barcelona on his mind

on board

barcelona on his mind

Ryan Breymaier sends in his exclusive update from the first two weeks of an extremely exciting Barcelona World Race that’s seen one boat dismasted, two boats broken and repaired after Formula 1-speed pit stops, one skipper replaced with an Open 60 neophyte, and much more.  Keep an eye on the latest news and analysis in the Ocean Racing Anarchy (sponsored by Quantum) thread.

After 2 weeks of racing, it is no surprise to me that Estrella Damm and Mapfre are leading the race.  These two Volvo-veteran teams know just how relentless ocean racing can be.  I am pretty certain that if everyone knew how fast the pace was going to be set, there would have been fewer skippers on the docks in Barcelona before the start; they would have all been home in bed.

I know that we are doing everything we can to keep up with the newer boats, just as those in front  of us were trying to keep up with the newest boats, Foncia and Virbac, till they broke.  It is no surprise to anyone in the IMOCA world that the attrition has begun, though it is a surprise to some that Virbac and Foncia both are stopping, especially so soon.

I am sure the speculation is rampant in the forums regarding just how bad the problems are on those boats; President’s second mast gone in just two years?  Something is going on there; we all nosedive all the time and the rig shouldn’t come down because of that.  Virbac’s mainsheet track is a surprise to me as well, but Foncia?  Well, we all hit things; it’s just a matter of how big, how hard, and how fast we are moving when the impact happens.

On Neutrogena, we hit a huge tree branch that clung on to the daggerboard for about 45 seconds, then broke away, smacking the rudder on the way out the back for good measure.  We missed several other big chunks of wood by a few feet, and one other UFO (unidentified floating object) went bang…bang…bang along the bottom of the hull just before going CRASH and tearing the hydrogenerator and its cassette off the back of the boat.  Many of you have read of our repair, but I didn’t tell you that the force of the impact was so great that there are blade marks high on the transom, showing that the hydro kicked up past 180 degrees before snapping the cassette hinges off.  It didn’t help that we were going over 20 knots at the time.  If you haven’t read the tale of carbon derring-do (or at least about resin-covered foulies, itchy arms, and two sleepless days of hydro-repair), you can still see it at Breymaier Sailing.

Anyway, to recap the first two weeks: Light air , breeze, light air, breeze, etc., etc.  I read once that the average windspeed over the Earth at any given time is less than 12 knots.  I am a firm believer that this is true, and probably more like 4.3, as this is what it feels like we have mostly had.  All the time that you actually have breeze, the boat sails itself and you get regular sleep, so you tend to forget those times a bit.  It is a lot harder to forget the days and night spent hand steering, changing the sails a hundred times a day and listening to the boom slam back and forth; “THWACK…THWACK…THWACK”; with no sleep at all.  Those times stick in your mind quite well.  I think we are actually pretty good in light air, at least when we have competition to sail against.  But when alone, it is super hard  to stay motivated to hand steer 24 hours a day.  You try to run up the escalator, but it seems to be moving double speed. 

Downwind in the breeze though, we just keep pushing harder and harder.  We took down the 425 Sq. meter big kite when we had steady 28 the first time, only after getting air under both rudders twice.  When we got the small one up, we went even faster, and completely in control, even with the pilot driving.  We left it up pretty far down the range to see where we wanted to crossover, as this was one condition we didn’t see this summer, and that I have only seen maybe once, 2 years ago.  We are happy to change down now at about 26 knots.  The great thing is that with the small kite, the bow just lifts more.  I feel like we must look like an 18 footer from off the boat, and I know that this is something that most modern IMOCA’s can only dream of, as they have much less rocker and go better in reaching conditions, but consequently, the bow stays down downwind (think Tele Blue style)…

Anyway, back to the point I made at the beginning:  The two Volvo teams have bulletproof boats, are well trained in the art of spending 24 hours a day flogging the machine along, and are super smart sailors.  I watch the track of Iker and Xabi, and always see them going a knot faster than the boat next door, maybe sailing more distance, but always footing to the next shift, getting the sheets eased and bigger sails up before their neighbors.  Alex and Pepe sail conservatively down the middle of the pack, at 100% all the time, no mistakes.

We try to do both: We push our asses off, foot to the shift, and I would like to think have only made one real tactical mistake thus far.  Unfortunately, all the lucky days in years past I have spent downwind in breeze are catching up with us, and the wind karma deals up plenty of drifter days.  It got so bad that yesterday we had the race committee calling us to make sure everything was alright on board, as we were moving so slow.  Our reply was “sure everything is ok, but we have used every sail in the inventory other than the storm jib, and unless we could put it all up at once on a 200 foot mast, we are still not going to go any faster.”  

In other news, we are well into the SE Trades, sailing along in a real steady breeze, which is a great switch.  We had fun today with my first equator crossing, drinking a bit of Clean’s parting gift (absinthe) and getting dressed up for a reggae Equator party.

The trades are supposed to continue another couple days at least, which will be nice in allowing us a mental and physical recharge.  I can’t wait to get the South Atlantic over with and get into the real South.  That’s the place.

On the domestic front, the boat does not smell too bad yet, and there is one apple left of the fresh food.  We are also not that great at sunscreen application, and consequently, we two boys who live in rainy Northern Europe all year are quite sunburned.  Other than that, all is well.

Off to try to change the fuse in the hydrogenerator downf&*ker, just heard the thing pop up again! At least now it doesn’t go completely to pieces each time.  Thanks for small victories