Dongfeng’s leg 6 OBR Sam Greenfield got great footage from his…

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Dongfeng’s leg 6 OBR Sam Greenfield got great footage from his quadcopter drone while DF and ADOR were dueling off Block Island in the approach to the finish.

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anonsally asked “I, for one, would be interested to hear at least a little more about…”By…

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

“I, for one, would be interested to hear at least a little more about…”

By request. :-) But after a cut so those uninterested in my personal take on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race can sail on by.

This is the leg from Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island. They should be finishing early in the morning on Thursday, after a leg that’s been a pretty straightforward affair. No major injuries, no big storms.

Here’s 16 days of racing condensed into 30 seconds:

The size of the little boats gives you a sense of the scale of the tracker; big boats mean they’re all close together (within a few miles of each other). At maximum separation the trailing boat (SCA) was about 70 miles behind the leader, though they’ve since closed the gap to about 40 miles as the fleet sails into lighter winds off the East Coast.

SCA hung close to the leaders for a long time, and were actually the first boat across the equator. They had a bad couple of days as the fleet entered the floating weed of the Sargasso Sea, though; my guess is that their weed-clearing procedures (doing big S-curves, heeling the boat to windward, backing down, or jumping over the side to clear the weeds by hand) were less polished than those of the leading boats. And generally, they still seem to exhibit the same tendency to ease off the throttle somewhere around the end of the second week of the leg.

Discussing why this happens is a favorite topic among the obsessives at Sailing Anarchy. For the team’s biggest fans it’s an article of faith that they’ve been cruelly shafted by the International Jury that denied them the right to replace their Fractional Code Zero (one of their more important downwind sails) after destroying it on Leg 5. My take on that is yeah, it’s probably hurt them some, but 1) not as much as their most-ardent supporters believe; the repaired FR0 doesn’t appear to be that slow, and 2) taking care of the sails was always going to be a key factor the teams would compete on, given the limited-spares rule used for this edition of the race in order to hold costs down for the sponsors.

More significant, I think, is the team’s general lack of experience at this sort of racing. They’ve closed that gap a lot relative to the other teams, but there’s still a gap.

Ultimately, I think responsibility for the team’s failure to do better must be laid at the feet of skipper Sam Davies. Just as I felt skipper Chris Nicholson of Vestas Wind got off without being held properly accountable for the error that put that team on the reef, SCA’s skipper bears ultimate responsibility. She has to. That’s just how it works. She’s the final backstop, with a non-delegable duty to manage the overall operation of the boat. If they slow down relative to the other boats sometime around their third week at sea (which has happened on every leg), it’s up to Sam to figure out why and fix it. That it keeps happening makes it her fault, by definition.

I think what’s going on is that under the pressure of being at sea for that long, there’s an inevitable tendency to ease up and go into “cruising mode”. The skipper needs to counteract that by keeping up the pressure on the crew. But for Sam that’s doubly hard to do, because 1) her own previous racing experience has mostly been single-handed, where the emphasis is on conserving energy and not pushing too hard, and 2) her personality makes her an upbeat consensus-builder who tries to put a positive spin on every setback.

There have been hints of others on board who have chafed at her tendency to slip into this mode. But they’re not in charge.

Anyway, with the remaining three legs (especially the last two) being the shortest of the race, I think there’s a good chance for the team to get some better finishes before the end. I’m looking forward to seeing if they can do that.

At the front of the fleet, Dongfeng has continued to show their speed. ADOR is right behind them, though. At this point, given the point deficit they picked up when their mast broke on Leg 5, Dongfeng needs ADOR to give them some help by screwing up or having a gear failure in order to put some boats between them. There’s a lot of racing left, but with every mile it looks more and more like ADOR’s race to lose.

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Horace is the best.

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Horace is the best.

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Dongfeng has been partially dismasted, and is limping into shore…

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Dongfeng has been partially dismasted, and is limping into shore to try to make repairs. No one on board was hurt.

The four remaining lead boats are at or around Cape Horn, with Alvimedica having rounded first and ADOR having set a one-day distance record of 541 nautical miles. Astern, SCA continues to work their way east, being gradually overtaken by worsening weather.

It’s a three-ring circus in the Southern Ocean. Hope everyone stays safe.

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Making a pass, part 2Everyone who sails in the Southern Ocean…

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Making a pass, part 2

Everyone who sails in the Southern Ocean talks about how fast conditions change. Storm systems track through like express trains, and a boat can be surfing in 50 knots of wind one moment, then flopping in near-drifting conditions a few hours later.

The fleet saw some of that last night, as the four lead boats all parked within a few miles of each other along the northern limit of the ice exclusion zone. Then, as they were gybing off to the north in a tight pack, the fifth-place boat, Dongfeng, can surging in and passed them in better wind to the south to take the lead. Go Dongfeng!

Meanwhile, SCA is bringing up the next system from behind, and has regained half the distance they lost in the aftermath of their bad knockdown. I hope they’ll be able to keep closing.

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A rough day in the Southern Ocean

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

High winds caught up with the Volvo fleet over the past day. There were some scary moments and torn sails, but no one was seriously hurt and all the boats are back racing. Details after a cut.

Four boats (at least) experienced uncontrolled crash gybes as they surfed at high speed on big waves. First it happened to ADOR, and then to MAPFRE, whose OBR Stefan Coppers posted this intense crash-cam video:

Rob Greenhalgh (Libby’s brother; the guy I pointed out in that leave-taking post the other day) was on the wheel at the time. You can see them surf down a big wave and stuff the bow at the bottom, causing the boat to pitchpole a little and spin out to port. The main gybes over, hanging up on the starboard running backstay, and they stop dead, pinned in position with the keel canted the wrong way.

You can see the crewmember who’d been on the mainsheet pedestal unclip his harness and start clambering around the cockpit, and Rob shouting for the engine to be started. (They need the engine so they can power up the hydraulics to cant the keel back to vertical.) Other things you can see during obsessive rewatching:

  • easing the sheet to let the headsail (the fractional Code Zero, or “FRO”) go forward
  • a cut after which the four-person watch on deck has been supplemented by the rest of the crew
  • easing of the starboard running backstay, allowing the main to go to leeward and the boat to start moving again
  • post-mortem commentary by Rob
  • sail repairs and re-hoisting the main

Dongfeng also did a crash gybe, though it was at night so their crash-cam footage wasn’t as compelling:

All three of those boats recovered relatively quickly from their crashes. The fourth boat, SCA, had a harder time when they suffered a series of mishaps around sunset yesterday.

Here’s their crash-cam footage:

It sounds like Sophie was thrown pretty violently across the boat during the gybe, but I think she’s saying that she was “afraid for her back”, and taking things slow, rather than saying she’d actually re-injured herself. Annie Lush got knocked down by a big wave a few days ago, and has been only gradually cycling back into standing watches, so the crew has definitely been banged up.

Sam gave more details during a satellite interview with Genny during today’s Inside Track episode:

Fifty-knot squalls with hail sounds intense.

SCA’s FRO was seriously damaged in the crash. Hopefully they’ll be able to repair it; it’s a crucial sail for running in medium to heavy air. They also broke one or more battens in the main, and apparently had the stack (the unused sails that they move around the boat for ballast) come partially free, such that it was dragging over the side for a while.

They ended up spending most of last night putting things back together and resting, only getting back up to full speed after sunrise. That sounds like a wise decision, given what they were dealing with, but the reality is that they dropped more than 100 miles behind the rest of the fleet by doing so. Here’s a tracker animation showing the time from their gybe to their recovery:


The boats should have lighter winds for a day or so as they pass the northernmost part of the iceberg exclusion zone. Then the wind should increase again as they push south toward Cape Horn. Here’s hoping they all stay safe.

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Dongfeng off East Cape, New Zealand, March 19, 2015. Source.

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Dongfeng off East Cape, New Zealand, March 19, 2015. Source.

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Someone got helicopter shots as the fleet was leaving East Cape….

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Someone got helicopter shots as the fleet was leaving East Cape. Ian Walker was quoted on the official ADOR twitter saying, “Hard reaching in 25-30kts, very wet on deck,fleet spread N-S”.

It could well be that this is the last we’ll see of the boats in terms of not-taken-by-them photography until after they’ve rounded Cape Horn. But for those onboard it’s just the beginning.

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Martin Strömberg, Dongfeng Race Team. Source.Martin has rounded…

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Martin Strömberg, Dongfeng Race Team. Source.

Martin has rounded Cape Horn twice during previous Volvos; once while winning leg 5 on Ericsson 3 with Magnus Olsson in 2009, and then on overall winner Groupama with skipper Franck Cammas and current Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier in 2012.

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Sam was a good replacement, but I’m so glad Yann is back on…

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Sam was a good replacement, but I’m so glad Yann is back on Dongfeng as OBR.

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Cheesy editing and soundtrack, but I’m happy about the…

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Cheesy editing and soundtrack, but I’m happy about the news that Yann will be back as Dongfeng’s OBR on leg 5. Sam did a great job as his replacement for the last two legs, though.

Pascal will be returning as navigator in place of Erwan Israel, and Irish superstar sailor Damien Foxall will join the crew, replacing Thomas Rouxell.

There will be two Chinese sailors on leg 5, Yang Jiru (Wolf), and one other to be named by the time of the Auckland in-port race on March 14. Chen Jin Hao (Horace) was skipper Charles Caudrelier’s first choice, but apparently Horace has a health issue that is still being evaluated.

More here: Dongfeng Crew Changes.

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Yay! The pink boat has friends again! (And the orange boat is…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Yay! The pink boat has friends again! (And the orange boat is pissed.)

Here’s the last day and a half in the tracker. The boats are working their way toward the equator, and though they haven’t reached the doldrums proper they’ve started encountering big convection clouds that suck up the wind, handing out gains and losses on a more or less random basis.

Brunel, having cashed in their northerly gauge to get in front of the fleet, still leads, with ADOR and Alvimedica doing their best to catch them.

Toward the back the three trailing boats have taken a more northerly line. So far it hasn’t done them much good, but who knows?

The big news for me is that SCA is back in contact with some other boats. They’re right on the edge of AIS range with Mapfre ahead of them and Dongfeng behind. It’s a great opportunity for them to get continuous feedback and raise their boatspeed game. Go SCA!

But aboard Dongfeng, being in last place for the first time in the race does not sit well. In the latest video from the boat we see the latest in a string of gear problems (the mainsail track is pulling away from the mast, like what happened to them on leg 2 but higher up). Add that to the big cloud that stomped on them early in the gif animation above, and things really haven’t gone their way. Sam got a shot of Charles banging his hand on the binnacle and cursing that I don’t think was staged; and in his (Sam’s) latest blog post he writes:

Today feels like we’re strapped in the back seat of the family wagon on a road trip to … the bottom of the world.

It’s been a long trip because dad took a wrong turn. Then we got a flat. The radiator overheated and now we’re praying mom will do something miraculous.

Like calm down dad.

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sailseaplymouth: Dongfeng Racing close reaching at the start of…

Saturday, February 14th, 2015


Dongfeng Racing close reaching at the start of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

This clip is from one of the best videos I’ve seen from any of the teams, good work Sam!

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“Make your best impression of a flying fish.”Horace…

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Make your best impression of a flying fish.”

Horace is the best.

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spoal: Chasing Wind | Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 – Volvo Ocean…

Thursday, February 12th, 2015


Chasing Wind | Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 – Volvo Ocean Race

Here’s some more context for the drone footage I was posting about earlier. It looks like it was Eric Peron, rather than Kevin Escoffier, who went up the mast, and it was a wind-spotting mission, rather than a repair.

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Kevin Escoffier (I’m assuming) up the mast on Dongfeng….

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Kevin Escoffier (I’m assuming) up the mast on Dongfeng. Source.

The last gif, especially, is something I’ve been hoping we’d get to see for a while. A head-mounted GoPro can give you a sense of what the view is like up there, but it can’t really convey what it’s like to have the boat trying to shake you off. Hats off to Sam for bringing a drone and getting these great shots.

It’s not exactly clear to me what Kevin is doing up there. I’m assuming that all these clips (which were shown at the start and end of today’s Inside Track episode) are of the same session. It looks like they had the masthead zero hoisted as he reached the top, but then it appears that they rolled it up while he was up there. Maybe there was an issue with its halyard lock? I’m looking forward to seeing if we get more context when Dongfeng uploads the (hopefully longer) video package from which the clips were taken.

The writing that’s visible on the mast in the first gif had me curious, so I froze it to try to read what it says:


One World

One Strength


Miss World

5 feb 2015

So it looks like a message left by Rolene Strauss when she was hoisted up during the Sanya stopover.

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Things are definitely looking up for SCA (and Brunel). The…

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Things are definitely looking up for SCA (and Brunel). The official race tracker shows them in last and next-to-last place, respectively, but a consensus is emerging, both from experts on shore and from the boats themselves, that the two boats have effectively taken the lead.

Campbell Field’s latest routing run shows Brunel finishing first, SCA finishing a little under 3 hours later, and the rest of the fleet 15 hours after that. Anything could happen, of course, but that must be a great feeling for those two boats. 

The latest photo posted from SCA, which I’m guessing was taken just before sunset Thursday local time, shows (I think) Sam on the wheel, Dee trimming the mainsheet, and Eloide closest to the camera, all of them smiling.

Meanwhile aboard Dongfeng, currently last in the southern group (though just barely; all four are within five miles of each other), Martin (on the helm) and Eric look less happy. OBR Sam posted this to the team’s blog today:

The morning got off to a grim start, albeit Israel was only telling me the facts as he looked over the positions at the chart desk.

“The teams that went North will smash us, we should have done that.”

At that point we were in last place, or at least near the end of the pack. I never really know for certain. But smash is such a strong word.

“It was a mistake,” admitted Charles. “We wanted to go north but no one else was so we stayed with the group.”

I didn’t say anything, only gave him the look, which has become code for give me something better than that.

“It was a lack of courage,” he admitted.

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daziechane:Ouch.  Ugh.  Nope nope nope.  I’ll stay onshore,…

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015


Ouch.  Ugh.  Nope nope nope.  I’ll stay onshore, thanks.

I like the way Wolf winces when they hit a big wave during his interview in the cabin afterward. Watching his progress as a sailor has been one of my favorite things about the race so far. I’m really happy he’s back on the boat.

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The beatingSources: Dongfeng on Leg 4, Day 1, Day 2A weatherly…

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

The beating

Sources: Dongfeng on Leg 4, Day 1, Day 2

A weatherly boat punching into the wind is a beautiful thing to look at, but it takes a toll on the crew. There were relatively few videos coming off the boats on day 1; I suspect a lot of the OBRs have been dealing with seasickness. Sam on Dongfeng came through with a great shot of Brunel under reefed main and J2, though, along with cool spreader-cam footage of Kevin and Eric on the bow unhanking the J1 after they switched to the J2 as the wind built.

The day 2 video from Dongfeng shows Wolf getting washed off the grinder, then talking about it afterward while the boat crashes into the waves. Go Wolf!

The light stuff is intense, and the surfing at 20+ knots is scary and exciting at the same time, but for me this is ocean racing.

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 4

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

The boats left Sanya yesterday, and now are beating east into the South China Sea. In a few days they should round the northern edge of the Philippines via the Luzon Strait, then will head south through the Pacific toward Auckland.

More boat chatter after the cut.


Dongfeng won the Sanya in-port race and currently leads the tightly packed fleet as they finish their first night at sea since the start of the leg. Current overall standings are:

  1. Dongfeng Race Team (5 points)
  2. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (6)
  3. Team Brunel (9)
  4. Team Alvimedica (12)
  5. MAPFRE (15)
  6. Team SCA (18)
  7. Team Vestas Wind (20)

Crew changes:

Aboard Dongfeng, Erwan Israel, 34, of France is replacing navigator Pascal Bidégorry. Returning to the boat are Martin Strömberg and Chen Jin Hao (Horace), who previously sailed Legs 1 and 2, and Yang Jiru (Wolf), who previously sailed Leg 1. Besides Pascal, the other crewmembers leaving the boat are Jack Boutell, Liu Xue (Black), and Chen Ying Kit (Kit).

On SCA, Corinna Halloran is off the boat as OBR, replaced by 39-year-old Anna-Lena Elled of Sweden. Liz Wardley (who previously sailed Legs 1 and 2) is back, replacing Sara Hastreiter.

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