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Holy crap it’s wet and wild out here!

October 30th, 2008

I guess I am late in writing my obligatory- “holy crap it is wet and wild out here” blog.

Puma Ocean Racing

Well, first off it is windy and water is pummeling anyone on deck.  Average speeds in the 23 knot range means high speeds in the upper 30′s which we have had.  Will have to go back to the log to see if we have had any 40′s to date but I can tell you that things are moving along at a pretty good clip…

Many things have been interesting over the last few days.  We have sailed il mostro in some pretty breezy conditions pre-race but none at this fanatic pace.  To be sure this is an inherent problem of a one boat program – protecting the assets.  I always felt reluctant to press the boat 1000 percent in the pre-race practice because if something really bad were to happen to this boat essentially the race was over before it even started.  Not a very good scenario.  Plus there is the racing vs. practicing mentality. You can “think” you are pushing a boat hard when you practice but the fact of the matter it is that with a competitor next to you on in the same water you push much, much harder than in practice.  It is a fact of life.

This all leads back to where our program is at and something I have said earlier in this leg.  We are learning.  How hard is hard enough to push? How hard is too hard?  Fact is the guys on E4 have schooled us all in these conditions and my guess is they knew where there boundaries were better than we did.  We are finding them slowly, and a lot of it is getting used to the crashes and smashes that happen all around you 24 hours a day inside this base drum called a carbon fiber boat. It’s funny, as this leg has gone on the sleeping or even the concentrating was often interrupted by being acutely aware of new noises, loud bangs, creaks and groans.  Not to mention the occasional silence, followed by the tremendous CRASH of a hull falling into a wave trough out of thin air.  The first thought – “Are we pushing too hard and maybe risking the boat?”  Turns out, probably not hard enough.

The human psyche is a strange lot.  As I said, three days ago concentrating was tough as we sunk into this low pressure system and knew it was going to be a reasonably long and fast and furious ride.  No lie there.  But now things are different.  Three days ago what I cringed about is now what I crave.  I find that I can’t sleep now if the boat ISN’T smashing off waves or humming only as this boat hums when the boat speed goes past 30 because all those noises aren’t noises of possible problems any more.  They are the noises of FAST.  And to win this race will mean we have to get faster.

The Monster will find a way.


PUMA LEG ONE DAY 17 – Ken Read’s Blog

October 28th, 2008

“We are a bit lonely out here as for just about the first time this race we can’t see another boat.  E4 gybed and crossed our bow by about 20 boat lengths earlier this afternoon ending an incredible run of being neck and neck.  They are heading south presumably looking for more wind.  We kind of like where we are right now and decided to end our little boat on boat battle at least for now.  It is not easy predicting the weather situation right now, except for the fact that someone is going to turn the fans on pretty good for a few days.

Life on board is simple.  Go about chores, on watch, in bed, eat, and sleep.  Do it all over again.  A regime spoiled only by the fact that gremlins crawl into the complex boat systems from time to time and take the mechanically inclined completely off their schedule.  Which happened this morning but again Casey Smith helped de-bug and solve the issues, this time with the able assistance from Chris Nicholson.

For such simple looking craft, with zero interior amenities, its amazing how complicated these machines are.  Especially with modern age communication and our new and elaborate media station.  The computer-driven hydraulic keel system is just another example of something that can get full of gremlins and you wouldn’t know it until many times it is too late.  That is why guys like Casey and Michi Mueller and Nico (Chris Nicholson) are so crucial.

Essentially the modern day racer is also part electrician and mechanic and all around “McGyver”.  We’ve had a few cases during this trip, and I can’t tell you how impressive it is to watch these guys solve some issues that simply blow right over my head.  Thank goodness they were all around for the entire build of the boat.  In essence they also helped design the systems, which is one of the reasons why they are so comfortable with an issue that seems potentially so daunting to the non-mechanically inclined.  It is always hopeful that the gremlins don’t find the boat, but also somewhat unrealistic. Hopefully we can keep them away for the next few days though, or at least until someone turns the fans down a bit.


Ken Read – skipper

Rags to riches to rags, over and over again. The story of the world’s largest Doldrums.

October 21st, 2008

On board Il Mostro, October 21, 2008: It is well documented that this is my first Doldrums crossing–and of course my first equator crossing.  Yea yea, I know.  The antics of “King Neptune” are not far away now.  Casey Smith, Mickey Mueller and I have that to look forward to!  But, for the last couple of days or so it has felt like we would never get to those antics.  Light air running- just getting going, only to be smacked by a cloud that has no wind. Then a cloud with pressure giving you hope…then a clearing that brings slatting sails.  And on, and on, and on.

Early in the race we knew that this was going to be a major trap.  The Doldrums, as described by Capey (navigator) in his typical understated tones, were “unusually large”.  Which is translated to,” Holy crap, there isn’t any wind forever!”  Actually what he described is that the Doldrums are exactly where they usually are, and aren’t really that large, but there is a huge band of no wind to the north of the Doldrums making it seem like the world’s largest Doldrums.  And he was right.  So we entered in the lead with only our historical data and some pretty sketchy weather analysis and a prayer. Just hoping to get out within some shot at the lead, and not put ourselves in position to have to play a substantial catch up game on the next part of this race- which is notoriously hard to catch up in.  We aren’t out yet.  Capey figures 60 miles to go as I write this.  And our goal isn’t secured to get out within a shot of the lead either.  

Things are just now starting to become clearer though.  I think in this particular case it was certainly a disadvantage to enter this massive Doldrums in the lead.  A few of the boats had a nice shot at seeing our 3 hour position reports and seeing what the wind was doing with us, evaluating their weather files and deciding where to go next.  We always like the west, but to go there meant to jibe away from the entire fleet at one point and give up the lead for positioning sake- while still in the lead- a lead that we had just planned down the Atlantic Ocean to grab.  And there was certainly some of the old adage- “if you don’t have a clear picture- stay between your competitors and the mark”.  Well, we ended up losing the lead by being too tactically conservative at the front end of the doldrums.  In the Green Dragon’s case, they did a really nice job- back a hundred miles at one point, sailing right around the fleet to the west.  Same thing with Ericsson 4, who after dropping off Tony for medical help found themselves a ways back and also boogied to the west.  We got to the west finally as well, although a little late.  Hopefully this strategy will inevitably pay off for us over this last 60 miles.  I will tell you it is no fun seeing a particular 3 hour boat position reports and finding out that by sailing sideways on the race track to get to the west, you actually gained little to no ground toward the mark and lost 15+ miles to most of the other competitors each time we did it.

All for the end game though.  And in this case the end game is getting out of this bear trap called the “extended” Doldrums.  And we don’t even know for sure if this will work yet in the end!  Did I mention that it is pretty hot as well?  

We are working hard to keep things loose on the craft.  It’s pretty easy to do when sailing with some of the most sarcastic people on earth- makes it quite enjoyable actually, especially during trying times like “massive doldrums” and a bad position report or two.
I bet all of you at home are tearing your hair out watching this unfold. Believe me- I know exactly how you feel!  Hopefully the next writing can come from il mostro with a bit more conviction and normalcy.  Dear Lord I hope so!


PUMA takes the lead on Day Five of Volvo Ocean Race

October 15th, 2008

October 15, 2008 – For the first time during the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, PUMA have taken the lead. Since leaving Alicante, Spain, on Saturday and racing out of the Med en route to Cape Town, South Africa, the top five boats in the fleet have been constantly changing places. By choosing a fast route through the Canary Islands, sailing close to the African shore, the PUMA team today moved into the lead for the first time during leg one of this epic round the world race.

Sailing in strong trade winds with speeds of over 20 knots, PUMA are currently engaged in a tight tussle with Ericsson 4 at the head of the fleet. The tactical choices made aboard each boat in deciding which route to take, will result in obvious gains and losses for each team. More than ever, the PUMA Ocean Racing team will be looking to squeeze every inch of speed out of the boat that they can, to extend their lead.

The mood onboard is positive, with all minds concentrated on the job in hand. Skipper Ken Read commented from the boat early this morning: “I was just told that the TP 52 World Championships [an in shore event] are going on in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands right now.  Not only did we just sail right past that island, but did so in the middle of a gybing duel with Ericsson 4, with them about two boat lengths ahead of us at times. No matter how close the boats racing in the TP 52 event are, my guess is that there won’t be any tighter racing than the racing Ericsson 4 and ourselves are having right now.”
“As they zig zagged all over the lot trying to prevent us from passing us, we decided to set up about a mile to leeward, trying to sail our own angles and see if we can boat speed them and finally break through. For sure there isn’t much in it. Very fun though. Doesn’t make for much sleep, that is for sure. Honestly, I thought the racing would be close but this is ridiculous!”

“Besides that, it is business as usual…lousy food, smelly guys, getting fire-hosed on deck and sleeping inside a base drum with someone relentlessly beating on it 24 hours a day.  There’s nowhere would we rather be right now.”

Current Position:
1st Place
Distance to Leader: 0 nautical miles
Distance to Leg Finish: 5436 nautical miles
Miles covered in last 24 hours: 384 nautical miles

To track PUMA live online, go to: http://www.traclive.dk/events/event_20081011_VORLeg1/

The Volvo Ocean Race is made up of ten legs, finishing in June 2009 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The fleet is expected to finish the first leg of the race, in Cape Town, around 3rd November.

By joining the race, PUMA has entered a new premium category and is the only Sportslifestyle company to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09. For more information about the race, team and the PUMA Sailing collections, please visit www.pumaoceanracing.com

PUMA Ocean Racing makes outstanding start to Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09

October 11th, 2008

Alicante, Spain, October 11, 2008 – At 14.00 (local) today, the PUMA Ocean Racing team stormed across the start line of the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09. In winds of over 25 knots and stormy seas off the coast of Alicante, Spain, skipper Ken Read and his team aboard PUMA’s il mostro sped round the first two marks of the course before heading off over the horizon en route to Cape Town, South Africa, in second place. Thousands of spectators lined the sea wall in Alicante to watch as these incredible boats began their long journey 37,000 miles round the world.

Having waved an emotional goodbye to family and friends on the dock this morning, the eleven crew on board il mostro – ten sailors and one media crew member, who will document life onboard as the race unfolds – prepared themselves for a 6,500 mile leg to Cape Town. Expected to take around 23 days, the fleet will sail westwards out of the Mediterranean Sea, and then down through the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town, crossing the Equator as they go.

After a great start, the PUMA Ocean Racing team aboard il mostro had a gruelling first few hours, rounding the first mark of the course in Alicante Bay in second place behind Swedish boat Ericsson 4 and storming back down towards the second mark. Impressing the crowd with visually stunning huge bright red sails, Ken Read and his team treated the spectator boats to a fine display of boat handling as they sped off at speeds of up to 24 knots.

PUMA Ocean Racing skipper Ken Read commented on the dock this morning: “Today is very special for us, it’s the end of two years of incredible preparation and hard work to bring us to where we are right now. It’s not the perfect Spanish weather we expected for the start of the race, but it’s time for us to get out of here.

I can’t say enough about this whole team, everyone involved in the PUMA Ocean Racing team as well as all the folks at PUMA, they have been magic to work with. I hope we can put on a good show out there. We just need to get through the night, and then we’ll have a nice ride down to Cape Town. We’re looking forward to seeing you there.”

The Volvo Ocean Race is made up of ten legs, finishing in June 2009 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The fleet is expected to finish the first leg of the race, in Cape Town, around 3rd November.

By joining the race, PUMA has entered a new premium category and is the only Sportslifestyle company to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09. For more information about the race, team and the PUMA Sailing collections, please visit www.pumaoceanracing.com
PUMA Ocean Racing Sailing Team List, Leg One, Alicante – Cape Town:

Ken Read, 46 (Newport, RI, United States) Skipper
Andrew Cape, 43 (Lymington, Hampshire, Great Britain – originally AUS) Navigator
Michael “Michi” Müller, 24 (Kiel, Germany) Bowman
Rob Salthouse, 41 (Auckland, New Zealand) Trimmer
Casey Smith, 29 (Brisbane, Australia) Bowman
Jerry Kirby, 52 (Newport, RI, United States) Bowman
Jonathan McKee, 47 (Seattle, WA, United States)Trimmer/Driver
Justin Ferris, 32 (KeriKeri, New Zealand)Trimmer
Sidney Gavignet, 39 (Paris, France) Watch Captain
Chris Nicholson, 37 (Belmont, NSW, Australia) Watch Captain
Rick Deppe, 44 (Philadelphia, USA, originally UK) Media Crew Member