Tuesday, 24 March 2009

VOR: The Clock is Ticking

Longitudial frames are installed below decks on Delta Lloyd in Rio de Janeiro during major repairs to her bow section. After sustaining serious damage on Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, the team was forced to miss Leg 5 and the boat was shipped directly to Brazil in preparation for Leg 6 to Boston. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Volvo Ocean Race media

As the sun beats down on the Marina da Gloria, a sense of anxiety is spreading among the shore bases. With the first boats now not expected until March 25, there will be just 10 days before the in-port race around Guanabara Bay. And that's for the podium finishers on this leg. Not all will be so fortunate.

"We'll be in towards the end of the week," said Telefonica shore boss Campbell Field, hardly revelling in the Blue boat's position at the back of the fleet. "We might only have about six days to get ready."

Such timescales would be difficult after most legs in this race. But the current leg, weighing in at 12,300 nautical miles, is far from normal.

"After a 6,000-mile leg the boat turns up in a bit of a state so after 12,000 the job lists will be pretty big," said Neil Cox, PUMA's shore manager. "I reckon it's going to be busy and hard for everyone."

The weather is not likely to help. Over the past five days the temperature has regularly topped 30 degrees centigrade, humidity is often on the stifling side of 80%, and the rain hammers down for a short spell on most days. It's not an ideal combination.

"Hot and sticky," said boat builder Killian Busch, who has been patching up Delta Lloyd after her fourth leg retirement. "When it's 29 degrees at six in the morning it is a bit of a struggle."

"The temperature is a big player, we are chasing air conditioning units," added Cox. "Working inside these boats in that heat is not particularly easy.

"The guys will be getting bucketed on which doesn't make the job any easier. Glue, resins, paints, they don't like the moisture. You have to work around it, but you can't put everything under cover. It's all part of the game."

Field has been playing for longer than most in this stopover. The team's Black boat, which missed this stage because of the cracked hull sustained on leg four, has been in Rio since March 5. The shore crew has since been battling the local environment in order to carry out the repair.

"The climate here is not ideal for composite boat building, so we have had a challenge to control humidity and temperature," he said. "We have a tent up beside the boat (attached to the hull area undergoing repair) and climate-controlled that. The inside of the boat is sealed off around the repair and we have dehumidifiers around that help us laminate in the right environment."

Of course, it's not just boat builders sweating under the pressure. The logistical challenge is on to source parts and tools from the surrounding city.

"Everything is here, you just have to find it," said Busch.

"It gets hard with scissor lifts and cranes," Cox added. "They are quite hard to find and they are not cheap here either."

On that front, Ericsson Racing Team are having a good time. The depth of their preparation becomes apparent from the stamps in Herve Le Quilliec's passport. The Ericsson shore boss has visited each of the stopovers on reconnaissance missions which, coupled with his visits here on previous races, has left them with little to worry about.

"It has been a great help," said Anthony Spillebeen, who takes care of the team's logistics. "All the way through, from the days of Lanzarote (where they did their training) Herve has travelled and evaluated the specific stopovers so we know where to go for things.

"We are also quite fortunate because wherever we have gone we have had a strong local presence because Ericsson has a presence at every stopover. When we broke down in Taiwan we were able to call on the Taiwanese Ericsson people to help us. This all helps when the boats come in."

Green Dragon's Johnny Smullen added: "We have a good set-up with a lot of people who have been here before on other races. There are challenges: I still haven't seen the crane yet and it's all very expensive. We have to watch our budget as we want to finish this race: we can't afford some luxuries that some of the other guys have like scissor lifts.

"As far as the stopover, we don't have much time with the boats. We may be cramming a lot of work into a short space of time. I think we will have people working all around the clock if these boats don't hurry up."

The gritted teeth as he spoke that last sentence said it all.

Volvo Ocean Race

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