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Global Ocean Race- Ross Field vents frustrations and looks at options

by Ben Gladwell on 10 Feb 2012
Buckley Systems was leading the Global Ocean Race at the time of the incident. Ivor Wilkins/Offshore Images

Former winner of the Volvo Ocean race, Ross Field, is back in Auckland a week after having to withdraw from Leg 3, of the Global Ocean Race

Field (62), a former police officer, turned professional sailor, was injured in the after their boat, Buckley Systems crashed off a wave. He was in the navigation station at the time, and became airborne during the boat’s fall, landing back in the seat but falling heavily against the side of the 40ft yacht. He is suffering multiple injuries including a compacted spine.

After having left New Zealand following the race restart from Wellington the five competitors, in the two man around the world race, headed to what was labeled by the race committee as a 'scoring gate'. The fleet was forced to sail on the wind in 35 knots of breeze.

Such conditions on this point of sailing are never a very pleasant experience, but in a boat that is specifically designed to sail downwind, such as a Class40, it can be potentially very dangerous. Field and his co-skipper Campbell were well positioned well as they made their way towards the scoring gate.

Field says that a dense low pressure system awaited them in the vicinity of the gate, generating strong winds and large seas that were literally to become their downfall.

With Field at the nav station, the boat launched off an exceptionally large wave, tossing him into the air as the boat disappeared from beneath him 'it was like jumping off a 20ft wall and landing on your bum'.

The boat landed in the trough behind the wave, 'I came crashing back down onto the seat, and then crashed into the side of the boat with my hips'. The impact of the landing caused severe bruising to his spine.

The injury sustained by Field was only part of damage caused by the incident.

The motion of their crash-landing, while violent enough at deck-level, magnified several times at the top of the mast, and knocked their wind instruments from the top of the rig. In short handed racing, this is more than enough to cripple a boat which relies heavily on accurate wind instruments for the autopilots to function correctly, and sail to a wind direction rather to a compass direction.

'After the wind gear came off the boat rounded up, and then did a crash tack and full crash gybe', Field recalled. 'The rig laid in the water'.

With their wind gear now missing, Buckley Systems (who were sailing under autopilot at the time) immediately rounded-up, crash-tacked and then crash-gybed. From here the father and son crew decided that the damage sustained to both the boat and crew was too much for them to continue racing safely.

After suspending racing they began the return to New Zealand with Ross Field barely aware of what was happening for the first three days. Field was on strong painkillers recommended by an emergency doctor service to which they had subscribed before starting the round the world race.

After their arrival back in Tauranga the GOR race committee posted on their website that they would be shifting the scoring gate from 47° S to 50°S (180nm towards the south). This meant that Buckley Systems, along with two other crews, who had beat further to the north than the other boats in preparation for a change in wind direction, sustaining significant losses in the process, had done so in vain.

However, the two now-lead boats, who had remained further south, were not expected to lay the mark when it was in its original position. Following mid-race course change, Phesheya-Racing voiced their displeasure on their blog

'This remarkable decision has cased serious anger and disillusion aboard Phesheya-Racing. This seems ridiculous to us as it has made a mockery of our strategy, and also BSL and Campagne de Frances’s decisions to retire. We have had to fight day after day, beating into horrible seas, to ensure that we make a seamanlike decision regarding our route, which every day has seen us drop further and further behind the leaders… We thought that the two leading boats would eventually come unstuck. Now, just when it appears that we were correct, they have been given another 180 miles for free'. (Sail-World's prediction using PredictWind's optimised course routing facility shows that Phesheya-Racing is over 1000nm behind the other two boats in terms of the distance required to sail to just reach Cape Horn from their current position.)

In their release, the race committee states that 'If any boat feels that they have been disadvantaged, they can apply for redress'. Next call for Field after his visit to the back specialist, was to contact a rules expert and establish their options.

This is not the first time during the race that Ross Field has disagreed with the GOR race committee regarding ice/scoring gates In the second leg of the race, gates were put into the course to stop crews heading too far south.

'I never objected to it' said Ross Field. 'I just left it to lie because I had never experienced it before. But it became obvious after the first gate in the second leg, that it became so restrictive that we were either hard on the wind, or having to gybe in 30-40kts of wind with spinnakers up to keep off this ice-wall'

'We lost our masthead A4 through having to gybe to keep off the gate, and it cost us the leg.'

Field says that he then spoke to Race Director Josh Hall, suggesting that he discuss the issue with the competitors, 'he (Hall) wouldn’t discuss it. And I just said 'you are totally off the mark', and left it like that.'

'As we got closer to the race start for Leg 3 it became apparent that we were going to have to beat in strong winds to reach this gate. I told him this and they wouldn’t change. After the race started from Wellington, we were hard on the wind in 35-40kts exactly as we predicted, and now there is a tropical cyclone that is going to hit them at the gate as well.'

In spite of being unable to finish the leg, and with Field’s recovery time being measured in months, sponsor Buckley Systems has reinforced their commitment to the team and they plan to continue with the event. Their immediate concerns lie with taking action against the race committee to have results of the leg thrown out and getting the boat to Uruguay for the next leg.

'We are thinking of sailing the boat to Chile and trucking it across the Andes, to Uruguay', Field added.

'We want this leg thrown out – even though they may have abided by their own rules, what they have done is totally unfair. We pulled out because we could see that we couldn’t make the gate. Now they have moved the gate down to where the alleged ice was.

'What annoys us is that we have invested a lot of time and money. Bill Buckley has invested heavily with his money. I have put a lot of money and time into the project. For this to happen it is just ridiculous, and there was no need for it to happen.

'It’s like moving the top mark in the Olympics when the boats are in the middle of the final beat!

'We are going to have a study of the rules in terms of Redress. Bill is keen to carry on. I’m keen to carry on, but I can’t sail. We’ll keep the boat. The event is a fantastic event, but these restrictions are ridiculous. None of these boats are designed to go hard to windward.'

To underline his frustrations Field notes that the route from Wellington to Cape Horn should have taken 14-15 days to sail. 'After almost two weeks they are only halfway there!'!Click_here to view Ross Field's interview with Ross Field - also at the hospital entrance

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