Mike Sanderson's views on the latest VOR problems on Pirates of the Caribbean

Well well, and then there were four! Very disappointing news this morning to hear that Paul Cayard’s Pirates have suffered structural damage. Man this leg has been tough on the boats. It will be very interesting to see what the race management and the measurers do in Melbourne with regards to the boats’ current certificates, but then again, maybe it’s not their problem?

If Michael Schumacher goes out on dry tyres in the wet and drives at dry speed and then spins off that’s not Bernie’s fault… I am sure that’s not what happened here as I know that Paul often talks about the lessons learnt on this leg in the 97/98 race when both EF Language and the boat I was on Merit Cup (the two boats that finished that race 1st and 2nd) were beating ourselves to death towards the back of the pack with all sorts of issues going on.

Quite clearly with these boats we are seeing some load cases that the models that are used to design them can’t predict. We have broken parts both during the race and more so pre-race which I know that Juan and his team just say isn’t possible. Our tiller arm on the first leg was one case, and the canting keel system break that we had on the white boat pre race has had, until quite recently, plenty of people scratching heads.

A very famous French singlehanded sailor Michel Desjoyeaux, a man that has won the Vendee Globe race in a canting keel boat, and is the master of sailing the very fragile Open 60 trimarans has said two pretty big statements to me over the last year or so that I have really listened to.

The first one was right before I started my first singlehanded race last year, Mich came up to me and said: “Mike, do you mind if I give you some advice…” I was so excited, I was waiting for this great secret on how to tack or gybe, or maybe find out the trick he uses at getting up the mast when single handed, anyway out it came:

“I think you should move your Argos beacon! (A race supplied instrument which they had put on the back of the boat.) “It might get washed off.” I was so disappointed. Here I was, about to learn from the master, and all he spoke about was my Argos beacon! However, a few months later I was talking to him about the new Volvo boat that we where building and once again, just as we where wrapping up the conversation, Mich said: “Mike can I give you some advice?” This time I was like… yeah sure… what this time, thinking of the Argos situation and he said: ” Nobody truly knows the dynamic loads yet of a canting keel boat.” And that hit home pretty hard.

Now I know that Juan K will shoot me for saying this, even though I did go on about it a lot during the design phase, and I am sure that Russ Bowler and Bruce Farr who I know so well over the years will also think that I have gone slightly mad out here, but it must be the case: All the boats now in their lifetime have broken bits which they ‘shouldn’t have’, so quite clearly there are dynamic loads going on which the models aren’t detecting.

We have to over build things and in doing so bury the gremlin and we have to find the limits gently as to how hard we can push these new boats. Both of which are possible. When ABN AMRO TWO broke the 24 hour record yesterday, the conditions were too bouncy for us – we need flatter water than that, but they are a stronger boat, and the price they have paid for that stronger boat is less lead on the keel, so upwind and tighter reaching they are slower then us. Those are just both facts of life, so yesterday for us we had to be at 90 per cent while they where at 100 per cent.

I think in Melbourne, the race management group will have to give us the two weeks to do only the changes the teams and the designers think is necessary to make the boats tough enough, and then we have to re-weigh and take lead off our keels accordingly. It is the only solution I can see that is going to get this fleet around the world.

So to wrap it up, a saying that I know I say too much when being interviewed, ‘Time will tell.’

Talk soon
Mike Sanderson