Monday, 19 March 2012

These are crazy times here in Auckland!

The fleet of Volvo Open 70's head out at the start of leg five 
from Auckland. (Credit: Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race).
I had a fantastic time yesterday, commentating on the live TV feed for both the in-port race and the leg five start.

The sun was out and the wind blew to give thousands of Kiwi onlookers a rare spectacle as these predators of the ocean shot round the tiny Auckland harbour like caged animals at feeding time.

Local boy skipper Mike Sanderson with Team Sanya took Saturday's in-port race win.

Great shape 
Then on Sunday, having seen the fleet off in such great shape, it was chilling to hear that at around 9pm last night, Abu Dhabi suspended racing just off Great Barrier Island. They reported damage to their J4 bulkhead. This is a ring frame in the bow that beefs up a fitting above deck for the J4 sail.

It’s the second time they have had an issue. Ian Walker speaking on the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro clarified the situation.

His voice was very cool, very calm, but obviously disappointed as he explained the difficult decision to return the 40nm to Auckland to effect repairs.

Men possessed 
The shore crew worked like men possessed to insure a rapid turnaround. It’s amazing to see how professional each element of the team is when called upon to up their game.

I also spoke to skipper Ian on the morning of the race. All his answers kept referring to the safety of crew on such a dangerous leg. As skipper you need to know when to push your crew and when to back off.

The environment the teams were heading out into included boat-breaking conditions. It must be one of the hardest parts of this race knowing when to nurse the yacht and when to put the hammer down.

Experienced sailors 
As the teams mustered on the docks to say their goodbyes, the younger members of the teams didn’t get much confidence from the older and wiser, experienced sailors. They were walking around looking as anxious too, which didn’t help to settle nerves! 

It was just past midday when they headed out again. Like a cruel joke, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It was now blowing even harder at 40 to 50 knots and driving rain.

As I got into my taxi for the airport to fly back to the UK I couldn’t stop thinking what the crew must be feeling. Over a day behind the fleet with 6,700nm to catch them up in some of the worst conditions they will encounter. All the time they will be thinking, “can we trust the rig and the boat to hold together?” That’s quite a stone in the heel of their shoe to walk all those miles on.

60-knot nightmare
As I post this blog Abu Dhabi are still sheltering in the lee of Great Barrier Island, hauled up and stormbound, hesitant to poke their nose out into a 60-knot nightmare. 

Ian Walker described the violent storm conditions as “a meteorological kick in the guts”.

“All we needed was a break from the weather to get us back in the race,” he said. “The other boats are only 200 miles away after all, but sadly we have exactly the opposite.”

Mark Covell

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