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Vendee Globe - Mike Golding still on the hunt for opportunities

by Gamesa Sailing Team on 13 Dec 2012
Gamesa skippered by Mike Golding Lloyd Images © http://lloydimagesgallery.photoshelter.com/
After 32 days at sea in the Vendee Globe, Briton's Mike Golding continues to hunt for opportunities. The last few days have not been easy for Mike in the Indian Ocean, passing through the small landmark of one month.

After a spell riding a beneficial low pressure trough which actually saw Gamesa, SynerCiel and Mirabaud gaining on the leaders, the last few days the bungee elastic has stretched again and miles have inevitably been lost. The chasing pack of three are making just 10-12knots on average, with the front runners on 19-20knots.

For Mike it is a bit hard to take, seeing the distance to leaders rise with each ranking report, but he and his long time rivals are now in a completely different weather system.

On Monday when Francois Gabart was setting a new 24 hour distance record at 545.3 miles and the 500 miles barrier was broken eight times by three different skippers, Mike was in conditions which were certainly not ideal to set any speed records.

More recently they have been in very confused winds and seas and it has been quite intense and stressful. Today Golding is 800 miles behind the leader, but Mike remains upbeat and always looking for opportunities. In 2004-5 he made up more than 600 miles in The South and went on to lead the race after Cape Horn so he is completely pragmatic when it comes to the current situation.

That said Golding is not prepared to sit and wait to see what happens. He has made the choice to head NE to rendezvous with an active low pressure system ‘Claudia’ which has the potential to give him a faster ride to the south of Australia.

Mike's Boat Captain, Graham 'Gringo' Tourell, talks through the weather for the rest of the week:

'Looking forward and up to the end of the week, for the leaders, it's a straight drag race. The five lead boats are going to thunder towards the next Ice Gate, which is 'West Australia', down at 46 degrees south, in north westerly breezes. It doesn't look as if there is anything too complicated between them and the gate. They will then be heading towards 'East Australia' Gate at 50 degrees south.

The leaders have around 600 miles to the nearest point of the gate right now, which at this rate they will reach in under two days or so. They'll be in 25 knots SWly which will then become Wly. There might be some variance in the leaders' course to position themselves as they set up their route for this Gate, but there isn't much opportunity for tactical gains.

'For Mike and Jean [Le Cam], for the next 24h, they should end up picking up a W/SWly breeze. Hopefully, Mike won't get caught up in the variable conditions associated with the high pressure and he'll end up tagging into the Wly breeze on the back end of the low to the SE of the three boats. To add salt to the wound, Jean and Mike are going to be in very confused seas until they are settled into the W/SWly breeze, which should then take them fairly happily towards the Gate, whereas the leaders will be in a more organised sea and consistent winds. The crucial thing for the pack of three [including Dominique Wavre] now is whether or not this little high affects them over the next 12-24 hours.

'Mike is currently on Genoa and Full Main and doing about 13 knots so I am hoping that he will just ride this without dropping off the back and not lose too many valuable miles.

'Mike's focus now is the battle he has on his hands with Jean. It is easy to be distracted by the leaders’ boats speeds and averages, but they are in a different weather system. His eyes must be on those boats close to him.'

Gamesa’s alternative energy sources – two hydrogenerators and a small expanse of solar panels on the cockpit floor behind Mike’s steering position - have proven a big success so far in the race. For most of the 32 days at sea, the boat has been self sufficient, able to rely on the power made by the hydrogenerators and the solar panels enabling Golding to preserve his diesel.

Graham Tourell, Golding's Boat Captain, explains the pros and cons, and the workings of the hydros and solar panels.

When did you start looking at these energy sources and actually adopt them on Gamesa?

We started looking more closely at hydrogenerators after the Barcelona World Race. Feedback from the boats that had used hydrogenerators during that race was very positive indeed.

Prior to that I had actually spent some time talking to JC who was Yannick Bestaven’s boat captain during the last Vendée Globe. Yannick’s sponsor, Aquarelle, is the main developer and manufacturer of hydrogenerators and they were building prototypes for his boat. Yannick had already done the Quebec-St Malo without running his engine at all. While we knew they were a massive bonus, they were relatively unproven in terms of sea miles.

For our project, we decided to install them for the Transat Jacques Vabre [2011] but to be fair we did not get a lot of information from the TJV or the Transat BtoB because one of the hydrogenerators got swiped off the back of the boat and smashed and the other one packed up. What that did tell us was that we should refine the periods that we put them up and down.

When can they be used?

On Gamesa, we put them up and down at the same time as the trim tab, which is down at around eight kts of boat speed and up at around 16-17kts. You could keep them down for longer, but if you hit any debris there is no question that you would lose or seriously damage them. Below eight knots creates too much drag which is also why we bring the trim tab up at slow speeds.

Our experience in the TJV showed us that we needed to beef up the cassettes so that they are capable of impact with weed. Even though it does not seem like it, the drag is ridiculous when you hit weed, especially at 15kts. Since the B2B we have done a reasonable amount of testing with them and the power output of hydrogenerators is pretty staggering.

How much power do the hydros deliver?

On Gamesa, we can get 42 amps at 16 kts. This creates a lot of power; more than double what we would be drawing on a typical day. In the South we use the most power with the heating and computers on a lot of the time.

By producing twice as much power as we need, we can positively charge the batteries. We generally run the batteries down to 15 or 20 per cent and then charge them up to 90 per cent. In the Vendée Globe we plan to have the hydrogenerators running for around six hours a day and that basically runs the boat for you.

Could you, or would you go with just hydros and solar panels on this race?

For the whole of the Vendée Globe it is a punchy call. You know the risks, weed, debris, whales, ice, all more than capable of destroying everything including the hydros.

Our view is we don’t think you can survive solely on hydros for the entire Vendée Globe. They are susceptible to damage because they are hanging underneath the boat and can be damaged by weed, debris etc. If our hydros make it half way around the world they have done enough and Mike can generate power to finish the race with the fuel he has and the solar panels.

Our priority is never to sacrifice safety and in The South we always have the radar on to detect ice. If you need to start cutting power then the radar is something that is a big draw. After that you are talking about turning your satcomms off. Then dampening down the pilot response, which in The South you just don’t want to do.

How much diesel are most boats carrying?

Yannick Bestaven was in Les Sables d’Olonne and he said that most of the boats carrying his systems were carrying between 50 and 100 litres of fuel. We have got more, only because we suffered with losing one [hydrogenerator] and damaging one in the TJV and B2B.

And the Solar panels were a bit of an afterthought, a belt and braces option but they have been good too?

We put on the solar panels because they are light and they are doing much better than we ever expected.

On a good day they are producing 15-16 amps which means in The Tropics when you need about 10-12 amps to run the pilot, the computer, the B&G electronics etc, they can run the boat. That is a massive benefit because you save the drag from the hydros.

The solar panels of old were reliant on direct sunlight, but these just need light. If you stand over them they still produce power from the ambient light. With the old systems even the shadow of a control line over the cells meant they would not work, which is why we stopped using them. So for the Vendée Globe, the panels are proving their worth nicely. Once Mike has passed Cape Horn, he will probably be getting eight hours per day of ‘free’ power.

And how do the hydros actually work?

In effect it is a drive leg which is deployed on a pivot. It has a small propeller on the end, about 130mm in diameter. The system weighs about 20kgs and then there is the pipework and the cables and the converter box which regulates and transfers the power from the unit into the battery pack. There is a hydraulic unit which changes the pitch of the propellers. The reason for this is that at lower speeds it creates more resistance; by changing the blade pitch, it produces more power. Correspondingly at high speeds it feathers the blades aft and reduces the resistance, but it gives a higher top speed.

What are the downsides?

The downsides are drag. It is hard to measure the actual figures because there are so many variables in terms of sea state, wind changes and so on. But in the tank and according to the modelling which has been done it is approximately 4% of drag. So if you are doing 10kts it will be slowing you 0.4 of a knot. It is not really significant until you are in lower boat speeds. That is the theoretical model but on the back of an Open 60 there will be less drag because the water is already aerated by the influence of the keelbox, the daggerboard cassettes and the turbulence from inboard of the rudders so the drag will be less than that. They are as close to the rudders as possible so the rudders in part shield them.

They are vulnerable, though, as has been seen by Alex [Thomson on Hugo Boss], which could leave you open to not finishing a race, depending on how much fuel you carry. We have saved quarter of a tonne minimum on what we had on the last Vendée Globe and we could have gone lighter. While we have saved 250 litres, we suspect we are still carrying more fuel than the boats around and ahead of us.

Merf Owen [designer Gamesa] did a model based on carrying 100 kilos of fuel which equated to less than half an hour’s time difference between Les Sables d’Olonne and Cape Horn. So we decided to take the extra and if we are in good shape in The South then we can use it for heat, which is a big Mike Golding Vendee Globe website

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