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Volvo Ocean Race update

Tuesday 24 March 2009, 1630 GMT

By Cameron Kelleher

In biblical terms, 40 days and 40 nights has many connotations. But in the final throes of this 12,300-mile Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, it means ravenous men with 40-day growths enduring sailing’s equivalent of purgatory.

And, as has been the case for the past week, talk on board is about last suppers as food stocks dwindle and morale dips.

So how far off is redemption? At the current rate of progress, Cristo Redentor should come into view for Ericsson 3 tomorrow afternoon – day 40. When, precisely, is anybody’s guess, which is a relief for those of us with money invested in the Race HQ sweepstake.

By the 16:00 GMT Position Report, the Nordics were limping along in double-digit wind speeds … just. Their lead over Ericsson 4 stood at 79 miles. PUMA was a further 100 miles back. There is high pressure and high anxiety on the 380 miles left to Rio.

While the rest of the fleet copes with famine and bare necessities, there is a feast – and a beast – on board Telefonica Blue, according to skipper Bouwe Bekking. Unlike their counterparts, the Spaniards’ supplies are plentiful. The grizzly in question is trimmer Pablo Arrarte and the warmer weather has brought him out of hibernation with a vengeance.

“The Bear from Santander just came out of his cave, after a well deserved six-hour winter sleep,” Bekking reported. “You can feel that he has reached warmer water, and he is not talking anymore about how cold it is.

“His new subject is how hungry he is and having all the food in the world available for him. He eats dinner, an extra breakfast (muesli and yoghurt) and just before midnight he will dig into the leftovers.”

In stark contrast to the deluge of emails telling tales of scavenging over scraps, Bekking, tongue in cheek, reports that his crew on Telefonica Blue are positively gorging themselves.

“I haven’t seen a single day that Gabry (Olivo) did not have to throw out leftovers. Maybe the cuisine is too luxurious. Always two choices for warm plates, so our two eskies (coolboxes) have never seen the bottom. I can imagine that some boats have to start scraping their food together by now, but l’m happy that we are not running out.”

On Ericsson 4, meanwhile, there are bears with sore heads, writes navigator Jules Salter.

The Stranglers’ song, Bear Cage, sums up the final few days on this leg, he says. “The boat certainly smells like a bear cage and the hairy, grumpy, dominant males in this cage seem to be starting to exhibit some tendencies of bears with sore heads,” he said. “There seems to be a lot more growling, patrolling up and down and scavenging anything they can from the food bag. A teddy bear’s picnic it is not.”

On PUMA, surprise, surprise, they are dreaming of food, glorious food. In a straw poll of favourite dishes, poultry came out on top.

Culinary critic Rick Deppe writes … “Much discussion on deck today about favourite meals from home and around the world. Meat pies from the shop in Kerikeri (Justin Ferris, NZ), sushi from Willoughby’s in Cape Town (Jerry Kirby and me), brownies straight out of the oven (Casey Smith, Aus).

“We decided that if we could have just one meal airlifted to the boat it would be rotisserie chicken and potato salad. On the side would be bread rolls with fresh butter. For dessert, brownies and vanilla ice cream – all washed down with rum and coke.”

When reality bites, chicken and spuds are a world away right now on il mostro. “Our food on board is slowly running out and with every meal we eat and every slow sched (Position Report), things get worse. We are definitely getting into the dregs, basically all the food we never imagined we would need and just threw in there for an emergency situation, such as the one we are in.”

On the Kitchen Nightmare South America that is Green Dragon, cerebral chef Tom Braidwood has introduced a unique take on the loaves and fishes fable. In this video masterclass, the resourceful Braidwood has taken to adding loo rolls where Gordon Ramsay might use sodium bicarb.

Suffice to say, the toilet paper gags were writ large in today’s TEN ZULU as skipper Ian Walker imposes strict rationing aboard Green Dragon.

Apart from the thought of grown men growing bigger on Telefonica Blue, for Green Dragon there is no crumb of comfort to be had in the fact that the Blue boat is creeping ever closer on the approach to Rio. The Dragons, stuck in a gluepot on a more westerly routing to the finish, are surrendering miles. Their current boat speed is down to one knot, while Telefonica Blue has a lavish 4-5. The advantage has shrunk to 60 miles and Bekking sniffs an opportunity.

“We made some nice gains today, who knows what is going to happen in the next 48 hours, we might have a surprise comeback compared to the Dragons, who we suspect are pushing more current than the maps show,” he said.

“I was speaking with Jono (Jonathan Swain) about this, in one race we saw up to four knots against us in the area where they are sailing and the guys offshore sailed right around us. They are still well ahead, but it will be a good laugh if we could manage to pass them.” Not sure Ian Walker would get the joke.

Needless to say, the Comments Section is dominated by food talk. Frank Piku suggests a spot of fishing to compliment the remains of the freeze-dried fare. “It’s not going to slow the boat down to troll a line for fish to eat. Even raw fish will provide liquid and fill the bellies,” he suggests. Similarly, Leif Akesson drops a line urging the crews to do the same. “With a giant ocean just next to the boat, it could not be more easy to catch some fish,” he says.

Finally, unaidentified (not sure if that’s intentional), refers us to Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. For old man, read Magnus Olsson, still craving success for Ericsson 3 on this leg.

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Volvo Ocean race. Green Dragon email


Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 21:34 GMT

Green Dragon – Chris Main (Helmsman/Trimmer)

Night one of this epic leg from China to Brasil, its pitch black cold and the wind is 20-25 and building, Ian walker turns to me and says ‘you’re up Chris’. I jump on the wheel for my first night drive of a Volvo 70. We had the blast reacher up and the wind built to 30+. We were hitting 30kts of boat speed with water everywhere. I turned to Ian and asked if this was normal, he laughed and said, ‘get used to it’.

Unfortunately this leg has not yet turned out to be the downwind slay ride as advertised on the Volvo Ocean Race website that I had checked only a week before the leg started. Ian had rung me up asking if I was available to do the leg, but more importantly was I stupid enough to agree to do it.

I know we have only passed the half way mark, at last! I am pretty sure that the Volvo Ocean Race website said “headsails will be in their bags for most of this leg”. This had been one of the key reasons I had agreed to come and do the leg. Who wouldn’t want to be blasting downwind for 40 days? False advertising and maybe a little optimism thrown in on my part, not that I’m complaining, so far my last minute adventure with the mighty Green Dragon has been nothing but rewarding.

I turned up to Qingdao two days before the start hoping to have a sail before we left, but the first day was too foggy and second day was too windy. The start day turned out to be just right for my first ever sail on a Volvo Seventy, and with 40 days to Rio the boys reckoned Id have plenty of time to learn the ropes and be well and truly ready to get off!

Rewarding may not have been the right word to describe sailing a Volvo
Seventy. I think Volvo have got it pretty spot on with “Life at the Extreme”! These are some of the extreme experiences you don’t think about prior to having never done a leg … Before hand you think about the sailing, the speed of the boats, big waves, and night-time sail changes etc etc, but the real extreme experience is living in one of these beasts while hurtling round the worlds oceans.

Here is what I have found extreme so far this leg. I think hopping into a bed or rack after your opposite watch person has got out, having spent the last 4hrs sweating like you have been in a sauna, is extreme. Four days of blast reaching is tough. Unable to look forward without a helmet and visor on for fear of your eyelids getting turned inside out is extreme. Can you imagine being hosed down by a fire engine for four hours three times a day for four days?

China was cold and I will know in a few more days how cold the Southern
Ocean is, I suspect extremely! Trying to use the bathroom is extreme. For those keen to get some Volvo experience you could try using the loo in a caravan while being towed around a motorcross track at 100ks.
Sleeping 4 on 4 off is probably not that extreme, but being woken by the ceiling making contact with your head when levitated out of your bunk every ten minutes can be. Making a simple cup o tea can be pretty tough. It’s getting it from the kettle to the cup which is hardest; trying to get it in the cup without pour boiling water everywhere or all over yourself is not that easy.

Wearing the same thermals three or four weeks is pretty extreme, which probably explains the smell inside the boat which is also extreme!!
Freeze dried food is one area where there have been huge improvements over the last few years. Thank goodness is all I can say to that.
Even typing this letter can be tough at times, I am pretty sure the delete button is getting a good workout as you randomly hit keys with each wave.

The sailing is however fantastic and makes up for the inconveniences that life in a Volvo Seventy throws at you. We are hoping things go our way for the next week and we can get round the Horn in good shape and still with a chance to win the leg!! As you can see from the leg so far you never really know what the weather will do.

Here’s hoping it’s downwind to Rio.

Chris Main

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