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Southern Spars

Volvo Ocean Race- Self reliance a necessary option for Puma Racing

by Richard Gladwell on 22 Nov 2011
The rigging process starts aboard Puma Racing soon after her dismasting. Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.puma.com/sailing

The stricken Puma Racing, which dismasted around 2100nm from Cape Town, will emulate to some extent the same moves and route that the New Zealand crew did aboard Ceramco in the 1981-82 Whitbread Race.

Ceramco dropped her mast 100nm north of Ascension island to the north of Puma and closer to the African coast.

Instead of pulling into the nearest land her crew erected a jury rig and sailed a circular route around the South Atlantic high to finish the leg in Cape Town, after the pieces of mast were used to convert the farr designed 65 ft sloop into a ketch.

In this mode she was able to reel off daily runs of up to 200nm taking just under 11 days longer than the race winner, Flyer for the leg.

The plan with Puma seems to be to head for the island (or group of three islands) Tristan da Cunha, described as the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. The group is volcanic in origin, and the main island Tristan da Cunha is near circular with no natural harbours.


Only one of the three islands is inhabited, and the group are a British overseas territory. About 260 people live on the island sharing just eight surnames between them and genetic issues.

The islands are located about 2816 km from South Africa and 3360km from South America. Normal access to the islands is by boat which takes about a week.

There is believed that there is no port on the islands and the main activities are fishing and farming.

In terms of sailing distance (using weather routing) Puma is 750nm from Tristan da Cunha and 2360nm from Cape Town.

The principal town on Tristan da Cunha is New Edinburgh, and the archipelago is on the projected route to Cape Town. In other words Puma does not have to divert to make this landfall. At the current rate of progress (6kts) they are over five days to the remote island group.


Winds along the route are projected to increase to an average of 22-23kts on the morning of the 24 November, but after that are expected to moderate to the mid-teens.

If Puma can get a reasonable jury rig operating and being able to motorsail to the islands she should take maybe four days. In other words, she needs to increase, and should be able to double her current speed based on the Ceramco experience.

While she may be able to knife/recut sails to get to the island, Puma would then have to apply to the International Jury to have the sail declared to be an 'old sail' or one that is damaged beyond repair. That permission would presumably be sought after Puma's arrival in South Africa, but could presumably be done on the basis of photographic evidence ahead of her arrival. That of course assumes there is sufficient time to build replacement sails, if spares are not available.

In any case it would be normal to use heavy air sails for a jury rig, being smaller (needing less recut) and heavier in weight, more durable and potentially more easily replaced, if that is required.

Others such as Abu Dhabi were very careful to avoid cutting the head of their mainsail when dismasted five hours out of Alicante, for the same reason.

Once at Tristan da Cunha the options would be to try an set up a better jury rig in the calmer water, take on more fuel and head for Cape Town. In a later report a complex plan has been put in place to send a ship the 1800nm from South Africa and extract Puma from the ocean and return with her to Cape Town.



All going well - assuming that the extraction proceeds according to plan, or if a jury rig can be set up which will generate reasonable speed (10kts), Puma should be able to get to South Africa ahead of the restart and Leg 2 on 11 December. The downside of the jury rig option is if the winds go light in which case boat speed drops dramatically. The downside of the extraction plan is the potential for boat damage during a hoist aboard at sea, solving one problem but creating a new set of issues.

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