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Follow the Rhum!

There is plenty Rhum race left even though, as I write this Frank Cammas is finishing and winning the first Route du Rhum open to the Giant class in over a decade.  His time of just over nine days isn’t a record, but the conditions weren’t close to what the ORMA fleet experienced in the 2006 event in which Lionel Lemonchois set a seemingly impossible record of 7 days and 17hours on a the then shorter Gitana 11.  However like Groupama 3, Cammas’ win is huge.  One needs to only see the vast number of maneuvers he has made in the last three hundred miles (http://routedurhum-labanquepostale.geovoile.com/2010/?lg=fr)  to see that he has worked his ass off for this win. 

Behind him several races are unfolding that are worth following.  Firstly the race between Coville and Joyon, two rivals who, as far as I know, have never faced off solo on the same course.  Their race has heated up in almost mythical ways.  The only way it could be hotter would be if Cammas hadn’t showed up with a bigger gun.  But between these two big red Irens trimarans we get to see a fascinating battle surface that has been around for years.  To sum it up Coville went north with Oman Air (now abandoned) and Joyon went south, between Groupama and Gitanna 11.  It was a huge split, and it’s the same split that has created drama in every transatlantic race to the islands ever.  For much of this event Coville led Joyon, but now, right at the very end, it looks like Joyon is going to be in front.  Of course they still need to get around the island of Guadeloupe to Point a Pitre, but I know where I’d put my money. 

In the IMOCA Class the split seems to have worked out the other way, with the lead guys having an almost Figaro style race in the North, and with underdog, Arnaud Boissieres and overdog Michel Desjoyeaux, racing next to each other in the south.  There is a fantastic race here between leader, and 2006 race winner, Roland Jourdain and Brit Air skipper Armel Le Cleac’h who is rubberbanding his distance to leader at every sched, and much farther south than Jourdain.  Jourdain has to get south to seal the deal.  The question is can he before Armel closes the gap between the race leader and Point a Pitre?  Also will the deep south play out last minute for Boissieres and Desjoyeaux? 

Split/Demolition Derby, disparate class race 5000 in the Multi 50 fleet!  There is too much going on here to reduce to a coherent paragraph, but essentially, it’s bad luck to lead the Multi 50 fleet.  Whoever is in the lead one mile from the finish will probably spontaneously combust, or a plane full of shore crew and race organizers will crash on them right at the finish line.  Either way, there is a great race unfolding up to that point.  Basically the three race favorites have all had problems while leading this class.  First Lemonchois, while opting for the northern route early in the race, had a halyard lock problem that put him out of contention as he headed back to Spain to fix it.  He managed to fix it and rejoined the race, but was well behind the two leading southern  boats Crepes Whaou!, and Actual.  Crepes had a comfortable lead on Actual, but after the bow FELL OFF! of his central hull he’s had to kind of slow down a bit.  Actual took the lead quickly, but then had central hull flooding that led to the overloading of the structure, or something like that, and he discovered cracks in his forward beams.  Basically he too is now nursing his boat to the finish with seamship, not racing, as the new agenda.  So the race is now being led by ex-Banque Populaire skipper Lalou Roucayrol on his self designed 50’ tri with Lemonchois on Prince de Bretagne, in hot pursuit on his very fast Irens design.  So, can Lalou hold off Lemonchois’ relentless attack on a faster boat?  They are both ORMA skippers, and with 1000 miles left, they have about 150 miles to volly back and forth before getting to Point a Pitre.  Watch this one.

Now, race of the centry, because the boats are so much slower, and there are so damn many of them: The Classe 40’s. 

600 miles separates the 42 remaining boats in this class, north to south.  At the Northern most position is my co-skipper for the GOR, Conrad Colman sparing with another GOR entry Marco Nannini.  Arguably Marco has a better name than both of us put together, but hopefully that won’t have much of an effect on the race.  At the extreme southern end, Vendee Globe hero and all round nice guy Pete Goss, who is banging the southern corner hard.  In between is the real meat of it though with Thomas Ruyant speeding away to the north, and Figaro ninja Nicolas Troussel leading the southern contingent.  What should be noted about Troussel is that besides winning the Figaro Solitaire twice, has also won the Transat Ag2r and Trophee BPE, both Figaro races ending in the islands from France.  So he knows how to get a production boat to the Caribbean quickly and is sailing a new Pogo 40’ for this event.  In between Ruyant and Troussel is Yvan Noblet who is doing a fantastic job of covering the middle.  It’s a difficult position to win from traditionally, but it’s the one with the most options at this point.  There is a fleury of activity behind them with boats fighting onboard issues and trying to stay in the race.  I’m closest to Conrad’s battle, and know he has been working very hard to fix his large spinnaker which has been out of commission for days now, and has kept him pinned out to the north much longer than he wanted.  If that’s what’s happening on the only boat I’m keeping tabs on, you know there is a whole world of shit going on within the remaining 40+ boats negotiating this very complicated course.  Plus, the longer you stay out there, the more stuff happens, and that fleet is barely halfway across the Atlantic!  So, will Nicolas Troussel close the door on the rest of the fleet as he has before, or can the cool and focused Thomas Ruyant hold him off to Guadeloupe while negotiating the more complicated Northern route? 

Finally, the traditionalists in the Rhum Class.  This is a much more personal class than what you see at the top of the fleet, and closer to what you see as the origins of this race.  It’s the only class where multihulls and monohulls race together, and you have the most variety amongst them.   There are three Walter Green trimarans up to 40’ including the only American, Etienne Giroire on ATN.inc and the immaculate and storied trimaran of Charlie Capelle, Acapella, easily the most beautiful boat in the entire fleet.  The Rhum category is also the new home for the now defunct Open 50’ class with three of these boats banging away within the top five.  This fleet is well mixed within the Class 40’ fleet, and interestingly, although some of them are faster boats they are well behind the leading Class 40’s.  It’s just the nature of having guys pushing each other in bigger fleets.  Some would call this the adventure class, but the truth is, whenever a boat leaves the dock singlehanded, no matter how professional the team or how expensive the boat, they are part of an adventure.  That is the endearing legacy of this race, and it always will be. 

So for those of you who aren’t already, tune in and enjoy the many layers of action this race has brought us for over thirty years:  www.routedurhum-labanquepostale.com 

This is history.

Excuse the absence, I’ve been on vacation in Louisiana, and it’s been really awesome.  But I won’t blog about that.

Instead, this:

When I decided to come to Europe with Myrna, just a couple of years ago, I was like all of these people:

After a few months of sailing and racing over there I’m like this dude:

Well, maybe not that bad, but it covers at least part of it.

Mostly that transition took place over the past several months, culminating in an Azores Race that had just the right conditions to reveal several time bombs hidden within my boat.  Some old, some new, all of which I am responsible for in some way.

Here’s a brief summary, I broke the mast three days before the start.  People were surprised how calm I was about it, and I didn’t really understand it myself.  It’s as if I was clear of the incident at the start.  Then 500 miles from the finish I lost my leeward rudder gudgeon after hitting something.  That left me with limited control under spinnaker and I had a particularly bad broach which left me with a broken companionway hatch.  These and a few other things were repaired in Horta, and the boat was ready again for the second leg, though the accumulation of damages was starting to sink in, and I began to worry more about finishing the race than competing.  I realized I wasn’t as clear of the mast incident as I thought.   Lo and behold, on the first night the hatch repair began falling apart, and by mid morning of day two, while sailing with a fractional spinnaker in big waves the running backstay tang laminated to the mast ripped off.  I still had about 1,100 miles to get to the finish at this point.  It’s an inline rig with the same fittings holding the rest of the mast up, so I doused the kite which now looked like a compound bow, and sailed north under full mainsail and winged out jib in big breeze, to get into lighter winds.  I was not able to jerry rig the runner without doing dodgy stuff to the existing terminals, so I sailed on towards the finish with the boat as it was.  I was fine on starboard tack, but when the wind went back to the north I had to sail with heavily reduced sail area to relieve the mast.  To get headstay tension on port I would double reef the main and put on loads of mainsheet tension along with lots of upper checkstay tension.  It seemed to stabilize the mast.  It was rainy and overcast to the point that my solar charge controller was showing zero solar activity in the middle of the day, and with more than 500 miles to the finish I ran out of batteries completely.  It was then I decided to head to Lorient where the boat was based instead of finish the race.

 I hand steered for the first day of no power.  I was really enjoying the lack of instruments.  You get so glued to watching those numbers that it detracts from the joy of sailing sometimes, and sailing without them was surprisingly pleasant.  The second day of no power was getting old, but there was enough solar activity to use the pilot for a couple hours that day, and that night I experimented with balancing the sails to make progress, though it wasn’t very fast.  The third day I was just excited to get to Lorient, and I steered happily the entire day motivated by many things, mostly that this was probably my last sail on the boat and the conditions were really nice in the bay with flat water and fast code five reaching on starboard tack.

 Finishing in Lorient at 2 AM was a private and lovely experience.  The wind was calm, the harbor was beautifully lit and there wasn’t a single person around.  I docked the boat, put on some relatively dry clothes, and walked to a payphone and called my family to let them know I was okay.  It was then that I discovered there was a bit of drama surrounding my detour.  Mostly that the Mini Class was really upset that I didn’t notify them that I was dropping out.  I had misunderstood how to use the beacon which, unlike the Transat becons, only had one shiney red button.  Apparently I was supposed to push it once if I was dropping out, and if I was in need of assistance I was supposed to push it every fifteen minutes, or every fifteen seconds for an undetermined amount of time.  I never got a straight answer on that sequence, but I thought that pressing the button equaled asking for assistance and I didn’t need assistance, so I never touched it.  Then I found out rumors had been spread that I intended to drop out from the start and that my fiancé/girlfriend/wife (depending on who told the story) was meeting me in Lorient.  I wish at least part of that was true.  So, Classe Mini decides that based on these rumors they would publish something suggesting almost as much.  I was surprised they would do that, but not mortified, because the mini fleet is a pretty small world, and after this year, I had no plans to rejoin the class and am working on another sailing project for 2011. 

That being said, the Azores race is a perfect race for preparing for the Mini Transat.  The guys who completed this race in preparation like Bertrand Delense, Xavier Macaire and Jorg Reichers are going to be so hard to beat next year, it’s not even worth talking about until the race ends.  Those guys did an amazing job in that race, and truly the whole Azores fleet has a leg up for next year.  Pretty much anything that you can break on this race broke.  Also it was a lot of fun getting to know these sailors over the last several months.

But for me it’s back to my roots on bigger boats.  I have missed them dearly over the last several years, and had to pleasure to sail with Conrad Colman (www.conradcolman.com) on the recently chartered 40 Degrees, an Owen Clarke Classe 40.  It’s their most recent design, and she’s proven to be very competitive against the newest generation of 40’s out there, proven by Conrad’s third place in the Happi Baie.  Conrad will be participating in this year’s Route du Rhum (www.routedurhum-labanquepostale.com) which starts at the end of October, and I’m going back to FR to help him prepare for the event, and hopefully act as a pressure valve for him so he can relax a little before the race.  It’s a huge event, and I’ve worked for guys before in Conrad’s position, so I know what he needs me to do.  I enjoy that work very much. 

Meanwhile Conrad and I are also looking for sponsorship to participate in the Global Ocean Race (www.globaloceanrace.com) which starts in one year.  It’s great to have a really solid product to offer a sponsor with a great co-skipper in Conrad, a competitive boat that is large enough to host corporate hospitality events and a venue that is truly international with stops in Spain, Cape Town, New Zealand, Uraguay, and the United States.  We are very excited about the event, and the boat is an absolute joy to sail.  Much more comfortable than the mini, more ergonomic, easier to maneuver and in the end it’s where I came from. 

40 Degrees:

I leave for France Next week to rejoin Conrad for his upcoming event. 

More from there.

-R

I get to update Ryan’s blog one more time before he takes over his own blog again. I enjoy writing in Ryan’s blog while he’s at sea, although Ryan is more humorous than I ;).

Couple of questions people have asked me are how do Mini sailors communicate when offshore?

Minis are equipped with a VHF with the ability to also hear air traffic overhead or within so many miles. Typically the VHF is only good for a limited range . They are also equipped with a SSB (single side band) which can receive transmissions based on certain frequencies that must be dialed in to receive incoming transmissions. The Classe does not use Satellite phones.

Ryan will update you on Leg 2 shortly, but below is a quick update.

Ryan arrived back in France early in the morning on Thursday 2 AM French time. He detoured to Lorient versus Les Sables after losing battery power from overcast skies limiting the charging of the batteries from solar power for days. Ryan hand steered for 3+ days. The port running backstay broke early in Leg 2 causing Ryan to head North to calmer seas to try to fix where he was becalmed for a while. With the port running backstay not working, a starboard tack was preferred to keep the mast upright.  That along with a few other technical difficulties caused Ryan to head back to his home base in Lorient to make repairs.

Ryan’s French fans sent him the following photo. They said they will be ready on the pontoons next time.

~ Beth

Portugal

Special thanks to the Portuguese Navy! for checking on Ryan’s safety.

Ryan had taken a Northern route on Leg 2 away from the fleet. Yesterday there was concern because Ryan’s boat slowed down considerably. Winds had lightened but later picked up and Ryan’s lack of boat speed at 2 knots caused considerable concern that Myrna or Ryan may have suffered damage or injury. Race organizers tried to contact Ryan by radio and could not.

The following update was posted on the Les Sable Les Acores race website:

With technical concern, that Ryan had not answered the calls of the direction of race, requiring of him to activate its beacon to announce that all went well on board. After having asked for the sailing ship White Hermine of divert itself on its position, the director decided to inform the MRCC of Bridged Delgada of the situation. The Portuguese Navy immediately sent a plane on zone which contacted the American skipper. Obviously, all goes well on board. The boat is not démâté (damaged) and is not travelled towards sands of Olonne. False alarm… It is once more necessary to note the effectiveness and the reaction speed of the MRCC of Bridged Delgada which already showed in other circumstances, the relevance of its action around the archipelago of the Azores.

The good news is that Ryan is safe and Mryna appears in one piece.  Ryan has since picked up some speed so I am sure Ryan is working to fix any mechanical issues that are hampering his speed.  We look forward to Ryan’s report as soon as available.

Currently Ryan is 44 0 31.80 N   18 043.08W  at 6.7 knots heading East. 

Special Thanks again to Classe Mini, the Vessel White Hermine and the Portuguese Navy for their help!!

U.S. Shore Team ~ Beth

 

Thanks to the photographer Chris Breschi http://www.ricochets17.com for the arrival photos in Horta…
Ryan’s Leg 1 Recap
I was going well, but I just broke more important stuff during the race. Old boats do that. I lost my port rudder 500 miles from the finish, and had to sail the rest of the way in slowly so that the windward rudder stayed in the water. It was starboard tack the whole way. I have an article for sure though. My last race in this boat, and I just keep breaking shit. However, I was aiming for 10th place, as tenth in this boat means I can win in a new boat, and I am sure I would have hit that mark before this happened. I still have one last leg, and I am not going to throttle back just because the boat doesn’t want to go fast. I think we did 250 miles in 24 hours leaving Finistere, and am trying to verify that.

Leg 2 starts today August 17th.

Don't Break ANYTHING!!

                                                                                                                                                             Ryan finishes Leg 1 of the Les Sables Les Acores Race today at 8:40 AM Horta time finishing 14th in 7 days 20 hours 53 minutes. Looking forward to Ryan’s report after he catches up on sleep.

Attached is the race tracking map with Ryan’s approach to the finish.

French photographer & US sailing supporter, Laurence Caille took these great shots today of Ryan leaving the canal in Les Sables. Will post more photos as we receive. Currently Ryan is in 12th position choosing a course farther North of the fleet heading to the South West.

That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for the Mini Class Azores Race, aka www.lessables-lesacores.com

The fleet is small this year with 38 boats, however most of the serious mini campaigner’s preparing for next year’s Mini Transat are participating, so the competition should be as good as it will get within the mini class. 

It’s a fascinating thing to see all of these little boats getting ready and sailors walking up and down the dock all day.  You can tell everyone is ready to go though, because seeing the same faces for days on end and saying bonjour, salut, hey, blah blah blah is getting old for all involved.  But what we all know is that we are all heading out on an ocean race, in tiny boats, and that no matter how much we try to sort our lives out at the dock, something is going to happen.  Joy, pain, fear, broken boats, broken spirits, hallucinations, you name it. The adventure element will never disappear from this kind of racing, and if there is one thing we all have in common it is empathy.    

 We go out there to race, but also to discover things that are impossible to find out without actually putting ourselves out there.  As I do this more it’s the thing that is most exciting about the sport. 

Here is a picture of Myrna representing SA in Les  Sables.  The last time this branding was here is was with Bruce on Ocean Planet, and the same supporters of his campaign have stepped up to help me here too.  It’s been really wonderful to have that support by extension.

Oh, and I broke my mast two days ago in the prologue race.  We had guests on board, and one of them accidently opened a runner clutch during a gybing in 17 knots of wind, just before I had the new runner on, and the mast fell forward and broke in two just below the deck.  That’s why there is no mast in this picture.

So that sounds really bad, however, after the mast broke it stayed up because I have lines below securing the mast fore/aft and there was enough compression from the runner I put on quickly and the halyards etc…  I managed to get the new, very big BD kite ( www.bd.com) in the boat safely and the boat head to wind with forestay and runners on tight.  We even managed a tack to crab off the coast a bit until a boat could come tow us in. 

Once at the dock we pulled the rig, laid it on two saw horses, and I simply tugged at the bottom and it came off cleanly!  It should be noted that Classe Mini had already arranged for a carbon guy to come look at the mast by the time I was at the dock.  They definitely want sailors in their events, despite much of the bureaucracy we complain about over coffee and on forums.   The sailors were all very supportive too, sharing ideas and experiences about how to fix the rig.  I wasn’t too nervous about getting it done because besides the lower bits everything was still intact.  Wind instruments, mast track, sails, rigging, all that stuff.  Luckily it managed not to fall overboard.  The guest was extremely apologetic and I have no hard feelings about it because it was an accident.  Besides, I had to focus on getting it back together, and this is it as it stands in the boat now: 

 One piece.  I had a good guy on the project.  He built a sleeve for the inside, scarfed the good parts of both tubes into the sleeve and then built it back up to the original laminate.  I am confident it will perform as new.  He’d done this many times before, and I’m not worried for some reason.

 I mean, I’m sure I’ve worked out all the bugs in my boat at this point.  What could possibly go wrong that hasn’t already!  It feels so good to have these difficulties behind me, now I can just focus on enjoying the race.  I also brought a whole volume of Garfield books to read on the way because the first leg looks so easy, and I find that cat’s sardonic nature so titillating.  That Garfield, will he ever change!

Wasn’t someone talking about a font for sarcasm?  Should be applied to the paragraph above.

We start Sunday afternoon.  The weather looks really nice for the first leg with a lot of reaching and running, and we are all excited to get off the docks here.  Follow our dots:  www.lessables-lesacores.com

Next stop, Horta.

-R

Not officially, but I got word through the tiny strand of grapes that is the mini world, that my qualif was accepted. 

So onwards and upwards.  I’m going to be wetsanding the orange paint that I just put on the keel.  I’m really excited for that, because I love wetsanding.  I also like falling down the stairs, spilling coffee and cleaning up broken glass.

When that’s done, the boat can go back in the water and I can start sorting my electronics.  It’s mainly calibration stuff.  Speaking of electronics, this occurred to me the other day.  I’ve been using 90 watts of IQ solar panels, Genasun charge controllers and Genasun LION batteries, and the electrical system has been amazing.  I’ve sailed for the last 3,000 miles with this system only, no backup, and my voltage has literally never dropped below 13.1 volts.  Pretty awesome products there. 

Later.

-R

I’m back.  Had a very easy qualifier.  Less wind than I wanted but easy none the less.  It seems like I slept the entire first two or three days, then kind of woke up when the wind got light and I had to do sail changes. 

 I used a Pogo 2 mainsail and a very small jib so as not to wreck my racing sails.  The P2 sail is about the size of mine reefed and the jib is also the size as my jib with one reef, so I didn’t have to reef either sail, even while reaching in 27 knots across the English Channel.  It was great!  I guess that’s why cruising  boats have such small sails.  It’s just more relaxing. 

Once I was back in the bay I set my course for Ile de Re, which is at La Rochelle, and I rounded the island in major thunder storms with cloud to cloud lightning that lit the sky like the sun and streched from one horizon to the other.  It was unpleasant to say the least, but also beautiful.  Very differant in scale to the storms we have on the Gulf Coast.  Ours are more explosive and more compact.  These squalls maxed out at 30 knots and I just took the sails down, because I was in restricted waters rounding the island, and waited a few minutes for them to pass.  Then just sailed on. 

I returned to Lorient eight days after leaving, and even though I was a little sad to be out there for the first couple days, upwind in breeze, I really enjoyed the trip overall.  I’m waiting to hear back about the qualif from Classe Mini to see if I’m accepted in the Azores Race or not.  Until then I’ll just carry on preparing.