Mike Sanderson talks to Matthew Sheahan about the explosive opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race
First across the line, with a new world record under its belt and leading on points overall, ABN AMRO’s start to the Volvo has been a dream ticket for the team and their sponsors. Yet the state in which she arrived in Cape Town provided few clues as to the kicking that they, and indeed the entire fleet, had sustained during the opening 6000 miles.
Tracking alongside Mike Sanderson’s black, green and yellow boat as she approached the finish the only obvious sign of a battle scar was the repaired code zero headsail, ripped on the first night.
“I’ll be interested to see just how hard people push on the next leg,” said Sanderson, reflecting on the start of the opening leg.
“I think I had it in my mind that we had to prove a point to ourselves and put on a good display for our sponsors and supporters, but we went out too hard. Everyone did.
“For us that was a dumb move. The damage cost us dearly, although we were amazed to discover that even when we were sailing at 70-80% we were still on the pace.”
A risky way of confirming just how quick your boat is. The trigger for the incident was a broken steering linkage which then led to a broken pedestal after two of the crew were washed through it in the wipe-out that followed.
But, despite the damage and temporary loss of pace, ABN 1 got away with it. Re-built the sail and the pedestal and went on to dominate the race.
“What we keep discovering is that you can’t sail these boats at the same intensity as we did with the Volvo 60s. Those boats were bullet proof,” he continued. “The 70s are absolute monsters.”
“The toughest thing about these boats is keeping up the pace day after day. This is an endurance race set at a sprinting pace. There’s no way we could sail around the world at this pace. Fortunately we don’t have to either, we’re racing for 20 days at a time. After that the shore crew works on the boat and the medics work on the crew.
“But when it comes to the handling, the most difficult issue is the sails. Just moving them around is a nightmare as each of the headsails weighs around 100kg. Every time we did a sail change, we did it with all the crew.”
A point that was reinforced for all the dockside spectators as the shore crew descended on the boat. It took six large men to carry just one of the headsails off the dock and up to their truck 100m away – Six men represents 2/3 of the crew.
Yet determination rewarded ABN1 with a record run, just how tough was this?
“We weren’t really aware of the possibility of a world record until the last six hours of the run,” said Sanderson. ” We did two or three sail changes in that time too so we re were even more surprised as these changes cost time.
“But this was the most stressful time of the leg for me by miles. The thought of pressing on for the record and balancing this against not breaking the boat and winning the leg was a very difficult balance to strike.”
Having broken the record by clocking up 546 miles, an average speed of 22.7 knots, how much faster did he now think the boats could go?
“It took a long time to get monohulls up to 500 miles, now we’re nudging at the door of 550 in very little time. But I guess 600 could be possible with a little bit of help from the Gulf Stream or flat water, that’s the real key. Big waves slow these boats down.”
With two of the seven boats retired from the leg and another pair limping to the finish, the risks of breaking the boat is clear to see.
Unless you were watching ABN1 cross the line this afternoon.