Amory Ross, MCM,
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG
LOCATION: 190 miles W of Fernando de Neronha (and our Leg 1 track)
WINDSPEED: 17 kts
BOATSPEED: 18.5 kts
DISTANCE TO EQUATOR: 240 miles
CAMPER first appeared on the horizon two days ago and we managed to keep them there. But yesterday they kept coming, they kept getting bigger, and it seemed like there was nothing we could do to stop them. We were hemorrhaging miles and we knew it, losing bearing and range all the time.
So what do you do to stop the bleeding? You hit reset. We went back to pre-race training mentality and established a baseline setting for the boat, began treating our speed in relative terms, using CAMPER’s close proximity as anyone in a two-boat testing program would. We’d make a small change here, another there, and we’d monitor their vitals on our radar. If results were positive, we’d adjust our “base,” and if they showed no improvement, we’d advance to the next variable on the list.
This kind of testing is simple in theory but complex in execution. Boats are changing speeds all the time and it’s impossible to know if differences in performance are due to setup changes or things like wind and waves, conditions one might have that another does not. It can be hard to realize the effectiveness of modifications when you can’t regulate certain parameters, like weather.
But we needed to try, and try we did. We started with simple mode changes: high and slow, low and fast, then somewhere in between. Nothing helped; they were always gaining. So we turned to our downwind sails and their trim. We compared our A5/GS (genoa staysail) combination to our A5/J4 (small jib) setup. Small gain found. Next we tried over-sheeting, then we tried over-easing, we tried a narrow slot, we tried a super-twisted setup. We played with daggerboard settings. We played with ballast location. If we could move it, it was moved. If we could adjust it, it was adjusted. And gradually, over the course of a day, we lessened the losses.
Finally, by the time they were abeam of us at a range of about five miles, we matched their speed. Coincidentally, about this time, wind speeds grew substantially. Whether our successes were the by-product of many small alterations or whether it was something as simple as getting the stronger winds they enjoyed all day…well, we’ll never know. But we do know that on day six of Leg 6, after more than a year of sailing Mar Mostro, we continue to learn about our boat. The education process never ends!