Sunday, 7 June 2009

VOR: Leg 8 Lead-up to the Start

Teams take part in the In-port race practice in Galway Bay. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Volvo Ocean Race media


As forecast, the weather has turned on the west coast of Ireland this morning; the sun has been replaced by a menacing dark sky and the wind is much stronger than it has been for much of the week. It might not be great conditions to be outside, but it's perfect weather for yacht racing.

It's a delayed start this morning, in comparison to the standard start time of 13:00 local time. Here in Galway we'll be starting at 15:00 local / 14:00 GMT - in deference to the tidal nature of the marina, this is the earliest the boats can get out to the race course.

Make sure you join us for what is sure to be one of the best starts we've had in this race. The wind will be strong. The Race Committee is planning a spectacular downwind start and the crews will be itching to show off their talents in the big breeze.


Riath Al-Samarrai checks in with the latest on crew changes:

Maybe it's the lure of an action-packed leg, or possibly the appeal of a short one, but few people seem willing to step off the boats at the moment. This stopover has seen the fewest crew changes so far, with just three alterations made across the seven teams.

Green Dragon have brought James Carroll back onboard in place of Ian Budgen, the highly rated helmsman drafted in for legs four and seven. And Guo Chuan, their media crewmember who was nominated for his work at the leg seven prize giving, is taking a rest. Huang Jian takes his place. Elsewhere, Magnus Woxen, recruited to the team ahead of leg five, is back onboard after missing the race from Boston to Galway. Eivind Melleby steps aside.

It takes the overall tally of crew rotations to 57, with Green Dragon the most prolific shufflers on 14. Delta Lloyd are hot on their heels with 11 rotations, while Ericsson 3 have made 10. PUMA and Telefonica Blue have made seven apiece, while Telefonica Black have changed the order three times. Amazingly, Ericsson 4 is yet to make a single change.

For fellow stat geeks, in case you are wondering, Carroll, the Green Dragon boat captain, is the most rotated, having been recruited three times and dropped twice. Compelling. But it is good for him as Ian Walker admitted last week that the only shore crew travelling with the team from here on in would be logistical staff.


The fleet broadband express (FBX) media boat that will follow the VO70s for the remainder of the Volvo Ocean Race. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

Something new for Leg 8. We'd like to introduce the Fleet Broadband Express. This 15-metre catamaran will be following the fleet from the time they leave the dock in Galway, until they arrive Marstrand. The purpose is to bring you the stories and multimedia that we usually can't because the boats are racing too far offshore.

The master of ceremonies on board is Mark Covell. You'll remember him from his days as the Media Crew Member for Team Russia. Mark is coordinating the trip and will be shooting and editing video for the website.

Guy Swindells is also coming with us. He'll be doing his live commentary of the leg start from on board and will be feeding audio back as much as possible during the entire trip up to Marstrand. Depending on conditions, we'll also endeavour to try to get some live events going during the racing.

Dave Kneale will be snapping the pictures. Dave was on the same boat for the first couple of nights of the race as they chased the fleet down the Mediterranean. He's the only returning soldier from that mission... we're not quite sure what to make of that!

And myself - Peter Rusch - I'll be on board as well. I'll be scribbling some words down when I can and helping the other guys out with their work too. I'll also feed some information back to mission control so that Mark Chisnell and Cameron Kelleher, of TEN ZULU and Afternoon Report fame repectively, have the latest information from our perspective on the water.

This is very much a work in progress. We'll be doing the best we can from a fast-moving, unstable platform, at all hours of the day. So don't be too hard on us if we struggle at first! The weather doesn't appear to be too kind to us. It might be difficult to keep up with the fleet as they race away at speeds over 25 knots. But we'll do our best. Special thanks go out to Inmarsat and the guys at Livewire who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to pull it all together in record time.

10:15 UPDATE

Riath Al-Samarrai from the Galway Docks: In a surprise to no one whatsoever, there are already big crowds down at the dock. The consensus from security is that there are between 800 and 2,000 people here, some two hours before the boats leave their moorings and head to the start area.

"I've been down here at least once every day," says Tom, a teenager from Galway. "It's a bit different to what we're used to here, but it's been great."

He goes on to explain that he's registered a boat in the online game. "My mate's a radio weatherman, we'll split the winnings."

Tom has received no indication that the sun will come out later as, at the moment, it is pretty cold and dreary.

Maybe that is what's keeping the sailors away. The pontoons have been largely deserted through the morning. Chief measurer James Dadd is doing his rounds, Jim Allen, the sailing manager, is trundling about the place. Green Dragon CEO Jamie Boag is hoping the race will come back to Galway. All the while there's a smattering of shore crew, moving sail stacks and carrying a scuba tank in the case of one PUMA guy.

Ian Walker has been by, dropping a bag onto Green Dragon before scarpering again. And Andrew McLean, his young but highly respected crew-mate, is also killing time. "Might go for a lie down in the sail loft," he says. His last hour has been spent going through the motions. "I don't really eat breakfast on the day of a race," he says. "Not really that hungry." That said, he claims he doesn't get nervous. "Quite looking forward to it. But it'll be a hard leg. There'll be hundreds of sail changes and a headland every half an hour!"

Elsewhere, Casey Smith, Rob Salthouse, Erle Williams and Shannon Falcone have just turned up in the village. A group of people start cheering. No surprises there either.


Yesterday afternoon, Riath Al-Samarrai caught up with Mark Covell, to learn about the mission for the Fleet Broadband Express. Here's what he found out:

Mark Covell is down on the dock. The Olympic silver medallist was the Team Russia media crewmember for two of their three legs, enlightening the public with his observations and footage. Today, and for the rest of the race, he will once again be giving viewers a unique perspective on this event.

This time, though, it comes with a bit of a twist. In a pioneering move, a vessel called the Fleet Broadband Express will follow the fleet for the duration of each of the remaining legs, carrying a small army of cameramen, photographers, radio reporters and scribes. Capable of reaching speeds of 32 knots, and with a range beyond 3,000 miles, the 50-foot catamaran's owner Stephen Shidler says "we'll have no problems keeping up".

Covell's task in the operation is not a small one. "I've never worn so many hats," he says. "My role is to coordinate the project and, effectively, to work as navigator, skipper, cameraman, editor, chef.

"There's quite a lot to consider. To make this work, and to succeed in delivering the immediacy we want, we have to be right up close and personal with the boats. That will mean making navigational judgements and a call on who we follow and when. We might also be picking up journalists along the way if it is convenient to part from the boats, but if they are doing 20 knots it will be a pretty difficult to justify stopping.

"This is a very new thing we are trying to do here. The biggest thing that everyone wants is the immediacy, to be able to commentate from around the Fastnet Rock and other points on the track. It's not the in-port race or the arrivals, but live action out at sea. It should make for some excellent media."


It has gotten very, very, very busy here. There are thousands and thousands of people down at the race village now, reaching the point where quick navigation to the pontoons is impossible. One of the security guards I canvassed earlier now has no idea how many people are in the race village. “How the heck would I know?” he says. “I can’t see more than a few inches.”

The pontoons are crowded too. Just about all the sailors are in place and going through the formalities before they leave for the start area shortly after 1300 local time.

Jules Salter, the Ericsson 4 navigator, is looking calm and typically laid back. He feels a little differently. “I’m always a bit nervous before getting on these boats,” he says. "They are big, powerful and always ready to surprise you.”

His team is looking pretty happy on the top of the leaderboard, with a 13-point cushion over Telefonica Blue, but that’s not enough to keep them smiling. “We aren’t really that happy unless we perform well. We are always trying to improve and regardless of what we do in relation to the competition, that’s important.”

The mood is buoyant onboard PUMA. They have had a successful stopover, winning both the in-port and pro-am races on the back of a second-placed finish in leg two. Casey Smith, who was given the seamanship award earlier in our stay, says he has had “a great time in Galway”. He adds: “The team is on a real high right now and I think we are all excited about getting out there and trying to give this leg a good go. It looks like there will be a good bit of breeze to start with and that suits us. After that it’s a bit variable so we’ll have our work cut out.”

So will Telefonica Blue. They have excelled in the light but occasionally struggled in the heavier downwind running, which could feature in the earlier stages of the leg. “If we can keep up at the start, we can do well,” says Gabri Olivo, their media crewmember. “It will be a hard leg for everyone, I think.”

Not as hard as it is to move in this place right now.


We are getting ever closer to the starter's gun and the final stages of this amazing stopover are well underway, reports Riath Al-Samarrai.

President Mary McAleese has just completed a walkthrough of the pontoons, stopping and chatting with each of the skippers.

Typically Ericsson 3's Magnus Olsson kept her talking for awhile, but Ian Walker was granted the longest audience. She told him how proud the country was of his Green Dragon team and he replied that they can't wait to come back to Galway someday. She then exchanged a quick wave with Damian Foxall, no doubt a regular in her presence for his numerous sailing achievements.

Telefonica Black skipper Fernando Echavarri, meanwhile, is staring into the distance. "It's going to be tough at the start," he says. "There will be a lot of breeze which is not so good for us. But we will get opportunities later and it is up to us to take them. This is a very strong and motivated crew and I have confidence that we can do well."

The blessing of the fleet has just taken place and all that remains is for the dock lines to be cast off.


Galway dock prior to the start of leg 8 from Galway to Marstrand. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

The latest information from the Race Committee is that the fleet will definitely be doing a lap in front of the crowds on Salthill Beach – as previously advertised. It’s going to be a two mile loop, that’s two miles out and two miles back, before they are free to head west for the open ocean.

If you were around for last weekend’s Pro-Am, it’s exactly the same course, set-up on an east-west axis running parallel to the beach. What’s different to last weekend is that we have some breeze, oh boy, do we have some breeze.

It’s blowing at around 20 knots, roughly from the northeast, and any sailors amongst you will quickly figure out that we have ourselves a downwind start – so spinnakers up (those are the big colourful sails out the front of the boat). But it’s very shifty and gusty, and anyone who commits to a high speed start, with all the gear up and flying, will have a bit on to make sure they don’t go over the line early.

Although the wind will be coming from behind the boats, the tide is coming in until about 16:00 GMT - flowing eastwards, against them. Not that a knot of tide will make much difference either way once these machines take off at 20 knots down Salthill Beach...

The really good news is that it seems to have stopped raining, the sun is even peaking through occasionally.


It’s been a conservative start as the fleet head west off the start-line, the 20 knot north-easterly breeze behind them. Everyone hoisted spinnakers at the gun – Telefonica Black getting a big jump on everyone else off the line. Green Dragon got the next best start, with Ericsson 4, Telefonica Blue and PUMA in a pack, then Delta Lloyd and Ericsson 3.


Green Dragon has overhauled Telefonica Black – these are their favourite conditions. The fleet doing almost 20 knots downwind towards this first mark, it’s not taken long to get this first two miles done.

Green Dragon putting on a real show for the home team fans, as they get around the first mark in the lead, with a nice safe early drop of the spinnaker. Followed round by Telefonica Blue, Ericsson 4, PUMA and Telefonica Black, then Ericsson 3 and Delta Lloyd – Ericsson 4 and Telefonica Black delayed their final gybe into the mark too late, and both Telefonica Blue and PUMA took advantage of that.


Ericsson 4 crossed ahead of Green Dragon at the mark, and rounded in the lead. Green Dragon followed them around, tacking on the mark, and slow to hoist the spinnaker and accelerate as a consequence. Telefonica Blue followed in third, with PUMA and Telefonica Black right behind them, Delta Lloyd and Ericsson 3 trailing the fleet.


The fleet blasting out of the Bay, Ericsson 4 in the lead, Green Dragon up and running behind them, but Telefonica Blue had a problem with the spinnaker and PUMA closed the gap and may just about be past. In fifth, Telefonica Black won’t be looking forward to the next hundred miles or so of high speed downwind sailing, Ericsson 3 will already have them in their sights, Delta Lloyd still trailing.


Leg 8 sets up with the battle for second overall at full noise, PUMA and Telefonica Blue beside each other in third place. But it’s the overall leaders, Ericsson 4 pouring it on at the front of the fleet, these are their conditions. The Green Dragon is in pursuit, giving the home town fans something to cheer about in second place as they head out into the Atlantic. Telefonica Black in fifth, with Ericsson 3 sixth, and Delta Lloyd covering the exits.

Volvo Ocean Race

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