Archive for 'Volvo Ocean Race'

movistar Abandoned, ABN Amro One Wins Portsmouth Leg

Posted by John Callender on May 21st, 2006 at 8:58 am

This morning the captain of Volvo Ocean Race entry movistar, after a night spent fighting severe leaking from the failure of one of the pivot points of the Spanish entry’s canting keel, chose to abandon ship. movistar was about 300 miles from the race’s finish line in Portsmouth, England, at the time. Lots of interesting detail is available from the official VOR site: movistar abandons ship.

The boat’s ten crewmembers transferred via liferaft to ABN Amro Two, which had turned back to assist movistar and had been standing by throughout the night. The transfer was made during relatively light winds as the eye of a northern storm passed over them, but one of the main factors in movistar skipper Bouwe Bekking’s decision to abandon the vessel was the forecast for winds gusting to 50 knots. “Ten lives at stake, with a similar number of families, the right call,” Bekking said in an interview from ABN Amro Two.

movistar is currently adrift, with a radio beacon transmitting the boat’s position.

In other VOR news, most of the boats have reached Portsmouth, ending the last long-distance leg of the race. Unsurprisingly, this leg was won by the overall race leader, ABN Amro One. Two shorter races remain.

Photo: A shot of movistar taken before the beginning of the VOR, by Sally Collison /

The Death of Hans Horrevoets

Posted by John Callender on May 20th, 2006 at 3:40 am

In all my talk about the risks faced by crews in the Volvo Ocean Race, I always focused on the dangers of the Southern Ocean. But as we all know, any stretch of ocean can be deadly. Early Thursday morning, as the VOR fleet crossed the North Atlantic in the last long-distance leg of the race, Hans Horrevoets, a 32-year-old crewmember on ABN Amro Two, was swept overboard by a wave and drowned.

From the ABN Amro site’s official announcement:

ABN AMRO TWO was sailing downwind in 25 – 30 knots of wind under main, fractional spinnaker and staysail. Seb Josse, Skipper of ABN AMRO TWO was at the helm, Hans, 32 of the Netherlands was trimming the spinnaker sheet, Nick Bice, Andrew Lewis and Lucas Brun were also on deck. The boat nosedived down a wave and water came washing back down the deck, when the water cleared Hans was no longer on deck.

ABN AMRO TWO Navigator Simon Fisher explained the incident, “Immediately Seb hailed a ‘man overboard’ and we initiated man overboard procedures and we put in place the GPS positioning. The boat immediately turned around and began to search for him, meanwhile raising the alarm on shore. After Hans was found he was lifted back on board and the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, UK was notified that we had a major medical emergency and to stand by. Unfortunaly our attempts to resuscitate him were not successful.”

ABN AMRO TWO Skipper Sebastien Josse said, “We are all devastated by the events that took place this morning and all our thoughts are for Hans’ family. Throughout the whole MOB (man overboard) procedure the whole crew handled themselves calmly, professionally and with the utmost maturity. It is with deep regret that we were unable to resuscitate Hans.”

ABN Amro Two, in happier days:

Photos: Hans Horrevoets, from the official Team ABN Amro site. And ABN Amro Two, courtesy of Sally Collison /

ABN AMRO One Continues to Dominate

Posted by John Callender on March 26th, 2006 at 9:12 am

ABN AMRO One continues to outclass the competition in the Volvo Ocean Race, most recently taking first in the leg from Wellington to Rio de Janeiro (finish pictured at right), and then winning the Rio in-port race. The latter win was especially impressive in that the race took place in light winds, which up until now had been viewed as the boat’s only weakness.

More detail is available from the official VOR site: ABN AMRO One dominates in Rio.

Here’s an image of the crew collecting the tropy for the Rio in-port race:

Get used to that picture. Barring an act of God, that’s what the trophy presentation at the end of the competition is going to look like.

Images courtesy of the official ABN AMRO site.

VOR: ABN AMROs Win Again, Synergy Out Until Baltimore, Cayard Defends Keels

Posted by John Callender on January 29th, 2006 at 8:51 am

ABN AMRO One at the leg 2 finish in Melbourne

The two ABN AMRO boats went 1-2 in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race (again), giving them a solid lead in the overall standings. Two boats (Brasil 1 and Ericsson) withdrew with gear failures, and one (ING Real Estate Brunel, now to be renamed Brunel Teamwork), has announced they will skip the next three legs and rejoin the race in Baltimore. With funding for the last-place team being tight, and the opportunity now to optimize the boat for the presumably lighter winds to be found late in the series, the theory is that this will deliver more bang for the boat’s sponsorship buck than continuing to trail the leaders around the world.

Meanwhile, in a press conference in Melbourne, Pirates skipper Paul Cayard defended the canting-keel technology that has knocked his boat out of contention for the last two legs running. Said Cayard:

Canting keel technology is smart technology. It allows you to keep a boat light (which is fast) yet have high stability which translates into horsepower and speed. This technology will be the standard for the entire marine industry, racing and cruising, in 10 years time.

Personally, I have a hard time believing that. It’s true that racing systems tend to work their way down to the cruising fleet, but I can’t see how a recreational sailboat industry that is currently losing market share to more user-friendly, if less aesthetically satisfying, nautical pursuits like powerboats and PWCs is going to embrace a complex, expensive, and potentially scary technology like canting keels, at least outside the high-performance racing segment.

Photo: That’s ABN AMRO One approaching the Leg 2 finish in Melbourne.

VOR: Brasil 1, Ericsson Out; ABN AMRO One Leads

Posted by John Callender on January 8th, 2006 at 9:37 am

ABN AMRO One crewmember

Leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Cape Town to Melbourne, is well under way. Brasil 1 suffered structural damage to the deck in heavy seas soon after the start, and has retired to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for repairs. From skipper Torben Grael’s writeup, as hosted at Bang the Corner:

Unfortunately, during the second night we faced not so strong wind but really tricky waves, coming right into our faces. Brasil 1 got some really strong hits, changing directions every time a big wave got near.

One of these waves was especially hard but in the dark we couldn’t find anything wrong with the boat. As the sun appeared and the wind slowed down, Kiko found a big depression on the deck with a fissure next to the cabin. We lowered the headsail and reduced the main, to get some pressure off the mast.

After a quick evaluation of the size of the problem, knowing that we had 6,000 miles ahead and this was the last chance to come back, we decided to return to land. If we had continued we could put our lives and our boat in danger.

Meanwhile, Ericsson has also dropped out, having suffered (again, as on leg one) a failure in the canting keel’s hydraulics. Skipper Neal McDonald had this to say (from’s Devastated, frustrated and empty):

I’m devastated. There’s no really another word for it. And even that doesn’t convey the true depth of the frustration and emptiness all of us feel.

A major problem with the keel on Ericsson means that for second leg in a row we can’t compete with the other boats in a race to which we devoted months of toil to have a chance of winning.

On the first leg, the control mechanism failed with 1,000 miles to go to Cape Town. We limped home for a fourth place finish. Then on Wednesday morning, less than 48 hours out of Cape Town, one of the rams broke with a bang.

Down with the sails boys, we’re going back, I told the crew. For about 35 minutes afterwards nobody really said anything. What was there to say?

The people at Sailing Scuttlebutt ran a poll, asking, “With two boats broken, should Volvo Ocean Race officials abandon Leg 2 for safety concerns?” The final results: Yes: 54%, No: 45%.

Meanwhile, ABN AMRO One continues their winning ways by leading the five boats still on the course. They’ve passed the first of two “ice gates”; special waypoints along the course that require the racers to stay north of the more-dangerous regions to the south, where floating ice is a major concern.

Photo: Unidentified crewmember on ABN AMRO One, from the team’s official site.

ABN AMRO One Wins Cape Town In-Port Race

Posted by John Callender on December 26th, 2005 at 5:48 pm

ABN AMRO One during the Cape Town in-port race

The team sailing ABN AMRO One continued their winning ways during the Cape Town in-port race today, taking first place (and 3.5 points in the overall competition) to cement their position atop the Volvo Ocean Race fleet. Strong winds (up to 40 knots) and flat water in the lee of Table Mountain worked well for the boat, which extended its lead at each mark of the course. Details from the official VOR site: Tables turned.

Other excitement during the race included ABN AMRO Two running aground on the first leg (but holding on to finish third), and spectacular wipeouts during gypes by Pirates of the Caribbean and movistar (the latter while en route to a second-place finish).

I remember when I was 16 or so, going out on Victoria for the start of a buoy race in LA Harbor with the wind gusting to 40 knots. I was working the foredeck, and I can remember realizing just how difficult it was going to be to hoist the blade jib with the wind blowing that hard. Intellectually, I knew that the force of the wind in a sail increases as the square of the wind’s velocity, such that a 40-knot wind is not twice, but four times, as powerful as a 20-knot wind. But knowing it intellectually and experiencing it firsthand were two different things.

That race ended up being cancelled due to the rough conditions, and I confess to being relieved at the time. Wind that strong was more than I really wanted to race in, and I give credit to the crews of the Volvo Open 70s that competed today. At the same time, 40 knots in flat water is one thing. Sixty knots or more in the huge seas of the Southern Ocean, which is what these teams may be facing shortly, is something else again.

Photo: That’s ABN AMRO One during today’s race, courtesy the ABN AMRO web site.

VOR: Cahalan Fired as Brasil 1’s Navigator for Southern Ocean Legs

Posted by John Callender on December 6th, 2005 at 9:02 am

torben grael and adrienne cahalan after brasil 1\'s finish

Navigator Adrienne Cahalan, until now the only woman racing in the VOR fleet, has been fired as Brasil 1’s navigator. The move apparently came as a complete surprise to her. From her statement Monday, as reported on the official VOR site (Interpreting the situation):

“Yesterday I was informed by team manager Alan Adler that I was to be replaced as navigator on Brasil 1. Regrettably it was not Torben himself who told me of this decision. I am very disappointed not to be able to sail the remaining legs in the race with Brasil 1 and particularly the Southern Ocean legs coming in and out of Australia.

“I am and have been fully committed to both Brasil 1 and the Volvo Ocean Race for the past year and in light of our good results so far I was very surprised and disappointed to be told of Torben’s decision.”

Possibly seeking to frame the public perception of the move, Team Brasil 1 themselves claimed surprise in a subsequent statement:

“The Brasil 1 Team was surprised by Adrienne Cahalan’s statement that she was out of the team for the remaining of the Volvo Ocean Race. No decisions have been taken so far. This subject will be discussed in a meeting (on) Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

“During the first leg, trimmer Marcelo Ferreira was out of the sailing watches for some days due to a medical problem and Adrienne Cahalan wasn’t planned to take part in the watches. The only issue here being the great physical strength required for the job. The situation of having two crewmembers out of the sailing watches will be the subject of the scheduled meeting.

“The idea that will be discussed is having Adrienne on the Brasil 1 as team’s meteorologist and including a navigator who will be a part of the sailing watches for the Southern Ocean legs. Afterwards, there is the possibility of having Adrienne back to the crew for the remainder of the race.

“That idea is still the one we are supporting: ‘Adrienne has done an important job for the team and we do not want her to stop helping us’, Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael stated.”

It sounds like the bumping of Cahalan from the crew was handled pretty poorly. If you’re going to do something like this, I think it’s best to do it openly and directly, being clear about what led you to the decision. Coy statements to the media after the bumpee has gone public with her disappointment are unfortunate.

On the underlying reasons, I wonder how much of it is based in machismo, as amplified by the understandable fear of taking these radical boats into the Southern Ocean. A male crewmember in good physical condition, generally speaking, is going to have more upper-body strength than a comparable female crewmember (and in that vein, I guess it bears noting that Cahalan is 40 years old).

Upper-body strength isn’t everything, of course. On this race physical endurance is a factor, too, and it’s less clear that a male crewmember would have an advantage in that area. With numerous circumnavigations and three previous Volvo/Whitbread races in her background, Cahalan certainly has plenty of relevant experience, and after being part of the team for the past year, and crewing on leg one, it seems unlikely that interpersonal chemistry would be emerging as a factor at this point.

My guess is that, confronted by the unknown, the Brasil 1 team is trying to do whatever they can to control the variables they do have control over. They face many, many worries going into the next two legs, and apparently they decided that having one of their ten crewmembers be a woman was one more worry they didn’t need to have.

I assume from Cahalan’s statement that she believes it was Torben Grael’s decision, and given that, I think I’d agree with her disappointment that he wasn’t willing to communicate it to her directly. Maybe there’s more to that story, though.

Photo: No longer one of the boys: Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael and navigator Adrienne Cahalan at the post-finish arrival celebration in Cape Town. From the Brasil 1 official site.

VOR: ABN AMRO 1 Wins Leg One

Posted by John Callender on December 1st, 2005 at 8:15 am

ABN AMRO One approaches Cape Town

After both ABN AMRO boats finished at the back of the pack during the VOR’s first In Port race, Mike Sanderson, ABN AMRO One’s skipper, was quoted as saying, “We’re still adamant we’ve the right boat for the race. I don’t think we’ll be having this conversation in Cape Town.”

Prophetic words. From the Team ABN AMRO web site: ABN AMRO One wins Leg 1.

ABN AMRO ONE sailed to victory in the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race as they crossed the finish line below Table Mountain in first place today at 15:25hrs (local time) or 13:25 GMT. 49 miles ahead of second placed boat, ABN AMRO TWO, the crew celebrated what looks to be an impressive first and second for TEAM ABN AMRO. The victory puts ABN AMRO ONE at the top of the leader board with eight legs remaining.

There’s also this write up from the official VOR site: The winner! It includes a very interesting account of some of the ongoing troubles aboard fourth-place Ericsson, which apparently had their jury-rigged canting keel come free from its moorings following a gybe, as described here by skipper Neal McDonald:

Five minutes into my stint on the wheel, what should have been a reasonably easy task of steering in broad daylight, in about 20 knots of wind with just the mainsail up, suddenly became a very difficult task. I knew this sensation and before I heard the call of ‘we have another Free Willy situation on our hands’, I had fully guessed what had happened. The waves would roll the boat one way and rather than steady the boat, the keel simply stayed in the vertical plane and the boat rolled around it. Not nice.

Another very interesting item on the official VOR site today is this piece by former America’s Cup champion John Bertrand: Thoughts of Mr. Bertrand.

It is certain that Cape Town will be a busy port, with retro-fits across the fleet, with close attention being paid to the canting keel systems on each boat and how they are integrated into the hull. The transmitted forces are enormous. It is always difficult to calculate maximum loads and dial in adequate safety factors, but the combination of unforgiving carbon fibre structures and the enormity of ocean wave formations makes the exercise almost impossible. Trying to figure out what forces are unleashed when a carbon structure is dropped off a five story building could be an equivalent exercise! The bottom line is if these boats were built strong enough to NEVER break, they would not be light enough to be competitive. It’s back to maximizing power to weight ratios.

Anyway, here’s wishing the best of luck to the racers still on the course, and to all the teams as they prepare for the next leg, which will be taking them a very long way from help in some of the roughest waters in the world.

Photo of ABN AMRO One approaching Cape Town, from the Team ABN AMRO site.

VOR: ABN AMRO 1 Sets 24-Hour Record; Ericsson’s Keel Goes ‘Bang’

Posted by John Callender on November 29th, 2005 at 7:45 pm

ABN AMRO One in spray

The four leaders in the Volvo Ocean Race are stretching apart in the final run to the Leg One finish at Cape Town, with first-place ABN AMRO One setting a new 24-hour monohull distance record of 546 nautical miles. From the official VOR site: Fastest on the planet.

Meanwhile, aboard Ericsson, currently in fourth place, last night got very exciting at one point. Again from the official site: Bitter blow for Ericsson.

“We were reaching on starboard tack at a speed of 20 knots,” explains Ericsson skipper Neal McDonald, “The boat was fully loaded, but these were normal sailing conditions. At 0045 GMT, we suddenly heard a loud bang. We immediately stopped the boat and took the mainsail down to investigate the problem. There was no visible damage, but it was obvious that the keel was flopping from side to side! After a few minutes of work, Richard Mason managed to lock the keel in one safe position. We are now sailing towards Cape Town in a much-reduced capacity.”

Photo: ABN AMRO One gives crew the firehose treatment in the Atlantic. Photo courtesy of the official ABN AMRO site.

Positions in Flux at the Front of the VOR Fleet

Posted by John Callender on November 26th, 2005 at 10:04 am

Brasil 1 at Fernando de Noronha

For the four boats at the front of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, it’s been a seesaw battle over the last few days. The boats have been in lighter wind as they try to get south; now they’re turning the corner for the finish line in Cape Town.

For a day or so Brasil 1, which had chosen to take an easterly line, took the lead (on paper at least). Now, though, the more-southerly ABN AMRO One has picked up the wind and turned east, and retaken the top spot. The computer rankings have ABN AMRO Two 50 miles back, Brasil 1 6 miles behind them, and Ericsson another 15 miles behind them. From the official site: Position maps and Turning the corner.

More discussion of what’s going on from (Who’s winning? Go on!)

Photo: That’s Brasil 1 during the mid-leg rounding of Fernando de Noronha; more images available from their official team site.

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