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Volvo Ocean Race- Puma effects fuel transfer at sea + Video and Images

by Amory Ross on 23 Nov 2011
Puma sights the ZIM Monaco before re-fueling during a mid-ocean rendezvous on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race©

Puma Ocean Racing have completed a mid-sea fuel transfer that will allow them to reach land, the first phase of their logistical battle to stay in the Volvo Ocean Race.

'These are our new best friends,' Puma skipper Ken Read said as he carefully positioned their wounded Volvo Open 70 close to the 257-metre cargo ship ZIM Monaco.

Using a system of ropes the crew of the container ship lowered diesel containers down to Puma – and once transferred the Puma crew sent back a package of t-shirts in thanks.

'I cannot believe that actually worked,' a grinning Read said as he steered Puma away from the container ship. 'That is the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever done. Those guys are unbelievable, right? Now let's rig the jury rig port tack, and let's go home.'

Puma found themselves in a complex logistical situation after their mast broke into three pieces in the over 2,000 miles from Cape Town in the middle of the South Atlantic on Monday. With limited fuel, food and water, and only a tiny stump of the mast left from which to fashion a jury rig, the team had few options.

But after tireless work from the Puma shore crew and Volvo Ocean Race control a plan was hatched to divert ZIM Monaco to transfer fuel before heading to the remote volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha.

There, they will meet another ship dispatched from Cape Town and crane Puma, using her central lifting point, on board and onto a special cradle built by the shore team.

It’s estimated Puma have another three to four days of motoring before they get to Tristan da Cunha.

They hope to be back in the water ready to go for the Cape Town In-Port Race on December 10.

Earlier, Read outlined the logistically complex plan to get Puma to Cape Town, and set up again for the start of the second leg of the 39,000nm race:

When Puma's mast smashed into three pieces 'in the middle of freakin' nowhere', skipper Ken Read's mind was racing. His team had a limited amount of fuel, food and water - and they were hundreds of miles from land. Fast forward 24-hours and Read has a plan. With the help of an extensive support team Puma's Mar Mostro and her devastated crew have tonight started their complex trip to Cape Town.

'The spare mast is being flown in from the US as we speak and will meet us in Cape Town. We will need to get the boat in the water as soon as we get to Cape Town to tune the rig properly in time to do the In-Port Race and the next leg to Abu Dhabi. What could go wrong?'

'It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion: There is nothing you should be surprised about in ocean racing. Yesterday was no exception.

'The day started off simply enough, breeze filling from the northeast, and it was a great ride due south with 20-25 knots of wind and average speeds in the low 20s. Making tracks. Looking at the routing software and seeing only five days and some change left in the leg. Looking at Telefónica and trying to assess where and how we could get by them.

'We were racing. Racing is great.

'Then, in one brief moment, we started surviving.

'I was on deck for a couple hours trimming the main for Kelvin and the new watch came on deck. Jono took the main, and Tony grabbed the wheel. The boat was ripping, we liked our spot and all was good. All morning it was reef, un-reef, reef again.

'About 10 minutes after I got below, the watch on deck asked for a hand to reef again. Tom Addis had his foul weather gear on and said he would go up and help. Then, three minutes after the reef was in, and we were off again, our world came crashing down around us.

'The very last thing I thought of that day was we have to be careful of our mast. This boat and everything on it was built to push and we were pushing. Nothing out of hand, but we were certainly pushing.

'We are trying to assess what happened to the mast and chances are it will be some little fitting that simply gave it up at the wrong time. It usually is. I hope for our sake it is as simple as that because our spare mast is identical and we have to find the weak link so we can be sure this doesn’t happen again.

'Wake up racing, go to sleep 2,500 miles from where you need to be with a 15 foot stump for a mast and a storm jib and storm trysail lashed to it going 2.8 knots. Wondering when food will run out and how to use the limited amount of diesel fuel that is on board.

'This is when you need friends and people that care for you.

'In the modern days of communication I can call anyone in the world from the phone on the boat just as if I was in my car driving down Memorial Boulevard in Newport, Rhode Island…just a tad more expensive.

'Calls to Volvo Ocean Race headquarters sprung them into action. Calls to our sponsors and Kimo and the phenomenal shore team, and they spring into action. Dozens of ideas being thrown around. Trying to think clearly because we are in the middle of freakin nowhere and I have 10 people who not only want to continue with this race and see this thing through, but they also want to eat at some point and have water to drink and be real human beings…and not drift toward South Africa with no hope of being there in the near future.

'So this is where we are.

'At approximately 1800 GMT this evening, the ship Zim Monaco should arrive to our position to deliver 450 litres of diesel fuel. At the end of the day, we determined diesel is our lifeblood out here. With it, we can make water and make ground towards a given destination with our 15-foot stump. And that destination is…drum roll…the beautiful island of Tristan da Cuhna!

'That’s right, Tristan Island. My daughter, Tory, sent me a fantastic e-mail telling me that Tristan has a population of 275 people and is literally a volcano sticking out of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean 6.5 miles wide. It is the closest point of land, which we can re-supply and rally around the next part of our plan. No airport, no other way to get to the Island except by boat.

'From Tristan, we plan to have a ship meet us coming from Cape Town with its own crane that can center pick the boat up and place it on the ship on our cradle that our shore crew will have in place upon arrival.

'Oh, and the harbor is too shallow to get into in Tristan. We will have to do this in the ocean.

'On the ship will be our shore team with a 20-foot container full of tools and equipment and all of us, and we will spend the next four-plus days of transport to Cape Town putting the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The spare mast is being flown in from the US as we speak and will meet us in Cape Town. We will need to get the boat in the water as soon as we get to Cape Town to tune the rig properly in time to do the In-Port Race and the next leg to Abu Dhabi.

What could go wrong?

Well, without the people in the Volvo Ocean Race office and our internal folks and the Rio Maritime Rescue Authority and the radio operator in Tristan and Antonio Bertone [PUMA CMO] and Håkan Svensson [BERG CEO] and Captain Borys from the Zim Monaco, etc, etc, there is no way that any of the above crazy scenario would even be remotely possible.

Will it go exactly as planned? For sure no way.

Will it happen? Hell, why not.

So, between Amory and myself, we will report on progress. And, Amo will certainly have his camera tuned to this crazy action. Stay tuned and don’t be surprised if the big cat is back on the line in Cape Town. That is what is keeping the crew on this boat sane right now. Hope.

And, the realization that you never know what tomorrow may bring.


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