Round the world racer Nick Moloney with an eye-opening view on what's likely to happen on Leg 2 of the VOR
Australian Nick Moloney has been working on the Pirates of the Caribbean Volvo Ocean Race project as consultant coach to the team. This is the first time he has gone back to this world, since 1997 when he was helmsman, trimmer and sail maker on Toshiba, managed by America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner, in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now Volvo Ocean Race).
Here is Nick’s preview of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06.
“The Southern Ocean breaks people, even strong people and every sailor heading south next week knows this. No one is immune and each crewmember is different. Those who have been there before cannot be completely certain how they will cope as their situations are forever changing, both physically and emotionally. Our bodies get older and our lives change. Some of the crews are now husbands and fathers since they were last turning their minds towards the south. At heart, all young single men looking for action, adventure and a taste of danger.
“As with every stage of this event, the word danger creeps into the sailor’s world and never more so than prior to the two lengthy Southern Ocean stints. At some point, an internal switch flicks and each and every crewmember will take time to contemplate the dangers ahead. The trigger is the continuous loaded requests from family and friends to ‘take care’. Simple requests, from loved ones caught in a spiral of proud support, yet powerless to aid should disaster strike.
“Many will say to themselves and some out loud: ‘This is it – my last foray in the Southern Ocean’. Such statements are derived from a stage of fear and apprehension. To board the boat on the day of the start will be a very hard thing for some to do. To kiss and wave goodbye to family and friends will break hearts. Each of us that undertake an ocean race like this bears a weighty duty to those left behind to take every practicable measure to ensure that we do indeed meet again. Some will have discussed actions and arrangements in the event of disaster. Personally, I wrote a note to my family and gave it to them at the start of the 97-98 edition of this event with the instruction not to be opened unless something terrible happened to me. That note was my own obituary. When you say goodbye before a deep ocean race, a piece of you knows it could be forever. Yet when you make it to the other end you question your fears. ‘Had I been over-dramatic?’ This thought stays with you till the next time when you find yourself asking the same questions.
“Being truthful, there is a type of suppression that surrounds top-level sailing where individuals are cagey about their emotions. They rarely show elation or express concerns. At sea, crews might get excited about seeing something unusual or special such as whales. Yet on arrival when asked questions about such an encounter, the common response is ‘yeah, it was OK’. Sometimes it easier to leave the vision in our own minds and at sea, as the moment has passed and acting is not a core skill for ocean racers. But there are several reasons for this and another explanation might be simply that emotion is a weakness that cannot be displayed or shown to their fellow crewmembers. It is imperative that each individual shows strength, not as a macho thing, just a necessity. Emotion can pierce armour.
“There is and always will be the moments where emotions cannot be suppressed or hidden. The moments that make the event what it is. For a sailor it’s a period of building winds and boat speed when on the verge of losing control. The general chatter ceases and not a word is spoken outside commands that directly effect maintaining focus. Everyone is machine-like, listening, concentrating, and drawing on their every sailing skill to keep it together. The situation is dangerous as you not only fight to keep the boat upright, but also the ocean is trying to claim you by sending sweeping sheets of deep cold water across the deck at high speed, hitting you with alarming force. Voices develop a distinct tone, that of urgency and raw fears – these moments have wowed me, they are my jewel memories.
“For those ashore, the emotions that cannot be suppressed are many. You just need to know where to look. Look into the eyes and the facial expression of a father returning from the sea desperately searching for his family amongst the thousands of spectators lining the shores. A face bearing signs of hardship and long periods of exposure to stress, lack of sleep and the elements just simply melts with that initial contact with his children and the same for them.
“So to deal with danger and the inevitable stress it leads to, every team will in their own way work on motivation, preparing each crew member individually and the group as a whole for this next stage. For most, they will find quiet periods to visualise the next leg, their role on the boat and what the event really means to them.
“Part of this process of risk management relies on developing and maintaining trust. It is difficult to deny that taking these boats into the Southern Ocean is a risk! Some boats are barely out of the box and are effectively untested. There is a real chance of disaster in this event as there is with any yacht race around the world and confidence is imperative. There are more than a few in this race who are lacking confidence, both in their tools and their team mates.
“For this event the safety training has been intense – days in survival suits, life rafts, practical flare deployment and more. For the navigators onboard it’s a matter of understanding the range of rescue aircraft, the emergency procedure, the time and sequence of events when a distress beacon is activated. Many have discussed pain management and nominated particular crewmembers to take charge in critical situation.
“Through these concerns and planning the team forms a strong bond. No matter how you arrived at this point or who you are as a person or sailor, you need to have the same desire to survive. It’s a bizarre saying that often exists when forming a team for such an event ‘would you go to war with this guy?’ The answer always needs to be YES!
“There has been a lot of discussion about the race tempo and how far this event has moved forward from the days of good old sea faring adventure. Well, if you consider adventure to be exploring new horizons at new limits, then the days of adventure are far from ended. There cannot be too many minds that feel they have much of an idea of what will become of the fleet in this next dive into the unknown. Who will be fast, who will be slow, and who will be prudent?
“This is it, the Southern Ocean. The most powerful sailing stage on this planet – hang on to your hats!”