Puma Ocean Racing

Update from the Helm

Leg 1, Day 18
22 November 2011

BY: Ken Read, Skipper, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG

It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion: There is nothing you should be surprised about in ocean racing. Yesterday was no exception.

The day started off simply enough. Breeze filling from the northeast, and it was a great ride due south with 20-25 knots of wind and average speeds in the low 20s. Making tracks. Looking at the routing software and seeing only five days and some change left in the leg. Looking at Telefónica and trying to assess where and how we could get by them.

We were racing. Racing is great.

Then, in one brief moment, we started surviving.

I was on deck for a couple hours trimming the main for Kelvin and the new watch came on deck. Jono took the main, and Tony grabbed the wheel. The boat was ripping, we liked our spot and all was good. All morning it was reef, un-reef, reef again.

About 10 minutes after I got below, the watch on deck asked for a hand to reef again. Tom Addis had his foul weather gear on and said he would go up and help. Then, 3 minutes after the reef was in and we were off again, our world came crashing down around us.

The very last thing I thought of that day was we have to be careful of our mast. This boat and everything on it was built to push and we were pushing. Nothing out of hand, but we were certainly pushing.

We are trying to assess what happened to the mast and chances are it will be some little fitting that simply gave it up at the wrong time. It usually is. I hope for our sake it is as simple as that because our spare mast is identical and we have to find the weak link so we can be sure this doesn’t happen again.

Wake up racing, go to sleep 2,500 miles from where you need to be with a 15 foot stump for a mast and a storm jib and storm trysail lashed to it going 2.8 knots. Wondering when food will run out and how to use the limited amount of diesel fuel that is on board.

This is when you need friends and people that care for you.

In the modern days of communication I can call anyone in the world from the phone on the boat just as if I was in my car driving down Memorial Blvd in Newport, Rhode Island…just a tad more expensive.

Calls to VOR headquarters sprung them into action. Calls to our sponsors and Kimo and the phenomenal shore team and they spring into action. Dozens of ideas being thrown around. Trying to think clearly because we are in the middle of freakin nowhere and I have 10 people who not only want to continue with this race and see this thing through, but they also want to eat at some point and have water to drink and be real human beings…and not drift toward South Africa with no hope of being there in the near future.

So this is where we are.

At approximately 18:00 GMT this evening, the ship Zim Monaco should arrive to our position to deliver 450 litres of diesel fuel. At the end of the day, we determined diesel is our lifeblood out here. With it, we can make water and make ground towards a given destination with our 15-foot stump. And that destination is…drum roll…the beautiful island of Tristan da Cuhna!

That’s right, Tristan Island. My daughter, Tory, sent me a fantastic e-mail telling me that Tristan has a population of 275 people and is literally a volcano sticking out of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean 6.5 miles wide. It is the closest point of land, which we can re-supply and rally around the next part of our plan. No airport, no other way to get to the Island except by boat.

From Tristan, we plan to have a ship meet us coming from Cape Town with its own crane that can center pick the boat up and place it on the ship on our cradle that our shore crew will have in place upon arrival.

Oh, and the harbor is too shallow to get into in Tristan. We will have to do this in the ocean.

On the ship will be our shore team with a 20-foot container full of tools and equipment and all of us, and we will spend the next four-plus days of transport to Cape Town putting the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The spare mast is being flown in from the U.S. as we speak and will meet us in Cape Town. We will need to get the boat in the water as soon as we get to Cape Town to tune the rig properly in time to do the In-Port race and next leg to Abu Dhabi.

What could go wrong?

Well, without the people in the Volvo Ocean Race office and our internal folks and the Rio Maritime Rescue Authority and the radio operator in Tristan and Antonio Bertone [PUMA CMO] and Håkan Svensson [BERG CEO] and Captain Borys from the Zim Monaco, etc, etc, there is no way that any of the above crazy scenario would even be remotely possible.

Will it go exactly as planned? For sure no way.

Will it happen? Hell, why not.

So, between Amory and myself, we will report on progress. And, Amo will certainly have his camera tuned to this crazy action. Stay tuned and don’t be surprised if the big cat is back on the line in Cape Town. That is what is keeping the crew on this boat sane right now. Hope.

And, the realization that you never know what tomorrow may bring.

-- Kenny

For photos, as well as information on the race, team and crew visit www.puma.com/sailing.