Saturday, 24 January 2009

VOR: Green Dragon's forestay breaks

Green Dragon's skipper, Ian Walker, with the broken forestay. Ian Walker and his crew were in fourth place and sailing in 17 knots of breeze upwind and a short, choppy sea, when the boat suffered a broken forestay. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Ian Walker

As we start day six on our 2500-mile slog to Qingdao, I have very mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am gutted that all our good work of the last few days has been undone by the breakage of our headstay and we are slowly slipping back from the fourth place we comfortably held.

On the other hand, I am relieved to still have our mast intact and to still be racing, albeit slightly wounded. When the headstay breaks, the only thing stopping the mast from falling down is the strength of the headsail cloth until the crew can secure a halyard forward to the bow. The crew's quick reactions in unloading the sails and securing a safety halyard saved us from this potential eventuality. For now, we should be grateful we are not heading to Manila under engine.

Back to the race and Delta Lloyd has slipped past us and right now we can clearly see Ericsson 4, who would have crossed behind us a few hours ago but instead chose to tack to leeward. Maybe they couldn't bring themselves to sail behind us! In two hours since, they have pulled 15 degrees of bearing over us so soon they will be able to tack and cross us.

We are sailing along OK, but our only viable headsail is now the code 4, which sets on an innerstay. In the medium winds we have had for the last 24 hours this sail is too small. We have managed to make a temporary headstay to secure the mast out of a spare runner cable that we carry onboard but this is not strong enough to fly a headsail from. The good news is that the wind will soon be building to over 20 knots and then the code 4 will come into its range and we should be more competitive.

The result of this leg could still depend on how everybody fares in the strong winds forecast. As always, these do not look as bad as previously thought but still I fully expect up to 40 knots on the nose and 4-5 metre seas. That will be enough to test each and every boat out here.

One thing the Green Dragon crew has proven, over and over again, is that we never give up and we have not given up on a good result in this leg yet. Not only do we have a real test of heavy weather seamanship ahead, but we also have some large tactical options including a major decision about which side of Taiwan to sail. This could be a real make or break decision for every skipper and navigator and one Ian Moore and I have been mulling over all night.

For now we are trying to eat as much as we can, preparing all our equipment and 'battening down the hatches' for a bruising two days. Just existing on a Volvo 70 upwind in gale or even storm force winds will be hard enough.

Volvo Ocean Race

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