Tuesday, 17 March 2009

VOR: PUMA LEG FIVE DAY 31 QFB: received 16.03.09 1424 GMT

Skipper Ken Read prepares a celebration sign for the rounding of Cape Horn, onboard PUMA Ocean Racing, on leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Qingdao to Rio de Janeiro. Image copyright Rick Deppe/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Kenny Read (skipper)

We simply had to pay the toll before this great ocean would let us get off the exit.

The Southern Ocean finally showed up over the past couple of days, showing us just a little of what she is all about- heavy air running, finally what we came for but maybe a bit more than we had asked for.

All was going according to plan. il mostro was prepared to have couple days of breeze blow through - we were expecting up to about 40 knots where we were positioned on a tight low that was coming from the north. Sure enough, winds filled in right on schedule and building. We went through our sail transitions to plan.

One small problem, Mother Nature wasn't letting us off the hook so easy.

We had a few good scheds in a row and I went to the bunk to catch a few minutes. When I woke, I looked up at the instrument panel in front of me at the nav station to see 43 knots of breeze. Yikes, here we go. I went to the hatch and asked how everything was on deck and the boys looked reasonably in control.

Next thing you know we were skidding on our side a bit and I heard the flapping of the headsail. The boat came back down and the next thing I hear is ‘Kenny, grab this!’ And through the hatch comes half the steering wheel. I think this is the part where I throw in the ‘and the wheels were certainly coming off’ phrase.

Anyway, it turns out that Bob Greenhalgh was driving and in total control when a wave literally crashed over him from the side of the boat. It threw him and half the wheel across the cockpit into Erle Williams’ lap. On the way, his tether ripped right through the platform we stand on to drive. I think Erle tossed the sprawling Bob to the side and dove for the wheel on the leeward side - not in time as the boat was skidding sideways at about 30 knots. Broken wheel, broken jib, bunch of bent stanchions, and that pretty much threw us off our game for a bit of time and a lot of distance.

For example, just to get the wheels swapped out, we essentially had to take down nearly all the sails and steer with the emergency tiller. Not good. All bodies present and accounted for and thankfully very few bumps and bruises to the guys. By the middle of this we were reading a solid 50 knots at times. That's pretty windy especially down here where the cold wind seems far more potent and strong than normal.

So, we hung on tight and as yesterday passed the breeze slowly subsided to nice sailing conditions last night. The leaders got away a bit which is a shame. But, we live to fight another day. Jib was fixed in three hours by Justin Ferris, and Casey Smith had the wheel fixed (for the second time this leg, same wheel) underway within the hour. That wheel just came out and is on the port side just waiting for another go.

So, bottom line is that we have a little over 500 miles to go to this great Cape and the Southern Ocean has finally showed up and she ain't going to let us go without a bit of a bon voyage. A bit more breeze to come, but I have to admit that 30 knots seems like child's play compared to the breeze we had yesterday.

It’s the little things that put everything else into perspective.

Volvo Ocean Race

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