by Ken Read
Volvo Ocean Race, Day 31 of Leg 1. Ken Read, Skipper of Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg reports on the crew's progress onboard Team Bremen:
Ken Read looks back towards Tristan da Cunha as the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team leaves the island onboard the ship "TEAM BREMEN," - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Team Bremen. That is the team we are on. When we started this leg (what feels like about 10 months ago) I always tried to envision success for Team Puma/Berg, but I never thought that by the time we got to Cape Town I would be on Team Bremen.
Team Bremen is the name of the ship we are on as we speak. A 350-foot multi-purpose ship that was a sight for sore eyes as it crept over the horizon when we sat in the lee of Tristan da Cuhna. At 1:20 pm UTC on the second of December, Team Bremen dropped anchor about 3/4 of a mile off the north shore of Tristan which signaled the beginning of yet another really stressful five hours.
Loading a Volvo 70 on a ship in ocean swells is no bargain. We had come up with a strategy and a key to the strategy would be the help of the Tristan police and fishery RIBs. I met with them at 7 am and we went through the plan one more time. On board Team Bremen was Chris Hill, one of our key boat builders and shore team leaders for our program. He would be the liaison with the captain of Team Bremen and the crew. As the anchor went down, I felt that we had a decent chance of pulling off an ocean haul-out onto our cradle which Chris already had in place.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated. The swell was down to about 1.5 meters and the wind was about 10 knots. It is amazing how much a 350-foot ship moves around in a 1.5 meter swell though.
We tied along side the ship and one of the RIBs held us off a bit so we weren't in solid contact with the steel ship. The sails and mast parts came off first by crane. Easy. But then it came time for Puma’s Mar Mostro. Time to hold our collective breaths.
Chris was the contact with the crane operator and gave the signals. We agreed that once the boat was hooked up to the crane that we would pull the boat about 15 feet away from the ship with the RIB, and when Chris felt a swell go down he was to signal to the crane operator to go for it. No hesitation. Just send it. The theory, the slight delay between the hand signal and moving the lever on the crane would allow the swell to bottom out and the boat would start rising on the wave. And it worked to perfection. With five of us still on the boat, the crane grabbed the center point of the boat and up she went with absolutely no jerking of the lifting tackle or the boat whatsoever. Whew! A big potential disaster averted.
With the boat dangling about a meter and a half in the air, we all got off to go up and help with the tag lines. And, I am really glad we did. We jumped on the Tristan RIB and up on the gangplank of the Team Bremen then up she came. Four people per tag line were trying to control the boat as the ship rocked back and forth in the swell. This wasn't exactly what I had envisioned, but I guess it shouldn't have been a shock. A crane attached to a ship that was rocking back and forth creates a bit of a pendulum. Time to get creative and try to keep the old girl from bucking too wildly.
As the crane brought Puma’s Mar Mostro over the edge of the ship, we were struggling to keep the boat under control with the two tag lines. It wasn't until we had the boat over the center of the ship that we could get four tag lines to all four corners of the yacht. A bit better, but it was still a rolling boat dragging four or so people across the deck per line when the ship would rock and roll.
Fenders came out to dry and protect the bulb from the cradle. And fortunately, we got smart and not only had tag lines to the four corners but created a fore and aft spring line that steadied the boat from swinging bow to stern on the ship. This settled things down dramatically. I started thinking then we might actually pull this off with limited damage.
Chris, the First Mate on the Team Bremen and the crane driver all did their jobs amazingly well. With six tag lines pulled bone tight, the boat was lowered successfully into the cradle without a scratch. An amazing feat. We started lashing, and as we were about done with the tie-down system, which looks like a spider’s web, the final Tristan RIB came by and gave us a three-horn salute and sped off. Our Tristan experience was nearly done.
Just after 6 pm local time, the anchor rose and the Team Bremen started for Cape Town. With Tristan off the transom, we all had moments to reflect on the past six days and what it meant to each of us individually. That little mountain was simply amazing. Again, another huge thanks to all of the Tristinians. Even the loading of the boat couldn't have happened without their assistance. We couldn't be more thankful.
Saturday night, we had a cookout on the back of Team Bremen with the entire crew. They too have taken us in. The entire crew of 12 have become honorary Puma/Berg team members. In fact, down in the hold of the boat there is a huge storage room that has been turned into a makeshift sail loft... which will be turned into a basketball court Sunday night for an epic international battle. The Bremen team wants to play 'blow-boaters.' I have a feeling we are getting set up, but we will play along. If we can load a boat on a rocking ship, how hard can it be to play basketball on a rocking ship?
The final piece to the puzzle is the weather as usual. We had a fantastic first 24 hours steaming toward the leg two start. Problem is we will most likely see a strong southeasterly as we approach Cape Town, and that could not only slow down the ship but make unloading pretty tough. But for now, we will enjoy our cookout, try to teach the Kiwi's how to play basketball, and thank our lucky stars that we are at least moving in the right direction.
Puma Ocean Racing website