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Volvo Ocean Race - Puma skipper on the unsure outcome

by Ken Read on 5 Mar 2012
Skipper Ken Read. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.puma.com/sailing
Volvo Ocean Race - Puma skipper, Ken Read, shares with us the latest on the crew's progress as they enter day fourteen of Leg 4.

I know I haven't blogged for a while because quite honestly, I have been pretty busy. In a strange way…dodging squall after squall…trying to sort out our positioning…watching half the fleet take off and sail through the Solomon Islands. Sleep comes every once and a while in sweltering heat. And, in the case of tonight, we finally enjoy a beautiful star-filled, moonlit night that has us sailing fast yet not getting pummeled by water in the chest every 10 seconds. And, we are actually heading south still, in the general direction of our final destination.

But, at the same time I can't remember a race that I have been so unsure of the outcome. The huge east-west split opens up room for the three boats to leeward to sweep around the high possibly better than us. But, we do have a lot of leverage in a port tack race south. I don't know what is going to happen. It is strange because usually we have a pretty good idea how things are going to work out in the big game of chess long before it actually does happen. Or at least I hope we usually know.

As for now, we are past the 'Doldrums' which were pretty uneventful. We just passed the Solomons with a set off in all solid squalls just to wish us goodbye. Only about 20 minutes of drifting right at the southern tip of the Islands and then we were off. Whew. Don't need to give the rest of the group more of a head start. We did that already off the starting line in Sanya.

Life on board has been pretty relaxed I must say. Win a sched, lose a sched. A classic drag race south. Our position has been solid except for race leaders Groupama, and our pace has seemed pretty good. And then came the big split. In essence, the group of three to the west realized that they weren't going to get around the Solomons and did the next best thing – they found a gap and went through the middle of the island chain.

There was certainly a chance for big wind shadows in there, but Telefónica took off for the gap when they were bearing 260 degrees from us with a little over 200 miles separation east to west. After the islands were dealt with, they now are at 259 degrees a little further away than they were before they made their move. All in all, about as net even as two radically different approaches could be.

Now comes the tough part. How much of our gauge do we give up in order to gain bearing? Will they always have a better angle than us on the outside of the high? Who will have the better pressure, as the two GRIB files are contradicting themselves right now.

So, we keep pushing and wait and see. Itlooks like it will be a complete fight at the end anyway as all the models have us hitting a wall a couple hundred miles from New Zealand and drifting in at this stage. But these forecasts are changing every time they come in. Some complex weather stuff happening down there and it is too far outto really have a firm grasp on the situation.

As for life on board, after our jib tackline exploded several days ago and our primary J-2 came down in pieces. I thought we were in big trouble. We suffered with the wrong jib up for the better part of a day before the wind lightened and we could go with bigger sails. Ryno, as always, took the lead on putting the jib back together,and 24 hours after it came down in tatters it went back on deck to be used when necessary. We haven't needed it since, but we will eventually. Fingers crossed it stays in once piece. [Watch the video here.]

It was a big bang. The sail took off up the headstay when the tack line broke at mach speed. Looked like a large Fourth of July flag flying from the top of the mast until it tore in half and the bottom two thirds came roaring back down the headstay and into the water. Oh joy. Deal with it, right? What choice do we have? Can't sit around and feel sorry for ourselves when stuff like that happens. That is what this race is all about. Deal with adversity as best you can. Every boat has the same situations but in differing magnitudes. It’s what ocean racing is all about.

So into the rack I will go, my eyes closingas I finish this. Curious as to how this is all going to pan out.

Volvo Ocean Race website
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