Week 2 – Team Director Stewart Hosford Update
So we have nearly finished week 2 of the Vendee Globe and how time flies. One of the things that Alex always says is it is amazing how quickly 3 months of our lives slip by when we fill our lives with our work, families, friends, problems etc. In a way, the race start is still vivid and seems like only yesterday, and in a way, the drama and excitement of it seem like long, long ago.
When I checked in last week with you all, Alex was in 4th position and his move out to the West had started to pay off and he was leading JP Dick and Jeremie Beyou and Francois Gabbart was leading the race. At that stage Alex was off the Canaries and in the trade winds south. Today, he sits in 6th in a close formation with boats 2nd to 6th and is very much in the leading pack. The boat is 300 miles off the coast of Brazil and has crossed the Doldrums in ok shape. The strategy since the start of the race was the following – try and stay ahead of the boats of the similar generation as ours (2007/8) and cling onto the coat tails of the new generation boats (2011/12) into the southern ocean and keep yourself and the boat in one piece. So far objective achieved, albeit many of those that would be most competitive with us (Kito, Marc, Jermie) are unfortunately no longer in the race.
The big things that happened this week for the team are the breakage and the repair of the hydro generator and the announcement of the protest results. One very much a technical problem to deal with and the other much more of a PR job to do. The Hydro generators are very cool new innovations in sailing. They are a little torpedo shaped thing with a tiny propeller attached to a blade/rudder type thing that you pull down into the water at the back of the boat when you are sailing along at some speed. The water rushing past turns the little propeller and hey presto creates some electric current that charges the batteries in the boat. Simple eh? Well yes, it is something that every boat in the fleet now use and they are fantastically good on paper in that you can use them all the time once you are moving, and they give you a green and lightweight way of charging the batteries. The issue is that they are a little bit fiddly at times and having not been around that long many boats are still having teething problems with them.
The issue is that Alex deployed the hydro generator whilst doing 15-18knts and whilst this is something that has been tried and tested this time it was not to be! Once in the water Alex went into the cabin to check the battery monitor to see how much power it was producing and he heard an abnormal noise coming from the back of the boat and could see the hydro gen vibrating uncontrollably and it was obvious that it was going to break As Alex went to take it up, it flipped up, broke the bracket and smashed through the bar that connects the rudder to the steering system. In a split second he went from doing 20kts and all good, to having a broken hydro gen, a broken rudder bar and a rudder that was no longer steering the boat! Anyway, you can watch the video of how he repaired it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww4c2WkNPD4 but for the team here in base, we were full into amber crisis mode. Everyone in the office, lots of heated debate about how to fix it, and out comes a plan! Our composite leader Clifford leads us through the repair and then documents the whole thing in a step-by-step guide for Alex and with one more round the houses of “are we sure this will work?” “is it clear enough for a tired Alex?” it gets sent off and the repair begins. Thankfully Clifford is a very relaxed man from Waterford and exudes confidence and experience – I only get a bit worried, when the inevitable “to be sure, it will all be grand” starts to play into the mix! Anyway, Alex does a good job making the repair. Our friends from Caterham Composites sign it off as a “good un” and Alex fits the rudder bar back in place. We go through the same routine in the office again to repair the Hydro Generator itself over the last few days and Alex gets on the tools yesterday, and last night at midnight I get a call to say he has deployed the hydro gen, and it seems to be working 100%. Hooray! The downside to these repairs that Alex has been doing, is that he has had to work in the daylight to get it all done and then is very tired so has to sleep more when it gets dark. This is ok for now, but his focus needs to return to getting back into a 24 hour sleeping routine now that the repair is made.
Another development this week was the announcement of the Vendee Globe Jury that 7 boats were to be penalised for crossing the traffic separation schemes off the North Western tip of Spain on the second night of the race. The traffic separation schemes (TSS) are in place like a motorway lane system in the sea to help large shipping avoid collisions. Small boats such as yachts must avoid these zones and there are strict rules for how they must be treated. The protest was initially raised by Alex and our team and then the Race Committee also chose to protest the boats in question. The day before the race started at the final skippers briefing in Les Sables a question was raised about whether the traffic separation schemes off North West Spain were part of the regulations of the race, and it was confirmed at the time that they were, and had to be avoided. Two days into the race, it seemed unfair to Alex, and to us, that whilst he had to make several manoeuvres to stay out of the traffic separation zones other boats chose to ignore them and sail into them – thereby making an advantage. Anyway, a protest was raised by us (as is a normal rule of sailing when you feel a rule has been broken) and the jury that ruled on the protest has penalised the boats in question. Lots of negative comments about the team and Alex from lots of quarters since the protest ruling has been given. I tried to explain what had happened to my wife and her response was “you meanies” so I guess it is reasonable to understand some of the comments that have been posted on the blogs this week – but, taking that aside, our position is pretty clear – this is a rule of the race and of sailing in general and if you break it then you should be protested, if we allow negative PR to affect how we as a sport apply the rules of sailing then we would end up in a right mess.
So, the future. Right now the route down to Gough Island looks quite complex. Gough Island is a mark of the course and is a spooky un-inhabited rock 2000 miles west of Cape Town that has been added to the Vendee Globe course to keep the boats out of the very deep south Atlantic, where an iceberg Cluster called C-19 lurks. This iceberg field has been floating around the Southern Ocean for several years and is currently in the South Atlantic heading North. Some of the icebergs are several hundred miles long and there are thousands of small pieces (miles long) accompanying it! There are two options – take a wide route down the coast of South America in a big curve to pass Gough Island or go straight at it. Option one is more miles but likely to be faster and option two is less miles and more direct, but highly likely to be slower and potentially boat stopping at times. Anyway, that is the decision that Alex faces over the next 24 hours and the rules are clear – he has to make that decision himself with no support from anyone.
Final point on the two boats that retired this week. Jeremie Beyou was on a very similar designed boat to HUGO BOSS and he is a super sailor and great guy: racing side-by-side with Alex it was shaping up to be a great battle between the two of them. A keel failure like he experienced should not have happened and it has unfortunately put a great competitor out of the race. Gutek, our friend from Gdansk has also had to pull out of the race this week with electronics and autopilot issues. We are all very upset for him here in the office and tried unsuccessfully to help get his systems back up and running for him. One thing is clear – without his autopilot working 100% he cannot go down into the Southern Ocean and whilst I am sure he is very upset about having to retire, it was the right decision to make. Bright future ahead Gutek and we are all with you!
Today, it is Friday and spookily quiet in the office, people get on with all the jobs that have been backing up for months and apart from the clicking of keyboards all is quiet, Alex is good, the boat is back to 100% – fingers and toes crossed it stays like this – doubt it!
Friday 23rd November
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