In light winds on a beautiful sunny day in Bay of Sanxenxo, on the Spanish West Coast, the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race got started yesterday with the first In-Port Race. Not only was this the start of this epic yachting event, now in its 9th edition, but it was also the first time that this round the world event has included “round-the-buoys” racing. And if yesterday was any indication, this new formula will be a big hit. There were no less than 500 spectator boats out on the water afternoon watching the race and 30,000 people crowding the harbor area yesterday evening as the teams returned for the public prize giving in the square. The idea of brining the race to the people is a winner.
The race was delayed as it took a while for a light sea breeze to develop on this November afternoon. But with just 6-8 knots of wind, these 70 footers with their 100 foot high masts and 5000 square foot spinnakers were able to put on a show. Ericsson led the race from wire to wire by winning the left hand side of the start and heading to the left corner where she found more wind and a bit of favorable current. Brasil 1 was in second place around all the buoys followed by Moviestar and our own Pirates for most of the way. Then, up the last windward leg, Moviestar used an upwind “Code 0”, a big roller furling headsail that is set free flying. On Pirates, we did not measure in our “Code 0” as we haven’t had the opportunity to test this sail well and determine if it is in fact faster than a more traditional headsail, and if so, in what wind range. Well, we got a good test in yesterday when we were able to take 200 meters out of Moviestar on that last windward leg and round the last buoy right on their tail. When Moviestar rolled their “Code 0” to tack at the mark, they went right into a spinnaker set and we seized the opportunity to sail a bit higher and faster with the genoa before setting. This put us in a very threatening position to windward of Moviestar and slowly but surely we rolled them to finish third. Adding a bit of extra heat to this battle was the fact that the King Juan Carlos of Spain was on Moviestar and his daughter, Princess Cristina, was with us on the Pearl. On the way in to the harbor after the finish, the Princess was concerned that she might have to find her own ride home. She later sent me a text to thank the team and mentioned that her dad did give her a ride home on his plane.
Behind Moviestar, the two ABN Amro boats had a tough day occupying last and second to last all the way around the track. While the first four boats yesterday were the Farr designed boats which are narrower, the wider ABN boats predictable did not like the very light conditions. They seem to have more wetted surface and they have the two rudders. None of that was helping them yesterday. Yesterday was a tough day for their team as they are the favorites in this race having spent more time sailing and having the advantage of two boats for development. They handled themselves well and sucked it up keeping in mind that this is just the very beginning of a 31000 mile race with 112 points available and yesterday just 3.5 of those points were given out to the winner.
You can’t read to much into yesterday. The whole race took place in under 8 knots of wind in relatively smooth seas. This is not a very good representation of the average conditions that we will have in the race around the world. Having said that, I am very happy because since May 3rd, when I first met the Disnay executives to dicuss this project, November 5th has been a looming deadline, and at times approaching at an alarmingly fast rate. The deadline came, we were prepared to race, and we achieved a nice result. More importantly, we learned a lot from our competitors and we had a great team on the boat and on the water observing, taking photos and gathering information. We will now digest all of that and move forward.
Onboard the Black Pearl, we had three exceptional guests yesterday; Princess Cristina of Spain, herself a very accomplished sailor; Mark Zoradi, President of Buena Vista International; and Fredrik Arp, President and CEO of Volvo Cars Corporation. Apart from enjoying the exceptional “on-the-field-of-play” ride, all three were impressed with how demanding and physical the boats are for the 10 crew….and this was in 8 knots of wind! Our top speed yesterday was only 11 knots so we can only imagine what these In-Port race are going to be like in 25 knots of wind. Along with Mark, we have about 10 Disney and Buena Vista executives here visiting us for a few days, getting to know the event and the team. Every time someone who doesn’t know our world comes and spends a few days with us, I am impressed with how easily they become captivated by what we do. I have seen it happen with the Disney people one by one over the past two months and that was the case with Mark yesterday.
This week, we are preparing the boat and crew for the leg to Cape Town which starts next Saturday. Monday we will have a crew meeting in the morning followed by a safety session out on the water where we wil test the emergency steering system, man overboard procedures, abandon ship procedures, and personal injury procedures. Tuesday-Thursday will be dedicated to loading the boat and getting a bit of time to ourselves to pack up and move out of Sanxenxo. We have been living here for about 6 weeks so we are fairly well entrenched and you can just walk out of your hotel room.
It feels good to have the event under way and it was a great start.
Pirates of the Caribbean