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Volvo Ocean Race - Puma punch through cold front

by Amory Ross on 26 Apr 2012
Kelvin Harrap driving at sunrise. Onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.puma.com/sailing
Volvo Ocean Race, Day 4 of Leg 6. Amory Ross, MCM for Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg, reports on the crew's progress:

It seems we are through both front and ridge and finally free to point north, but it was not without its troubles! We first pushed through the frontal barrier with little resistance and it was a few hours more before we approached the east-to-west line of windless convergence extending three quarters of the way across the Atlantic.

Getting anywhere first during a race always brings moments of excitement and anticipation, but in this case life quickly turned tense as forward progress came to an abrupt stop. We found ourselves without wind, aimlessly drifting while trying to keep the rig from punching through our lifeless and hanging sails. It’s one thing to simply sit there, but to spend all of your idle time wondering if it’s a condition the other boats are dealing with too is unpleasant and stressful.

So many times this race we’ve found ourselves in that situation: becalmed and vulnerable, forced to watch while the others just sail around the outside. That feeling of total helplessness is one nobody wishes to relive, and as we sat there today – even moving backwards at one stage – all we could think about was the next sched. Would our lead evaporate in three hours time? Would we be stuck here, isolated and slow, having shown the fleet where not to go? Or are we okay…are the others drifting too? It’s an unbearably difficult range of emotion, having worked so hard to get where we are, and to possibly see it vanish in just a few watches time.

But the answer would come in several stages. Three hours into the mess Tom flipped on the intercom: 'It could be worse,' he starts. 'We did 3 knots towards 065, everyone else went 5 or 6. We’ve compressed, as expected. Brace yourselves.' Man. Another three hours of waiting, wondering, doubting, and fearing…preparing again for the worse. Everyone’s just trying to make the boat go forward, any way possible. Eyes peeled on the horizon for positive signs of any kind. Finally, a hint of wind. Two sail changes later and we’re slowly on our way again. Another hour goes by that seems like an eternity and we’re actually going well again. But is it too late?? Sched time… everyone’s anxious. The intercom flicks on.

'Puma…did 10 knots…040.' Moment of truth. 'Telefonica…2.3. Camper, 2 knots. Abu Dhabi, 3.1. Groupama, 2.6'

A giant sigh of relief and a few modest expletives later, and we were free. Lead intact, we went back to doing whatever it is that needed doing, taking Mar Mostro north with smiles on our faces. Not this time! At least not yet.

In response to my having a real book: 'You bring one book and you can’t even read when it gets dark. I have 10 books on my iPod and can read whenever,' Michi Müller.

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