The Volvo Ocean Race has been about legendary feats in boat speed, crew work and tactics. Even back in the early 70s when the then called Whitbread Race attracted 17 entries from seven nations, the teams threw everything they had into firstly surviving, then hopefully winning the challenge.
Those teams each had an incredibly talented people, some die-hard offshore sailors and others who made the leap up from dinghy and keel boat Olympic and World Championship day sailing into the rarefied air of Volvo around the world yacht racing.
One of the sailors who made the move, survived and is now thriving from his taste of fast, furious, Volvo racing, is Australian sailor Casey Smith. At the pointy end of PUMA’s il mostro in the 2008/09 Volvo Ocean Race, Smith’s drive to go one more time now has him again at the forefront of the PUMA boat for the next challenge starting on 29 October 2011.
Back from the 2008/09 race finish in St. Petersburg in July 2009 Smith said he really wanted to do the Volvo race, just once more. 'When PUMA made the decision back in January to enter the 2011/12 race I instantly said yes, of course! Time away from my family will be hard, but we made the decision as a family to do it again so there's no turning back now. You have to be all in to do this race. You have to want to do it and accept the sacrifices.' One sacrifice will be missing out on taking daughter Sophia to her first day of pre-school.
Since the finish of the last Volvo race, Smith has been working full-time for PUMA Ocean Racing delivering, maintaining and upgrading PUMA’s il mostro as the 2008/09 race boat to be used as a training and testing boat in the lead-up to the launching of the new PUMA boat. In addition to this he has been racing on the bow of George David’s Rambler 100.
In his spare time, Smith has spent quality time with wife Kate, young Sophia and brother Noah, and he has been enjoying the challenge of trying to get the restoration of his VW beach buggy completed. Work started four years ago and with one Volvo race over and another on the horizon, it’s not likely the VW will be finished anytime soon.
But now with the New England snow finally melted, the trees turning green again and an October deadline, Smith says 'it’s time to get back in action. I can’t wait to finish our boat and go sailing.'
All his energies are focused on working alongside the PUMA shore team at the New England Boat Works in Newport on the final stages of construction of the new mar mostro due to be launched later this month. On the building team alongside Smith are some old PUMA hands and a few new ones. 'Watch captain Brad Jackson is the design coordinator between PUMA Ocean Racing and Juan Yacht Design. He is very involved in the design process and spends a lot of time at the build. Bowman Michi Müller is our winch and deck gear guy so he is also very hands on. Skipper Ken Read is also very involved in the design process of the boat and is always checking things out at the shed. The rest of the guys are super busy in their departments like sails and rigging. So we all are involved in making the project come together. Everyone has pretty much been full time as of April.'
With the closing of the two-boat testing deadline reached on 16 March, the pressure is on to ensure the new Volvo 70 out of the yard is the right first up. 'PUMA sailed il mostro all last summer and we did as much work as we could on sail design and rig design to bring forward to the new boat. Time will tell if we got it right.'
There are still a lot of hours to be put into finishing the construction including the all-important new hull and sail artwork, which the team is expecting to be something pretty special. 'It will be very cool. The artwork is one of the most important items for us as a team because without the artwork, we wouldn't have PUMA as a sponsor and without PUMA we wouldn't have a really cool boat to race around the world.'
Once launched, the PUMA team will sea trial the new boat out of Newport before competing in July’s Newport to England Transatlantic Race. On board will be PUMA 2008/09 team members and 'repeat offenders' skipper Ken Read, bowmen Müller and Smith. 'We also have Tim Hacket moving up into the shore manger role. On the shore side we have Chris Hill as our head boat builder and Kimo Worthington as the GM of PUMA Ocean Racing. Sean Healey, who was with us during the last race, is back as the electrician and Mark Nicora as the hydraulics and systems specialist. We have some great continuity as a team going forward.'
Smith’s job on board will be boat captain and bowman. 'The boat captain is the link between the racing crew and the shore team. We are constantly running a list of improvements or maintenance items. My job is to keep a list of everything to be done while we’re out sailing and then relay that list to our shore team boss Tim Hacket. Tim then disperses the jobs among his very skilled team. It’s a constant bettering process to make the boat perfect come the start of the race.'
Smith is well equipped to be the boat captain. His experience from the time he started ocean racing in Sydney Hobart races through to maxi yacht racing and onto the Volvo race has given him skills that will no doubt again prove very valuable to all on board mar mostro. On winning the Leg Seven Seamanship Award during the last Volvo race, Ken Read described Smith as 'nothing short of a stud on board. We break it, he fixes it. Bulkheads, longitudinal frames, generators, keel systems, electronics - you name it.'
While the final watch teams are yet to be organised, Smith knows that for whoever has the pleasure of being his watch partner, they are going to have to listen to a lot of songs from his favourite country crooner, Johnny Cash. The watches may start with a classic Cash rendition of ‘Help me make it through the night’ and end with the Highway man’s ‘I was a sailor. I was born upon the tide, and with the sea I did abide.’ Whichever song Smith shares with his watch mates, it will certainly be sung with gusto as the team drives PUMA hard on the 39,000 nautical mile long road in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race.