The behind-the-scenes work that keeps the Challenge fleet racing

On most ocean races, yacht teams are responsible for everything, from racing the boat to repairs and logistics. The Global Challenge is different. The fleet is owned and run by Challenge Business and their own race management and technical team handle almost everything – including providing the skipper.

This week their team has been carrying out the final belt-and-braces phases of maintenance in Portsmouth, including servicing the engines and generators, checking all the steering cables and watermakers and running the heaters. The yachts have also been undergoing inspections by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and further safety checks by the Royal Ocean Racing Club.

There are still last-minute jobs to be done. “We’re getting the final deliveries of medical kits and getting sails on,” says Matthew Ratsey, technical director of Challenge Busines, pictured left. “One of the pressures of late sponsors is the sail branding and hull branding.”

The 17 crew on each yacht are expected to undertake some tasks themselves, but the areas of responsibility are carefully delineated. “What we ask of the crew is to do the basic checks of inventory and equipment and report back if there’s a problem, but we do the specific servicing” explains Ratsey. “The crew do things like servicing the winches, checking the bilge pumps and checking the sails, but we action the sail repairs with Hood and do all the mechanical and electrical stuff.”

Any aspects that could impact on safety are handled by the Challenge Business technical support team. “So the crew will do rig checks, but our team will sets [the rigs] up,” Ratsey says. “We’ve got a team with all the skills and we can control what’s going on and make sure it’s done to the right standard.”

Besides the full-time technical team of Andrew Roberts, Matthew Ratsey and Alistair Hackett, seven others travel to each port to cope with maintenance and repairs: riggers Peter Lucas and Neil Gledhill; mechanics Peter Pearce and Tony Pearson; electrician Keith Baxter; and boatbuilders Paul Tanner and Steve Clements.

The Challenge support team need to be self-sufficient in terms of equipment. Each yacht has to carry a designated inventory of spares, drawn up from the experience of previous races, but a stock is also shipped to each port, as are the tools the team will need.

“We’ve got a main 40ft stores container with everything from cleaning materials to anticipated spares,” Matthew Ratsey explains. “We also have a 20ft workshop container going to Buenos Aires and an additional 20ft rigging container to leapfrog that for Wellington with, for example, jigsaws, bandsaws, vices, hacksaws, rope and 3,000 stainless steel fastenings. As well as that we have a container going to Wellington with a spare mast in three parts.”

While the yachts are racing, the technical team provide full-time support by email. All communications come via by Challenge Business’s race office, which operates 24 hours a day while the yachts are at sea. “The traffic can be quite high,” says Ratsey. “During the last race there was something like 30-40 emails a day with questions or problems from ‘The generator’s stopped working’ to missing PIN numbers for the satellite phones. Plus every week on a Friday we ask for a summary of damage and defects so that we know if we need anything other than what’s been sent ahead and to identify any fleet-wide problems.”