Embarking on his second Volvo Ocean Race, Australian Casey Smith is looking down the barrell of a massive challenge and loving every moment of it.
Smith is a member of the Puma Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion Team competing in the 2010/11 Volvo Ocean Race. The 39,000 nautical mile race starts from Alicante in Spain on 29 October with an In-Port race before the boats head off on Saturday 5 November on the first leg to Cape Town, South Africa. From there the fleet race to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Sanya (China), Auckland (New Zealand), Itajai ( Brazil), Miami (USA), Lisbon (Portugal), Lorient (France) and then finish in Galway (Ireland).
The 33-year-old professional sailor’s extensive ocean racing experience and outstanding boat management skills, his ability to absolutely focus on the job at hand, mixed with a wicked sense of humour and a lot of Australian cheekiness, are the tools he will again need in this race, one of the toughest sailing challenges on the planet.
But why would a fellow with the sailing world at his feet, two young kids and a very supportive family, want to go back out there again when he has already proved he can do it and do it well ? 'Because I want to ! You have to want to do this race. It’s not something you just do at a whim and then get out there and say ‘hang on, what am I doing ?’ You've really got to want to take something like this on 100 per cent or you’re wasting your own and a lot of others time. This time the main focus of course is to win. We were second last time and there's only one way I want to go from there.'
Told of his decision to sign up for a second PUMA campaign his mother, Linda Smith, was not the least bit surprised. 'I expected him to be asked back… because he loved it. He hates leaving his family and he hates leaving the kids, but he also really loves sailing.'
Smith is on the pointy end of the PUMA’s 70 foot Mar Mostro, the part where the work is solo, physically hard and when the boat hits speeds of 30 plus knots, very, very wet. When not battling the challenges of the bow Casey, in his other role of boat captain, is expected to organise the water making, monitor battery charging and in his spare time, ensure the boat continues to run perfectly so that, as he so succinctly said, 'we can sail as hard as possible and not think about anything else'.
Smith raced with the PUMA team in the 2008/9 Volvo Ocean Race on the original il mostro 70-foot monohull. The team placed second overall after a gruelling nine months of sailing across 37,000 nautical ocean miles encompassing 11 ports. During that race he achieved notoriety in several ways, in particular, winning the Leg 7 Seamanship Award for climbing over the side of the hull to repair one of il mostro’s rudders while in the middle of the transatlantic crossing and for enjoying sailing naked, albeit with a harness. 'I've tried to tone it down a bit. I've limited myself to only a few random nudity episodes a month, so far. I'm not sure how long that can last though. I'm easing into it, not wanting peak too early', Smith said.
While the PUMA team have entered a new boat for this year’s race and signed on another major sponsor in Berg Propulsion, the team structure has remained virtually the same as the 2008/9 campaign. '(There are) lots of repeat offenders in the team. Kimo Worthington remains the CEO and Ken Read the skipper. Michi Muller and I are back for more from the sailing team. Most of our shore team are with us again. It’s like we never stopped from last race and just continued straight into this one. We just found some other guys silly enough to want to again sail around the planet.'
One obvious difference between the five other Volvo 70s and PUMA’s Mar Mostro is in the boat graphics. PUMA looked for a strong visual impact and they have certainly achieved that. The Mar Mostro or ‘The Monster of the Sea’ carries the familiar PUMA aqua cat on the sails and hull, but it also has a giant octopus straddling the hull and deck. 'It really doesn't affect us on board at all as we can’t see the topsides and so forget that it’s there. It does affect dolphins the most. They swim up, take one look and high tail it as fast as they can away from the thing. I don't think they like a giant squid chasing them around the ocean.'
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion training onboard Mar Mostro off, Newport, Rhode Island, photo by Dan Armstrong - Volvo Ocean Race 2010/11 - Puma Ocean Racing?nid=89818
Well, when the 14-ton Mar Mostro is cruising in the mid-30 knots, it’s not surprising that the local sea life won’t want to be anywhere nearby. Nor are they likely to be able to keep up even if they wanted to. 'What’s cool about these boats is you will stay above 30 knots of boat speed for extended times. Waves can help you reach peak speeds over 40 knots, but waves also slow the boat down. A reaching angle, flat water and 30 knots of breeze is the dream scenario for these boats. Someone just needs to tell the ocean that !'
Since the new boat was launched from its build yard in Newport RI in June, the team have extensively sea trialled themselves and their boat, raced it to first place on IRC and in IRC 1 division in the Transatlantic Race and then immediately moved to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands for two months of intensive on-water evaluation and training. There the team were put through their paces six days a week sailing about six hours a day. 'We had a personal trainer with us the whole time working on health and fitness.'
In early October the team then moved upwind 800 nautical miles to Alicante, the starting point of the Volvo Ocean Race, where they completed the required safety drills in the recent shake-down race.
On the recent short team break from the boat and back at home in Newport, while Kate and their kids, Sophia and Noah, were putting together a new photo album for Smith to take with him on board, he was practicing his favourite Johnny Cash songs. Smith takes after his mother with his love for the country crooner. As a young fellow living in a rural area, the local radio station played a lot of country and western songs..
He is now ready to serenade the captured audience of Ken Read and those of the nine other crew who are lucky, or unlucky, enough to be on watch with Smith. With watches of four hours on and four hours off there is plenty of opportunity for Smith to sound off. 'Michi (Muller) is my opposite again. He occasionally asks if the juke box is broken when I'm not singing, which isn't often.'
The focus is now on the addressing the last few minor organisational items and the performance the team need to deliver in the 6,500 nautical mile race to Cape Town. The team believe they have put together an easy to sail, fast boat that will deliver winning results, particularly in this first leg. 'History has shown us that the first boat to Cape Town usually goes on to win the race overall. That's how important the first leg is. A must win ! You can either arrive in Cape Town very positive about the boats performance against the others or the flip side is you know that you are off the pace and no one wants that feeling.
'All our focus right now is on this leg. We have a great group of guys on board who really get on well and want to win. We really enjoy sailing with each other and want to take that onto the race course against the other boats.'
Racing starts in Alicante on the 29 October. Further information on the race and on the PUMA challenge can be found at PUMA Sailing, go http://www.puma.com/sailing