and over the line, battling boats crossing on opposing tacks.

My least favourite bit? A toss up between that ******* who forced us to crash gybe when on starboard and he was on port, and letting our rivals get passed us half a mile from the line.

Next time we'll do better. Yup, there's definitely going to be a next time.

All pictures (c) Captain JP

Drifting - 1: Volvo Restart

It was a slow restart to what is turning out to be a very very slow leg on the Volvo Ocean Race. We were positioned off Cowes at the northern end of the exclusion zone, our engine ticking over at exactly the speed of the tide so we could just hang by the Volvo Race boat. Unfortunately all the boats went close to the Island so all we saw were these far off shots.

What was interesting was the leading boats, Brazil and Pirates, took the island side in their hunt for wind, and found it, unlike ABN1 that fell into a hole and sat there watching the others take off.

It was all very different from the conditions for the in-port race, which as you will remember were like this......

We also passed close by the reconditioned Open 60 Grey Power on which Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - currently 68 - will compete in the Velux Seven Oceans later this year. That will be quite an achievement, even for the first man to sail around the world non-stop single handed.

Pictures (c) Captain JP