Onboard The Black Pearl, 43S x 102E

Seahorse January 2006

We are close to completing our first leg of this Volvo Ocean Race. It hasn’t been without incident. We have broken the vang off the mast, hit an object in the water which damaged our rudder, and incurred some damage to our keel support structure. At this point, some 4000 miles into the leg, we are doing something between racing and delivering the boat to Melbourne.

The first thing to mention, appropriately at this time, is that it is very difficult to type onboard these new Volvo 70’s. The motion is so violent that typing on a key board is a two step forward one step back exercise. The mouse? Good luck!!

The most important ramification of this violence is the loading on the keel structure. So far three boats have had some type of keel failure. Currently we are experiencing some delamination of taping which holds our aft keel bulkhead to the boat. I think we will be ok and make it to Melbourne, but we have had to throttle back a bit in order to get some comfort in that conclusion.

Ericsson had a keel ram fork fail and is doing the leg to Melbourne by ship. Movistar had a failure of the keel ram structure on leg on and had to be shipped to Cape Town and we also, had a part of the keel fairing system fail on Leg 1and ended up flying the boat to Cape Town thanks to our partner, Pescanova.

So the question is; are these just teething problems of a new class or are they symptoms of a flawed concept. I will not answer the question but I will give you a few facts that will help you come to your own conclusion.

1. This is the first generation of this class and the boat the sailed the longest, ABN2, was launched 9 months prior to the start and about half of her time was spent in boat yards making repairs to her keel system. In previous Volvo Ocean Races, the competitors have had the benefit of older generation boats to go to school on before preparing their new race boats.

2. The Volvo 70 rule allows the longitudinal axis of rotation of the keel to be 150 mm up from the bottom of the hulls’ surface. This gains righting moment but adds complications to fairing and sealing that area. It creates something known as the “fish tank” which is a waterproof box in which the keel head meets the rams and below are the keel pins or axis of the keel for canting.

3. The Volvo 70′ have about 18 inches of total rocker of their length.

4. The Volvo 70’s are very flat in section as they only displace 14 tons.

When I decided to become involved with Pirates of the Caribbeaan as the skipper, I did think about canting keels and consider that it was fairly new technology. However, the Open 60’s have been using carting keels for more than 10 years and now there are new, large, boats like Morning Glory and Pyewacket which have successfully used carting keel technology. However, with ten crew, in large open ocean waves, I suppose it is possible we are pushing these boats harder than the their systems get pushed.

That brings up another subject which is, should we sail these things at a certain percentage of their capacity? The answer is yes, we have to. In fact, we throttled back onboard the Black Pearl during the first night of sailing on leg 2 and survived the night which as very rough, and Brasil and Ericsson did not.

I don’t know what is going on in all the internet forums as I have no access to that at this time but I imagine there is plenty of discussion about this issue.

On the official side, Volvo is organizing a meeting of team and designers in Melbourne to discuss these issues and how best to resolve them for the future. It is good that Volvo are taking a proactive leadership role in this.

Apart from the problems, the boats are a lot of fun to sail, very fast, and a good challenge for a 10 man crew. I am finding that I love it out here more than I remembered from 1997. I like it when Curtis or Juggy need a hand on the bow or he we have to stack the sails. I enjoy battling as a team and out here there are plenty of battles to fight. That is what I like about this race, the diversity of the roles..everyone does everything. The whole weather analysis and routing game is very interesting to me and now I feel fully up to speed with all the software we use for that. Missing out on leg 1 was a big setback for the Pirates, not only for the points but for the calibration of the team and our systems. We are getting sorted that front now.

I am damp pretty much the whole time but that hasn’t taken the enjoyment out of it for me yet.

Charging ahead toward Melbourne at 23.5 knots average at this hour! 1900 miles to go.