The Vendée Globe isn’t the only game in town anymore. Moored in Manhattan’s North Cove Marina, Giovannia Soldini’s Volvo 70 Maserati is about to undertake one of the oldest and most prestigious records in international ocean sailing; New York to San Francisco. (Note – they are said to be leaving on Momday – Ed). Originally sailed as a trade route during the California Gold Rush of the 1840’s and 50’s, the voyage took clipper ships an average of 200 days to complete and with the allure of mass quantities of gold, seemingly everyone wanted in on the action. Immigrants flocked to California from Hawaii, Latin America, Europe, Australia and China in search of the stuff and it was in 1851 that the 235-foot clipper Flying Cloud set the first official record of 89 days and 21 hours.
Two years later, she broke her own record by 13 hours; the new mark would stand until 1989. Since that first record, a number of sailors and adventurers have attempted the voyage and the record. A few have succeeded, but others have sank, lost rigs, abandoned and skippers have been rescued from life rafts. The current monohull mark is 57 days, 3 hours and 2 minutes, set by Yves Parlier and crew onboard the Finot-designed Open 60 Aquataine Innovations in 1998.
The overall record was set in 43 days and 38 minutes by the maxi-catamaran Gitana 13 in 2008 with Lionel Lemonchois as skipper; the record was set despite a five-day delay in rounding Cape Horn due to weather. No matter what type of boat or crew size, any sailing record involving a wrong-way rounding of Cape Horn is no joke. One thing’s for sure, Maserati will have her hands full. Owing to the rich tradition of immigrants from around the world flocking to San Francisco during that original Gold Rush, it’s fitting that an Italian luxury car maker would sponsor a crew consisting of an Italian skipper and a highly international 8-man crew hailing from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, China and the good ‘ol USA with Barcelona World Race veteran Ryan Breymaier onboard. Boat captain, skipper and crew of everything from round-the-world Open 60’s to Atlantic-crossing MOD 70’s and now a Volvo 70, Ryan’s the hottest thing in American offshore sailing right now. We caught up with Ryan via telephone last week to get his thoughts on the record attempt, the Maserati project and his future sailing plans.
Sailing Anarchy: You guys have been on stand-by for a while. What’s the deal?
Ryan Breymaier: It’s hard, you know… the weather has been pretty strange recently. It’s not the typical wintertime jet stream with big lows from the north. Instead it’s been little lows forming off New York and going out to sea. They’ve been super powerful with 35-45 knots on the grib files and 55 knots in the Gulf Stream. There was a possibility of leaving on the 23rd but that obviously didn’t happen. It’s been pretty screwed up… Normally the lows will come down out of Canada with a cold front on the southern part of the low. You can leave ahead of it with plenty of northwesterly breeze and go straight to Florida on one front from New York but the big lows just haven’t been there, and the ones that have been there have been way up north.
SA: Is there a deadline or are you guys going to wait it out and see what happens?
RB: No, we’re in full-on record breaking mode right now. We could end up sitting here until the 10th or 15th of January, but with the forecast that we have right now, we’re on code-red for at least the next couple of days, hoping to get out of here.
SA: What are you guys using for weather?
RB: We’re relying on Commander’s Weather, Pierre Lasiner and even Yves Parlier. My Barcelona World Race co-skipper Boris Hermann is our navigator, so obviously he’s got a super close eye on everything.
SA: Yves Parlier? He’s going to help you break his own record?
RB: (laughs) He and Giovanni have been friends for a long time, so he’s a type of “advisor” to the voyage.
SA: How is Maserati? Is the boat ready?
RB: Yeah, absolutely. We’re working on last minute stuff, you know how it is. There’s always something to work on until you leave the dock! We had a few spares get caught up in customs for a little while, but that’s all sorted now and we’ve got a fresh set of 3Di sails, so we’re ready.
SA: Maserati is always referred to as a “turbo’ed” Volvo 70? How has she been modified for this project and these record attempts?
RB: A normal VO 70 weights 14 tons. Maserati weighs 12 tons, so clearly stripping weight out of her has been our top priority. We have modified the keel fin to be 1-meter longer, which allowed us to remove about 1 ton from the keel bulb. We’re also using a fabricated box-section keel fin instead of a forged fin, saving us about 30% overall in the fin itself. Previously, the boat had a diesel generator on it, but we’ve removed that as well as every other conceivable thing that we could to lighten her up. Instead, we’re relying on a new-generation of Solbian solar panels which are super lightweight and extremely efficient. We’re using a new control box that controls each panel and has an accumulator which allows for maximum power out of each panel without the peaks. Also, instead of standard lead-acid batteries like on most VO 70’s, we’ve swapped out to lithium batteries for the weight savings. With a crew of 9, we’re lighter as well and that makes a difference.
SA: And how do the panels work? Do they provide enough power?
RB: Yeah, absolutely. The Solbian solar panels will be our primary means of power generation.
SA: What is the biggest challenge that Maserati will face during this record attempt? 57 days seems like a pretty soft record for the VO 70, no?
RB: Theoretically, we should have a pretty easy time with beating that record on paper. That being said, the difference is that we have a much more fragile boat. Those old IMOCA’s were pretty robust boats. The VO 70 is a lot more fragile, especially when you consider the speed differential. With the potential for very high speeds, there’s also a lot of potential to break the boat. If you followed Gitana 13, you know they were stuck behind Cape Horn for over 4 days waiting for a big low to pass. If we get stuck behind Cape Horn for 4 days, we’re only 2 ays ahead of the reference time and so it’s not that much when you think about it. When you do these records though, you’re not only racing the people who have gone before you, but you’re racing everyone who will come after you. If you’re just trying to break a 15-year old record set by a 10-foot shorter boat then what’s the point? For us, we’re concentrated on creating a record that will be very difficult to break in the future.
SA: You mentioned Gitana 13 being stuck behind the Horn for several days. What will Maserati do in that bad, close-out scenario?
RB: You know, I really don’t know if we get the bad situation. The whole reason we’re leaving in the dead of winter is to round Cape Horn in the Southern Hemisphere summer. If we encounter massive westerlies, then we’ll step out into it and be very, very careful with it. We’ve seen 40 knots upwind on Maserati and it sucks, but it’s possible to do. It’s not very easy, but possible! Hopefully we can get down there and sneak around two fronts, or whatever, with moderate weather. Even if it’s upwind it’s fine for us as long it’s moderate.
SA: You guys had a pretty long and difficult trip coming across the Atlantic, dealing with Hurricane Sandy and funky weather. What was that like?
RB: (laughs) Yeah, Hurricane Sandy completely destroyed the tradewinds. We sailed way south to avoid the storm and sailed in 10 knots of breeze for much of the crossing with about half of it being upwind. It was really light and the whole thing took a very, very long time. It took us 5 days to cross the Med and then 23 days dead east to Charleston. The bummer was that we were using our old delivery sails and it was super light and upwind so we couldn’t do as much testing or learn as much as we would have liked.
SA: What does a Ryan Breymaier add to the team? How did you get the nod to be on Maserati?
RB: Well, i’ve got a lot more long-distance ocean experience than other American sailors. Between the Barcelona World Race, Open 60 stuff with Roland (Veolia Entertainment), MOD 70’s and everything else, i’ve got a really good technical background when it comes to composites, systems, rigging, you name it. Obviously, at this level we’re all good trimmers and drivers, so there’s no weaknesses anywhere in the crew. Maserati wanted an American, a German and a Chinese crew member as that’s 3 of their biggest markets, so another part of it came down to communication and nationality. I speak English and French fluently and i’m picking up a lot of Italian. They say the official language on the boat is English, but it’s really Italian, so being multi-lingual in this case and super fluent in English is a huge advantage.
SA: What’s up next for Giovanni Soldini and Maserati after the New York- San Francisco record? Is there a Volvo campaign in the works?
RB: Well, from the beginning they wanted to do the Volvo. He (Giovanni) found the money to buy the boat as a training platform but couldn’t find the rest. The people that funded the project believe in Giovanni and his abilities, so the future plan is that the boat will continue to chase records. The Volvo Ocean Race is no longer in the plans, but Maserati plans on sailing in the Transpac race in 2013. From there, we plan to deliver the boat to Hong Kong and do some PR sailing. After a few months in Hong Kong, Giovanni hopes to break the Hong Kong to London clipper ship record in the winter of 2013.
SA: And what’s up next for you? Will you be sailing in the next Vendée Globe?
RB: Right now, i’m on the Maserati crew. I plan to sail with them on this run to San Francisco. I have not yet confirmed for the Transpac in July or the rest of the program. My main aim is to find a sponsor for an IMOCA project. I had a shot at the Barcelona World Race in 2010/11 (and finished 5th -editor) and I know that with a newer boat I can do well. Though the Vendée Globe was not something I strived to do at the start of my career, the more I sail these open 60’s the more I know that I can get a good result if I get to the start line and I definitely want to give it a shot. They are just awesome machines. The real beauty of the IMOCA circuit is that it lasts 4 years and offers some great races to a sponsor, as well as plenty of time for corporate sailing and events for the sponsor to really get a return on their investment. With the added recent involvement of Keith Millls and his push to commercialize the class on the international stage, I am confident it can only be a good thing for guys like you and me, hoping to go kick some French ocean-racing ass! I have been looking seriously for a sponsor for the past few months but as you know, finding that kind of money is not easy. I have a couple of irons in the fire but nothing confirmed at the moment. We’ll just have to see where it goes. Though the MOD70 circuit doesn’t look great right now, I’d be happy to go and join one of the remaining teams. I don’t shut any doors as those are also awesome boats to sail. I have definitely learnt not to hide my aspirations and talk openly about wanting to go all the way with my own program.
SA: Well, it sure would be great to see another American in the Vendée! As an American, I truly admire and appreciate what you’ve done in the IMOCA circuit and with the MOD, so best of luck in all of your future endeavors!!
Thanks to The Crystal Method for the title inspiration