lies: Sophie Ciszek, Team SCA, interviewed by Leighton OConner…

Saturday, March 17th, 2018


Sophie Ciszek, Team SCA, interviewed by Leighton OConner before the start of Leg 1. Source.

Before the start of the 2014/15 edition of the race.

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Leg 8 winners. :-)

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Leg 8 winners. :-)

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Team SCA entering the Bay of Biscay on the morning of June 9,…

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Team SCA entering the Bay of Biscay on the morning of June 9, 2015. Source.

As of 2043 UTC on June 10, SCA is leading Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race, 63 miles from the leg finish in Lorient, France.

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Guess who’s leading Leg 8 as the teams beat across the Bay…

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Guess who’s leading Leg 8 as the teams beat across the Bay of Biscay? :-)

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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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Dee and Sophie talk about getting washed off the foredeck (Dee)…

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Dee and Sophie talk about getting washed off the foredeck (Dee) and the wheel (Sophie) while racing in the South Atlantic. April 2, 2015. Source, source.

The oldest and youngest on the boat this leg. Also: biggest goofballs.

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 5 Results

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Apologies for my not obsessing properly about the Volvo for the last several days. For those who follow the race vicariously via my fanboying, a summary of recent events is below the cut.

The first four boats finished leg 5 a couple of days ago, all within a single hour, and less than 2 minutes between 3rd and 4th, which is, frankly, kind of ridiculous. Here’s the extended video of the finish:

Finish positions were:

  • 1st – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
  • 2nd – MAPFRE
  • 3rd – Alvimedica
  • 4th – Brunel

Because Dongfeng withdrew after their mast broke they get 8 points for this leg, which sucks for them. They went into the leg tied for the lead with ADOR, but now they’re 7 points behind with 4 legs to go. They’re still the closest to ADOR, but the only way they can beat them for the overall win is to pick up an average of 2 points on each of the remaining 4 legs. Since ADOR so far has never finished worse than 3rd, and has only finished that far back once, it’s going to be a pretty tall order for the Chinese/French boat, unless they get some help in the form of a major problem resulting in a DNF for ADOR on one of the remaining legs.

SCA is still on the racecourse, though they should be finishing in a few more hours. They’ve had lots of adventures on the way north from Cape Horn. For example, there’s this exciting/scary video of Dee getting knocked off her feet by a wave while shifting a sail on the foredeck:

Dee’s awesome. I’m so glad they have her on board.

And then there’s this video of Sophie getting blown off the wheel by a wave, causing her to slam into the lifelines. She’s sore, she says, but okay:

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An interview with Sam Davies shortly after they rounded Cape…

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

An interview with Sam Davies shortly after they rounded Cape Horn. They’re cold and tired, and the wind is building — 25 knots during the interview, 32 knots a few hours later in the latest tracker update, with a possibility of 50 or more tonight.

The lead four boats are gone, more than 700 miles in front, with ADOR leading, then Alvimedica, MAPFRE, and Brunel. Dongfeng is at Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost city in the world, trying to repair their mast so they can sail to Itajai and rejoin the fleet for the next leg.

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The SCA YouTube channel hasn’t been posting the videos being…

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

The SCA YouTube channel hasn’t been posting the videos being uploaded from the boat as much since they eased off the throttle; maybe the sponsor doesn’t want to promote the fact that they’re choosing not to compete and falling behind? It’s a bummer if that’s the case, because it’s a compelling story nevertheless.

Thank god for They apparently have managed to stay on the right side of the (foolish and aggravating) policy by the central VOR media operation that reserves the raw uploaded videos only for “official broadcasters”. And if you’re willing to wait a day or two, they usually post the full videos in the raw form they come off the boats.

So here’s a few minutes of SCA video from a few days ago, now reaching the world for the first time, no thanks to misguided gatekeepers in Alicante and Stockholm.

I love the cute horseplay on the stern. I suspect the main point of it is just to try to stay warm. It’s super cold down there.

As of 0640 UTC today (Wednesday, April 1) they were about 75 miles from the Horn. Winds dropped to almost nothing a few hours ago, but are building again. It’s amazing to see how fast the systems sweep through. Hopefully they’ll be around Cape Horn and heading north into the Atlantic before the end of today.

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Toward Cape HornThere’s an amazing race happening at the front…

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Toward Cape Horn

There’s an amazing race happening at the front of the Volvo fleet. At the moment Alvimedica leads, followed by a tight trio of MAPFRE, ADOR, and Brunel about 8 miles back, and then Dongfeng, who have fallen off the pace a bit in the last 12 hours, about 25 miles back. All of them should be rounding Cape Horn tomorrow (Monday, March 30); the VOR media operation has a helicopter and photographers staged to hopefully get aerial photos.

The more compelling story for me, though, is 475 miles back, where SCA has been limping along (if you can call it that when a boat is surfing at 20 knots) ever since they blew out their medium-air downwind sail (the Fractional Code Zero, or “FR0″) back on March 24.

There hasn’t been much video from SCA during the last few days. What I know is mostly based on the tracker, and on updates to the blog on the team website. The top gif above shows an animation of the last six days in the tracker, in which you can see SCA falling steadily back.

They’ve been sailing conservatively rather than pushing, doing relatively few maneuvers and using their smaller sails (mostly the J1) rather than their remaining large downwind sails (the A3 gennaker and Masthead Code Zero). Basically, they’ve shifted from racing to sailing in survival mode, just concentrating on reaching Cape Horn safely.

There are hints in the blog of disagreements; it sounds like Libby, at least, is disappointed about the decision to ease off the throttle. But ultimately it has to be Sam’s responsibility to make that kind of call. From the sound of it, she’s decided they need to save their energy for the difficult rounding ahead, rather than trying to match the rapid-fire gybes (and exhausting shifting of the stack) that the boats ahead have been using to keep racing.

The lead boats will probably round Cape Horn in relatively light wind. Because they’ve fallen a day behind, though, SCA is likely to experience a much rougher rounding, with steady winds into the high 30s, and possible gusts to 50 knots or more. That, combined with the extreme sea state that typically forms off Cape Horn, means they’ll probably be sailing in the worst conditions anyone has ever experienced in a Volvo 65.

The four wind projections above show the current wind, and then winds for 12, 24, and 36 hours from now, with SCA’s position advanced to show where they’re likely to be at those points. The dot toward the right of each image is Cape Horn.

They’re a tough crew, and they have a strong boat. My thoughts are going to be with them over the next few days.

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Sunday, March 29th, 2015

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Sophie explains what happened to her during the unplanned gybe…

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Sophie explains what happened to her during the unplanned gybe yesterday.

Such an adorable goofball. So happy she’s merely bruised and sore; that could have been bad.

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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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Making a passThe fleet has been left behind by the winds of…

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Making a pass

The fleet has been left behind by the winds of former Typhoon Pam, and now they’re in lighter, southeasterly/southerly winds, doing their best to position themselves for the next low-pressure system due to track east across the Southern Ocean next week.

Something interesting happened today that I don’t remember seeing at any previous point in the race: SCA passed a top competitor (actually, two top competitors). And they did it not only with good tactics, but with boatspeed.

The gif above summarizes about 18 hours of racing. At the beginning SCA is behind Dongfeng and MAPFRE. At the end of it they’re ahead of them. And especially on that last starboard tack, it really looks like they’re pulling away not because they’re in better wind, but just because they’re sailing faster. At the end they’re more than 10 miles ahead of Dongfeng, having pulled out of AIS range.

That’s huge. MAPFRE was the winner of the most-recent leg, and Dongfeng of the leg before that. SCA has been closing the gap on the more-experienced crews, figuring out how to push harder and get that last drop of speed. And this is just one moment, with a lot of racecourse to go; I’m sure there will be setbacks. But for now they must be so excited.

It brings to mind something I saw one of their coaches (I think?) say in a dockside interview in Auckland: This is the leg they trained for. Not that the warm tradewinds of the Canary Islands are anything like the Southern Ocean. But in terms of sailing swiftly, safely, and efficiently in rough conditions, this was their focus for more than a year. Heading off to round Cape Horn with a crew made up largely of people with only limited offshore experience, I think it was the right focus. But it left them with a deficit compared to the more-experienced teams at things like light-air boatspeed and maintaining their intensity over weeks of uninterrupted racing.

They’ve been doing better on each leg, getting closer and closer to the back of the fleet. Now they’re legitimately in it.

Go SCA! :-)

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lies:Taking LeaveNic Douglas and Jan Edney filmed a “dock walk”…

Friday, March 20th, 2015


Taking Leave

Nic Douglas and Jan Edney filmed a “dock walk” on the morning of the departure from Auckland, covering the last 45 minutes or so before the boats left. And it was simultaneously both a little dull and kind of fascinating.

It was dull because all the big departure events had taken place three days before. The wait for Typhoon Pam meant that the shore facilities had been packed and shipped off to the next stop, and a lot of the shore team and family members had likewise left. So the only people on the dock were the sailors and a relative handful of well-wishers and media. It was a quiet, almost somber scene.

Two moments stuck out for me. One was the brief goodbye between Sophie and a man I didn’t recognize; he had an SCA jacket on, but I don’t know if he was a coach, family member, or friend. I especially liked the last tap on the head: Be smart out there.

The second moment was when Libby was walking by and called out to her brother Rob, who walked out to the stern of MAPFRE to talk to her. They exchanged a few words, then Libby continued down the dock toward SCA.

I was struck by Rob’s body language. While talking to Libby he seemed casual, looking down at some piece of equipment he was holding. But when she left he lifted his head and watched her walk away, his little sister, about to set out on the leg he’s done three times before, but that she never has. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. But I don’t think so.

Reblogging myself to say that someone with a personal connection to the team was kind enough to let me know that in the first set of images Sophie is talking to Dr. Antonio Zoido, the team physician. Which, given Sophie’s back issues and her campaign to rejoin the boat, makes that moment even more meaningful.

Here’s an interview with Dr. Zoido from the Cape Town stopover:

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A last batch of interviews with members of Team SCA before they…

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

A last batch of interviews with members of Team SCA before they head out on leg 5, talking about what sailing the Southern Ocean means to them.

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After a couple of delays to let Cyclone Pam (and its waves) get…

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

After a couple of delays to let Cyclone Pam (and its waves) get out of the way, leg 5 will finally be starting “today”: Wednesday, March 18, at 9 a.m. New Zealand time, which is today (Tuesday, March 17) at 8 p.m. UTC/1 p.m. Pacific.

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Practice Race in Auckland: Team SCA from above. Photo by Ainhoa…

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Practice Race in Auckland: Team SCA from above. Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

It’s fun for me at this point, now that I recognize most of them, to zoom in on a photo like this and imagine what’s going on.

There’s that tight group of Stacey, Abby, Dee, and Liz on the rail, having one of those fun conversations you get to have when you’re mostly there for weight, at least for the moment.

And then I think that’s Sam trimming the main and pointing to leeward, with Sally talking tactics with her. And Carolijn on the helm with that head tilt she does.

I think maybe that’s Annie sitting aft of the group on the rail, facing back toward the cockpit, and then maybe Elodie in the gray shirt sitting on the high side of the cockpit? Though the name on the shirt seems too short, so I’m not sure. And there are a bunch of passengers, including what look like one or two dudes toward the stern, one hiking out and one holding what I suspect is a big camera. Y chromosome represent!

But my favorite thing is seeing you-know-who back on the handles. :-)

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“It is with mixed emotions that sailors head back into the Southern Ocean. It is on the one hand a…”

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

“It is with mixed emotions that sailors head back into the Southern Ocean. It is on the one hand a very special magical place. It can be great sailing with amazing sights. It can also be the scariest place on the planet where rescue is often not an option. We will pass point Nemo, the furthest point on the planet from civilisation, in fact the astronauts in the international space station are our closest humans.”

Dee Caffari

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Team SCA bow women Stacey Jackson, Liz Wardley, and Sophie…

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Team SCA bow women Stacey Jackson, Liz Wardley, and Sophie Ciszek.

I mentioned my surprise at Sophie getting her wish to be back on the boat for leg 5. I noticed in the final crew roster that both Stacey Jackson and Liz Wardley (the boat’s #1 and #2 bow persons) would be on board too, and then Dee Caffari’s better half, who’s a regular on the Sailing Anarchy forums, pointed out to me that Sophie wasn’t on the boat for this leg as a bow person, but as a driver, based on her previously discussed talent for surfing big waves. Hopefully being at the back of the boat will help her protect her back.

The other crew switch they’re doing between Saturday’s in-port race and the leg 5 start (now scheduled for no earlier than Monday, to give Cyclone Pam time to get out of the way) is that they’re taking off Sally Barkow (who’s arguably one of the best around-the-buoys tacticians on the team) and replacing her with Sara Hastreiter, who sat out leg 4. Presumably Sara will be working the pit, but she’s also worked the bow on previous legs.

I think it’s smart for them to load up the boat with bow people for this leg. They’re the kind of sailors who get a lot of practice staying on board when waves are trying to wash them off, and they’re generally good at wrestling angry sails into submission and imposing order on chaos. All of those skills are going to be really useful over the next few weeks.

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