Volvo Ocean Race - Telefonica's complex comeback

Team Telefonica in Martial Creek, Cabo de Hornos National Park, ready to rejoin leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil.
The Volvo Ocean Race crew aboard Telefonica have had a rough go in Leg 5. From a dreaded night time phone call to second place - involved two emergency repair jobs on board, inside info from an old family friend, an achingly slow journey by boat and great work from the shore crew. Here, Telefónica's technical director Horacio Carabelli explains how the pieces of a complex comeback came into place.

'That’s the call you never want to get and of course it normally happens at two or three o’clock in the morning when they call you from the boat and say, ‘We have an issue and what can we do?' Carabelli said of the night he was first informed of the damage on board.

According to Carabelli the initial prognosis appeared not too serious and gave hope the damage could be fixed on board. However, as conditions worsened the situation soon escalated.

'At first the delamination was not that great and we tried to do an emergency repair on board,' he said.

Team Telefonica technical director Horacio Carabelli at the shore base at leg 3 finish from Abu Dhabi, UAE to Sanya, China. Technical director Horacio Carabelli
'Once that was done the weather got really bad -- big waves and they tried to keep pushing and keep in the front of the fleet. After a day or so the problems became worse.'

Carabelli said the only solution was to reduce speed dramatically to give the crew a realistic chance of carrying out effective repairs that would get the boat safely round Cape Horn to a pit stop location.

'It is really difficult to repair something when you are doing 20 knots with everything banging and crashing around,' he said.

'So you have to say, ‘Guys, you have to slow down to a speed where we can really make things happen with the repair' -- for the resin to go off or the Sikaflex or whatever we use. That’s what happened. We really slowed down for about 10 hours.

'We didn’t have much to give the repair support, we were limited on materials and tools. Fortunately the guys were able to use what they had to make it safely to the Cape.'

Once the decision was made for the boat to stop, back ashore Carabelli began the daunting task of coordinating the complex operation to get the boat repaired and back in the race as soon as possible.

'For us it was then a rush against the clock,' he said. 'We looked at several options and decided on the one which meant we would stop least time at the Cape and get going again still in touch with the leading boats.'

Carabelli called on the experience of old family friends to help him work out the best logistics plan before opting for the remote Herschel Island, close to the Horn but some three days by boat from Argentina.

'Cape Horn is one of the most remote and hostile places you can be so there are not many options for going to check out locations,' Carabelli said. 'Just to get there from Argentina takes three days by boat, so it’s quite a challenge.

'I relied on some very good friends of mine from South America who had been sailing there. One was a friend of my father who has been there for the last 10 years and runs charters to Antarctica.

'He was the guy who I decided to trust. He had the knowledge and could recommend where the best place to do the job would be. The spot was very close to Cape Horn and had a sheltered bay.

'We built a panel to give support to the port side of the boat which was damaged and we set off with 10 guys.'

Carabelli said the operation hinged largely on overcoming the considerable logistical problems of meeting the wounded Telefónica in time, to say nothing of the political hurdles he had to jump over.

Team Telefonica's shore crew, board their Volvo Open 70 in Martial Creek, Herschel Island in the Cabo de Hornos National Park, to perform repairs, during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

'Once you reach Ushuaia in Argentina, then you have to go to Chile because Cape Horn is part of Chile,' he said. 'So it was 30 miles by boat to Chile then you have a limited time to clear customs and immigration and everything. We had to wait and we were really short on time.

'We had taken two days to build this panel, fly everyone there, collect the tools and everything we would need. We had to take everything with us. We had to buy generators and everything we might think we needed. Once we left for Cape Horn we would not have a shop on the next corner to buy anything.'

Leaving Port William in Chile, Carabelli said the conditions were not helpful. 'It was very cold and I was amazed by how quickly the weather changed there. It started off beautiful but I was told to wait half a day and it would change for sure.

'That was it, black clouds came, 35 knots of wind against us. We were making five and a half knots, it was not a fast boat and we were worried we would not get there in time.

'In fact we only just made it. We were lucky that the race boat got some lighter winds and gave us enough time to anchor and prepare everything. As it was, from when we anchored to when they arrived and we jumped on board was only an hour and a half.'

Carabelli said that looking back at the operation it could not have gone better with the boat repaired and turned round in 15 hours.

'We had a plan and we stuck to it,' he said. 'Everyone knew what they were doing. We grabbed the tools and the generators and everything and we jumped on and set to work. The cold was an issue but we were well prepared with heaters.

'From when the call came we really didn’t sleep for a week. It was full on for all that time. Everyone was involved, there was a lot to do and by the time it was done we were all exhausted.'

Volvo Ocean Race website