too old to rock and roll?
Our friend Shanghai Sailor turns in this really good Innerview with Puma VOR skipper Ken Read.
SS: It has been an eventual race for you so far, leg 1 saw the rig tumbling down while battling for the lead. Have you been able to ascertain what caused the failure?
KR: We think so but, yes we are 98% sure but we are waiting for the last 2% to be proven. The best part about that is we go the rig back on board so we had everything so we did a full analysis of what happened and we have a couple of pieces that were broken that shouldn’t have been broken. Some things just break when the mast hits the water so it is very hard to really determine the breakage because so much stuff breaks when a mast hits the water .
SS: So it’s like CSI South Atlantic
KR: Yeah, that’s what we called it, CSI Tristan and we have a couple of parts that were clearly stretched, mangled and they are parts, it wasn’t the spar, it wasn’t the rigging but these were parts that just..
SS: Maybe just became the weakest link
KR: Well, no, they were probably built incorrectly, they weren’t the weakest link,, I can say at this point it wasn’t a design issue, and it wasn’t a mass manufacturing issue and it wasn’t a rigging manufacturing issue. It was a part that helped put the whole thing together, sometimes it’s that 20 dollar part. But before we say for certain what the piece was we still have 2% more to prove and therefore we will just hold off on that front.
SS: Some have commented that the damage was more than the rig and that there remains psychological concerns about the dependability that caused you to not push so hard for the rest of the race. What would you say to these doubters?
KR: No, there was no psychological concerns, what happens in this race, like any regatta, after every segment of the America’s Cup trials, for every regatta leading up to a world championship in one design boats, each of these legs is a regatta in their own right and you have to be faster at the end of each regatta and really, honestly, what that mast falling down and the hurry up since then did is it took away our first and second opportunity to get faster as essentially all we could do was to barely make the starting line for leg 2 and that leg was so weird. We got round Telefonica on a cloud and they got round us on a cloud.
Then at the end of leg 2 all of a sudden you got a stop, shipping, stop shipping and there just wasn’t time. We thought we knew what was going on by then but there wasn’t time to get anything done in that stopover and this is really the first opportunity we’ve had a change to make some tweaks to sails, mast, boat and really kind of looked at the future based on fact , not on, you can make changes out here based on feelings and it can go the wrong way just as easy as it can go the wrong way. We think we have made some changes based on fact and we think these next 2 legs will be very telling for us.
SS: Now in the latest leg you appeared to bang the corner with a move to the east. What was the reasoning behind the move as you were pretty close behind Camper at the time?
KR: No We were 25 miles ahead of Camper. I’ve said this a few times now but as Cammas said in the first leg when he was going down the coast in between skeds you gybe as you move down the coast thinking everybody’s going to be doing the same thing. When we tacked to port heading offshore to avoid the current down the Vietnamese coast, at the end of that sked I have to admit that I was completely stunned, I always remember it was a true wind direction of average 36 degrees and that was a huge left hand shift and at the end of that sked nobody was coming our way and I thought ‘what the hell’ but by that point in essence we had committed and it was a strategy we had been talking about for over a year and it was looking great for a while, horrible for a while. No, No, trust me we were not trying to hit a corner, not trying to take a big risk, we were not trying to be heroes or zeros we thought we were doing the right thing and we were surprised nobody came with us but it is a hard to thing to imaging that in a 3 hour interval , that’s a big chunk of time on the race course, you’ve gone 45 miles so potentially 70 or 80 miles of separation because of the angles and by the time you are done with that 3 hour sked you are committed and trust me that next sked was horrible, it was shit what have we done but we had so stick to our guns. I think the best thing we did on that leg is that once we’d figured out what we’d done we bailed out and got back in, at least got the on the boat back and in this fleet is a lot and that cost me, it took some intestinal fortitude to do that, it would have been so easy to tack back right again and say goddamn it this has to work. I think we figured it out in time and at least got the one boat back. It wasn’t risk taking, we were like Frank on leg 1, we were surprised that nobody went that was as well
SS: A lot of people on the forums say oh Puma’s that or it’s slow but I crunched the numbers and first and fifth were separated by 2.5% so a matter of minutes on a Wednesday night beer can race
KR: Listen, this race has just started, there’s one thing for sure, Telefonica is sailing flawlessly and I give them all the credit in the world. They have a bunch of subtle differences than we do, they have some subtle differences to their sails that we’ve done and we really like some of our sails, it’s like any regatta, we’ve changed some of our sails. The hull and the daggerboards and the rudders we can’t change. They might have an edge, their daggerboard designs are radical and they are not slow. All we know is Telefonica is sailing flawlessly, they got a couple of nice breaks and they are fast, Camper seems to be very upwind oriented boat, Groupama has made great strides so far and I think Abu Dhabi like us struggles at times a bit with speed, there’s a lot to go, trust me it’s, you know in the last race, in the last 5 legs we were the best boat overall and went screaming back up the board and kind of made a race out of it so if you’re a Puma fan I wouldn’t panic yet.
SS: Maybe you are a little more downwind oriented which case the next 3 legs would suit you especially in two legs time where it is historically 80-90% downwind?
KR: As different as these boats look it’s amazing how close they are in speed all away round the track, it’s phenomenal actually because you can mode your boat a little differently from Leg to Leg, if you pick a downwind mode for an upwind leg you are going to see it and vice versa, ah – don’t give up hope yet
SS: Following on from the previous question, the next leg is more likely to be more downwind and the two following that even more so. Do you think the Sea Monster is better suited to these conditions?
KR: Unfortunately this leg looks to be as close-hauled as any of the legs in fact it will be dead up wind to the tip of the Philippines and it is everything you can do to try and get east and the problem is to get east is we might end up actually sailing North, directly away front eh mark
SS: and there is a nasty forecast next week isn’t there?
KR: Yeah there is, it’s quite nasty right now in fact it’s bad enough that I wouldn’t be surprised that we saw a little delay in the start, it’s quite bad right now.
SS: It would be the first time in the history.
KR: A lot of races now, I’m not sure that it is being talked about, it is bad, bad. And the problem with this next leg is you break, you’re never going to get to Auckland in time so you’re essentially going to lose two legs and it’s not worth it. A lot of races are doing that now, you know you see delays and it’s smart. I don’t think boats are more fragile, but they are certainly more tricky to sail.
SS: And more pushed
KR: Yep, probably, yep, that’s probably right so we’ll see
SS: I know the forthcoming tactics are kind of intellectual property but do you have any changes to your game plan in the upcoming legs that you could or would make public?
KR: We haven’t anybody even knows our game plan yet. The constant question I ask Tom, he and I will be sitting there shooting the breeze, a weather fall has just come in or a tactical scenario and I always say to him, what would you do if there were no other boats out there and very often you have to think about because one thing that people forget is that most of the time the are no other boats in sight so its not a case of cover because like I said if someone tacks on a 3 hour sked all of a sudden they could be 60 miles away from you so you have to constantly doing hat you think is right. Have we made a few mistakes so far? Absolutely! Everybody has except Telefonica really at this point, you could make a case of that and we just got to get better, that’s all. This is just like any other boat race, you just got to keep improving from leg to leg and we got a little more room to improve that we hoped we would to at this stage in the race both from a boat speed standpoint or decision making standpoint. Listen at the end of the day, the buck stops here so I have to make sure that the red button is pressed here.
SS: Getting down to the crew and I don’t want you to make anyone feel favourites here, but who has, if you like, surprised you or risen a step up?
KR: By the time you’re in a Volvo race nobody surprises you, we spent a year sailing together, this is a bunch of tough, hard, fast sailors and at this point nothing fazes these guys. I’m actually surprised how compared to the last race how nothing gets to them, it’s supposed to blow 50 in the next couple of days, we’ve been through that, you know so nothing really phases you any more, you feel better trained in so far that something goes wrong, you know what to do. The guys on this boat, a) we’re good friends, that was a big important part of this, we’re going to have fun this race and I think everybody’s, even in frustrating times, done a wonderful job of getting along with each other and help each other improve whether it’s mainsail trimming, jib trimming, our boat handling, our driving. Now we are trying to supply the tools and the means necessary for everybody to improve and enjoy what they are doing. Hopefully that continues. My goal is to try and do the whole race with the same crew and I think that’s everybody on this boat’s goal. That means that we’ve done something right.
SS: On a happier note, from reading what was coming from the boat, your enforced stp on Tristan De Chuna, and the reaction to your visit by the locals and the way they took you under their wing must have been a high point in spite of your cause for your visit?
KR: You know every cloud has a silver lining, or something like that, I think all of us will remember that stop on Tristan for the rest of our lives, all the legs of a Volvo RFace blur together, that experience and those people and how they lived and how they took us in was something that I guarantee that 99% of your readers would witness anything like that in their lives. We tried to tell the story and I am kinda proud of that fact, it would have been so easy to crawl into a hole, say this sucks, life has just dealt us a terrible blow, screw this we’re not, we are just pissed off Everybody, especially Amory and myself just took it as another challenge and, hey, this I s part of the race, we have to support our sponsors. Hey, our sponsors said if you’re not going to win, just keep crashing like that, like NASCAR, win or crash and that’s a big part of what we are here for. People don’t like talking about the commercialism of this sport but the fact is that without happy sponsors none of us a) have a job and b) this race wouldn’t happen so we have to constantly have to be thinking about that and making sure that we tell the story, tell a fun story and tell it properly is important.
SS: Since the Volvo Ocean Race started to come to the Middle and Far East a number of armchair admirals have been sounding off about the dumbing down of the Volvo. What comments would you make in response?
KR: Dumbing down is a horrible expression
SS: Oh, I know it is
KR: it’s dealing with a) – you go back to the commercial side of thing. The race doesn’t happen without sponsors and a big sponsor whether you like it or not is Abu Dhabi, the country of Abu Dhabi. They supplied an unbelievable stopover, they have a boat in this race and having looked around there isn’t an abundance of boats in this race so it’s necessary so – you’re going there. Now, you have to deal with the real world. Is it a tough spot? Absolutely. Now everybody knew that but did we know that this piracy issue was going to escalate in the past year, no – of course not, so I think in retrospect you gotta give the organizers, you know how much money the organizers spent getting us there safety and back out of there safely? So why shouldn’t they be credited for, you know what, they took the safety of the sailors in their own hands. They didn’t have to do that, nobody had to do that. They could have said sail there and we would have sailed there. One in 10 boats that go through that area, a little less odds than that in the fleet so one in 10 would be taken. He risk is just too high and so you gonna call my wife, not only is your husband not going to show up at this stopover but he is probably gonna be in some prison cell
SS: And come back without his hand
KR: Year exactly having lost a year of his life and its going to wreck him, wreck his life and everybody around his life. Of course not, no, so I think that credit that is due. Now did it chop up the race, absolutely, 100% but, you know what, the world gets in the way sometimes and that’s just life, so get over it, suck it up, it’s just a boat race and let the momentum begin again as I think it has and the fans will come back, the real fans will come back. People are pissed of that the Volvo Ocean Race isn’t what it used to be, well, the world isn’t what it used to be, there is no way we are doing a 5 leg around the world Southern Ocean, Australia, New Zealand because commercially, Puma wouldn’t do it, Puma wouldn’t do this race if we weren’t going to China, so unfortunately this is life, do people have to like it? Absolutely not, I am not saying people have to like it, they have to stand it and they have to respect it.
SS: Similarly the 60 was seen as the answer to the escalating costs of the old maxis. They appeared almost bulletproof and certainly not slow yet within weeks of the announcement of the 70 they were being called a dinosaur. Would you say the argument that the 70 is almost a step too far with the reliability issues in each of the races so far is that just a case of the limits being pushed too far?
KR: Well you can make a case that each of the issues has been freak, certainly our mast falling down was a freak accident. I think out in the ocean we are getting way more stuff. There’s more obstacles just in the water to ruin your day than there has every been. The 70s are amazing boats, can cost s be controlled more? Absolutely, all the teams are working hard with Volvo to try to contain costs even more going forward, can the design evolutions somehow be controlled to help contain costs as well? Yes. That’s a goal of everybody but it’s unique, it’s one of a kind. My personal opinion is that a one design in a race like the Volvo would be a massive sep backwards an this race has always been about development and unique
SS: In this race, Farr, Botin, Juan K…
KR: Exactly, without all that it loses a lot of its flavour, I hope that it never goes one design I still think we can all help the Volvo organizers come up with way to control costs, we get more teams because bottom line.
SS: The recessions not helping
KR: Right, the rescission is not helping but like the piracy issue you have to deal with the world as it is right now and the low numbers of people who want to lay out the sort of money you have to lay out to do this sort of race competitively so we have to help.
SS: Finally nobody’s getting any younger but would you do it again?
KR: Well I’ve learned never to say never, last race I said I’d never do it again but no, I doubt it very much I’ve enjoyed and am enjoying my time very much, I actually as fit as I’ve ever been, at least in these last 20 years as I used to play a lot of hockey, mentally I feel good but there is a lot to do outside racing sailboats as well but we’ll see, you never know so I’m not going to say never. 50 in this game is moving on, I don’t feel 50 I’ll tell you that I have to admit that I was the oldest guy in the fleet by 2 days, I’m 2 days older than Tony Rae who sails on Camper who actually I’ve sailed with before, I was pretty devastated because I still think of myself as the young guys, I think of myself as a punk kid. Last race there were a lot of guys over 50. Lisa Ramsberger said to me right before the start ‘Hey we have this great story, we have the oldest and the youngest guy in the feet. It didn’t dawn on me for a few minutes, I was horrified, completely, I was on the verge of devastated. I got over it, then Ian Walker brought it up at a press conference, as he would, Ian and I go back and forth pretty comically. He said ‘Is Kenny really too old to do a Volvo Race’ to which I commented that at least I still had hair. We’ll see, a long winded answer to your question, We’ll see but I’m still having fun. If you see the smile gone from my face I’m probably not going to do it again.
SS: Well Kenny, I hope we have answered some of the pundits, the armchair admirals
KR: Anytime, I would much rather answer the questions than listen to people speculate, to you and all the rest of the guys at Sailing Anarchy literally call anytime. It is always important to me to answer questions with facts and it I a little bit worrying that it is always to easy in the social media to just make things up if you don’t know the facts
SS: I don’t believe in luck, so the very best of success in the next leg
KR: Well I believe in a little bit of luck
SS: Kenny, thank you so much
KR: Thank you