Volvo Ocean Race - Mammoth task ahead for Puma Ocean Racing team

Loading of new mast for PUMA’s Mar Mostro - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012
‘It never rains but it pours’, the saying goes, and that’s certainly the case for Puma Ocean Racing as they continue the mammoth Mar Mostro rescue mission.

'It’s going to ask a lot of us and there’s probably going to be a few more setbacks but we have a pretty awesome team assembled. We’re still in the window of ‘this is possible’' - Mike Brady, Puma Ocean Racing rigger
Puma's shore crew jumped into action following the dismasting of their Volvo Open 70 in the South Atlantic on November 21 and have spent the last eight days working flat out on a plan to get the team back into the race.

It’s not been easy – the original ship booked to meet Mar Mostro in Tristan da Cunha was cancelled at the last minute, forcing the shore team to opt for a ship from Durban instead, adding precious days to their operation.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the truck transporting the mast on the two-day trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town keeps breaking down.

'It’s been a huge ordeal, a proper test of nerve, and it’s not over yet,' said PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG rigger Mike Brady, who is overseeing the transport of the mast.

'It’s like warfare – periods of activity with lots of waiting.

'The truck sounds like it’s on its last legs, which is a bit of a concern because the job’s only half done.

'It’s broken down three times, but I’m told it’s not going to happen any more.'

Despite the setbacks, Brady said the team remained utterly focused on getting their boat back into the Volvo Ocean Race, which starts again with the Cape Town In-Port Race on December 10 followed by the Leg 2 start the following day.

'It’s going to ask a lot of us and there’s probably going to be a few more setbacks but we have a pretty awesome team assembled,' he said. 'We’re still in the window of ‘this is possible’.'

Brady said the 30-metre carbon mast would be loaded on the truck Dec 1 – and by early evening would be en route to Cape Town.

'The truck trip will take the best part of two days with everything going well,' he added. 'They are an oversized cargo so they have to travel pretty slowly. The rig is quite a robust piece but it’s irreplaceable so we need it to get there in one piece. As soon as it arrives in Cape Town we will lay into it with the goal of having it ready when the boat turns up. Then we’ll start phase two of the panic.'

Meanwhile, the Puma sailors stranded on Tristan have kept their moral up, enjoying the hospitality laid on by the local community.

With the rescue boat just days away, thoughts have now turned back to the race – and the huge task that lies in store once the team arrive in Cape Town.

'No matter what we’ve been doing, nobody has ever—not once—hung it up and looked down,' Puma’s media man Amory Ross said.

'Don’t lose the faith… As I wrote just before we dropped our rig, we’ve got a good boat, a great team, and if we sail smart and safe, we’ll be in great shape.

'Nothing’s changed, not one bit. I speak for everyone when I say we’re looking forward to getting back on the race track soon and proving what we’re made of, making good on what we’re here to do: sail fast, and faster than everyone else.'

From skipper Ken Read:

It appears that our ship will be arriving today (Friday) about noon time. Perfect timing, we hope – enough time so we can get prepared during daylight, load during daylight and be off. Knock on wood, everything goes without a hitch.

But of course, as with everything that we have done over the past, lets say 5 years, nothing comes without risk. Our friend or foe will certainly be the weather. It is forecast to get windier as the day goes on, but the big one is the ocean swell. How big will the swells be?

We have certainly been thinking about the loading of the boat for over a week now, and I think we have a plan. Obviously a wave going past the boat at the wrong time creates a very good chance of breaking something if the boat suddenly violently jerks on the cranes lifting cable. We are very wary of this and are coming up with a system that will serve as a bit of a shock absorber for the lift. Fortunately, our Tristan friends are going to assist with two of their RIBs which can help position PUMA’s Mar Mostro and help create this shock absorber. It all has to work perfectly. Fingers crossed.

I know Amory has been sending photos and video and blogs of our activities here on the island. It has been nothing short of an amazing experience. We have had time to acclimate into island life. We have seen first hand how this group of people on the island live off the land and the sea, as well as off of periodic shipments coming from South Africa. We have seen industry (lobster) and culture. We have spoken to kids and adults alike. We now appreciate the access we have to basic communication when on the mainland more than ever. Cell phones are a non-entity here. The internet café’s three computers get you emails at their own pace. And don’t even think about downloading an attachment no matter how small. Community communication happens with pieces of paper posted in certain key locations around the town.

I was sitting in the internet café alongside Brad yesterday getting our emails when all of a sudden a cow walked up to the narrow front door and stuck in her head. After looking around, she backed out and walked away. Brad suggested she was checking to see if a computer was free (which it wasn’t) to check her Facebook page. Welcome to Tristan.

Our team has really fallen for this place and its people. They have been nothing short of exceptional hosts. We owe them more than we could ever repay. They have given us hope as well as comfort in pretty trying times.

Ken Read talks to a crowd of Tristan de Cunha locals during a presentation made by the team. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG takes refuge on the island of Tristan de Cunha after being dismasted in the South Atlantic Ocean during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.

One thing that has really stuck out is the fact that they have very strict rules and abide by them without exception. It is what makes this place tick, I would imagine. It would be easy to simply have loose rules and much more of an anarchistic society given what they have to work with and the small number of people. But they don’t, and they stick to their governing authorities and rules and it solidifies a society that simply works.

To say thank you and goodbye to Tristan da Cunha will be difficult. It will be a bittersweet moment – a moment in time that we have been looking forward to because it means that we are off to hopefully rejoin the race that we are meant to be in. But, it will also mean saying goodbye to our new amazing friends most likely forever. But you never really know. Hope is a strange bedfellow. Hope that we can stay on schedule, and hope that someday our paths will cross again with some or all of Tristan’s wonderful population.

Thank you friends. May your cows get fat and your lobsters be plentiful. And, may your internet get speedy, but your culture never change.


PUMA’s Mar Mostro website
Volvo Ocean Race website

* Puma Ocean Racing team powered by Berg officially retired from Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 after suffering a broken mast. The rig onboard Puma’s Mar Mostro failed on Monday, November 21, at around 15:00 UTC in the southern Atlantic Ocean, about 2,150 nautical miles from Cape Town, South Africa.