Despite a disappointing last few days aboard Ericsson, Steve Hayles, navigator says the feeling onboard is still positive

We have certainly had an eventful and somewhat disappointing few days onboard Ericsson with broken sails from much earlier in the leg putting us on the back foot and then our incident with the keel last night effectively scuppering our chances of a podium finish on this leg.

On reflection though its not all bad and we still have a very important job to do ensuring we stay in front of the Australians and even more importantly, that we actually get across the finish line.

On the upside, I have been onboard many boats in previous Volvo Races and other transoceanic races where we have suffered breakdowns and this is the least painful of them all so far. Broken rudders and masts for instance are a real horror show; hard work to clean up and then progress afterwards is painfully slow but although we are definitely not competitive without the full range of movement in our keel we are still sailing quickly and safely towards the finish in comfortable conditions.

If the positions remain as they do now, we would be lying joint second on the overall leaderboard and just a point away from first place and if you had offered me that as an option a month ago I would have ripped your arm off shaking your hand.

We have learnt a huge amount on this leg which is to be expected as we have seen the heat of battle for the first time and more than doubled the number of miles under our keel. It’s been a relatively simple first leg and one with decent breeze the whole way which has magnified the speed differences between the boats. We sailed for 12 days in the middle of the leg without ever tacking or gybing and spent a lot of that time at a very specific wind angle which is great if that’s where you are strong and not so great if your not.

It didn’t suit us particularly well but we are very happy to have witnessed it and we look forward to some marked improvements in our speed when we see these conditions again. We know we are strong elsewhere and it’s now a game of improving where we need to without compromising our performance elsewhere.

As to life onboard; well you end up with a strange atmosphere in these situations. We know we are racing, and we value the points enormously but we have also have to back off and that gives people more time for all the ‘every day’ things that we don’t normally do like have conversations about ‘normal’ life or have impromptu ‘meetings’ about all sorts of aspects to do with developing the yacht and its performance.

For a few hours after a breakdown the whole boat goes quiet and then slowly but surely you hear a little more humour and lot more chat. The thing I would bet on most though, after a breakdown, is that someone starts talking about distance to the finish. There is always at least one ‘GPS watcher’ who insists on having the distance displayed on deck and talks about very little else.

We did break through the ‘1,000 miles to go’ barrier today which has some psychological meaning although I keep reminding myself that we have all competed in much shorter races like the Sydney-Hobart (which is about 630 miles) which have felt like a very, very long way. A mile ticks by every four minutes or so but I know these last few days will drag on.

This event is a series of ups and downs but fortunately we all have ‘selective memories’ and the disappointment of this leg will quickly be replaced by the anticipation of the next one. There is a lot to look forward to and we are only nearing the end of chapter one in what will be a decent length book with a few dramatic twists and turns in the plot!
Steve Hayles – navigator