Thursday, 14 August 2014

BRUTAL and AMAZING: Musandam Oman Sail's incredible adventure for World Record

Musandam-Oman Sail have set a new world record for sailing round Britain and Ireland after shaving 16 minutes off the current record and taking line honours in the 2014 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race after a nail-biting end to a remarkable three days.

They don't look exhausted!!
 An exhausted but jubilant Sidney Gavignet and his crew of Damian Foxall, Fahad Al Hasni, Sami Al Shukaili, Yassir Al Rahbi and Jan Dekker crossed the Cowes finish line at 12.42.36 BST on Thursday 14th August 2014.

Their time for 1956 nms course was 3 days 03 hours 32 minutes and 36 seconds which was just 16m 38s faster than the previous World Record set by Banque Populaire 5 in 2011. They averaged an incredible 23.8 knots all the way round the course and had no idea until they crossed the finish line that they had taken the record.

“We didn’t realise we had broken the record until we crossed the finish line,” said Gavignet.
“We got to St Catherine’s two hours before doing 30 knots but suddenly there a cloud and no wind so we thought our chances had gone. But we kept working and working. and finally we made it 16 minutes before the time limit.”

Amazing Musandam-Oman Sail

There was plenty of luck involved, he added.

“The weather was exceptional…I doubt you could find better for the Round Britain and Ireland Race except for two little clouds at the finish. We went round Great Britain and the islands without a tack, only gybes. No tack, zero tacks. That is rare possibly unique.

“It’s amazing to beat Loick Peyron and his boys on Banque Populaire 5 which is almost two times bigger than us. I kept saying there is no way we can beat that boat so it is a surprise. I’m a happy skipper.”

Musandam-Oman Sail also knocked a massive 2 days 17 hours and 52 minutes off the Sevenstar  Round Britain and Ireland Race Record of 5 days 21 hours 26 minutes 55 seconds set by Franck Cammas’ monohull Groupama in 2010.

It was he wot did it! Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall - the Musandam-Oman Sail brains trust
For the first time, Musandam-Oman Sail was racing with three Omani sailors in a total crew of six, with Sami Al Shukaili and Yassir Al Rahbi joining Oman Sail’s flagship boat just one month prior to the race.

“It was my dream to race on the MOD70 when I joined Oman Sail,” enthused Al Shukaili. 

“I pushed myself hard to lose weight and to sail hard every day to get into shape for the MOD70 and Fahad gave me a big push to sail with him. I knew there was a time to beat to break the record but at the finish I wasn’t sure if we had done it. But I saw everyone was happy so I was happy with them.”
Gavignet paid tribute to his Omani crewmembers, especially his two new recruits.

“They were not seasick, which is impressive and did not get tired and had a fantastic attitude. They picked up a lot of things on this trip and gained valuable experience. I have found two new Omani sailors which is great for us, great for them and great for Oman Sail. 

“This record is good for Oman Sail and I’m happy for three Omanis to be going back to Oman with a lot of positive vibrations."

Fahad Al Hasni has been with Musandam Oman Sail from the day it was launched in 2012 and has many thousands of trimaran racing miles under his belt but this world record represented a special moment in his career, he said.

Damian Foxall, Fahad Al Hasni, Sami Al Shukaili, Yassir Al Rahbi and Sidney Gavignet

“It was good fun and it is great to come back with the record and to have the boat in one piece. Everyone is good and we are happy to have a crew that is half Omani for the first time and feel it is a really big thing to have done.”
Ireland’s foremost offshore sailor Damian Foxall has raced around the world seven times yet he too said this world record was of his finest achievements.
“I would put this record up at the top of my lists of achievements – the enormity hasn’t really sunk in yet!” he said.
“Just to put things into context, two of our Omani crewmates had only stepped on to the MOD70 at the beginning of the season and they have made huge progress.

“The fact that we were able to push that hard around the course is a reflection of the crew’s ability and bodes well for the future of Oman Sail – we are on the right track.”

The stars of the show, according to Jan Dekker, one of the most experienced offshore sailors in the world but racing a MOD70 for the first time, were the ‘amazing’ boat and crew.

“Amazing conditions but mostly an amazing boat,” he said.

“Doing 30-35 knots all the time. It was quite brutal – I have sailed ORMA 60s a fair bit but this was full on. The only thing you can do down below is to hang on.  The three Omanis were great – some more experienced than others but all totally at home on the boat.”

Tributes started pouring in as soon as Musandam-Oman Sail’s success was confirmed.

 “This record is a testament to hard work all round,” said David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail.
“Sidney and Damian have dedicated much of their time training our Omani sailing squad in all aspects of offshore sailing.

“Our Omani sailors have soaked that up over the last couple of seasons and worked hard in self-improvement. The world record beating crew was 50% Omani Nationals and this is a real achievement. We are a step nearer our goal and I am delighted for all the sailors.”

When the celebrations have died down and the crew taken a well-earned rest, Gavignet will be on the move again, fitting his ‘solo’ kit to the MOD70 and kicking off his preparations for the single-handed Route du Rhum in November.

“We will have a little rest and a chat then head back to Lorient with our solo kit – our first single handed experience on this boat.  I’m not sure what it will be like sailing solo on this boat. I think it will be tough so I will need plenty of luck. It is easy to capsize these boats so it will be about staying upright. 

“But I think Musandam-Oman Sail and I can go quite fast together. I know the challenge is massive but it is a gift for me and I will go step by step.”

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mistake came as a wake-up call for women on Team SCA, says Caffari

One ‘silly’ mistake that cost the all –women’s crew on Team SCA a podium place in the Artemis Challenge has served as a wake-up call ahead of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race starting on Sunday.

A tactical error at the start of Thursday’s limbering up race around the Isle of Wight saw Sam Davies’ 14 strong crew, which comprises five British women, trail in last behind the two other Volvo Ocean 65s which will compete in the Volvo Ocean Race starting from Alicante in October.

“It’s only now we are seeing how costly a silly mistake can be,” admitted Dee Caffari, the British round the world solo sailor who joined the campaign in April.

“We have been training on our own in Lanzarote but being exposed to the other teams, it’s clear you will get punished if you make a mistake so it is good for us to have a wake up call.

There has not been any women racing in the Volvo Ocean Race since 2005 when Adrienne Cahalan was navigator for one leg on Brasil 1. The last all-female crew Amer Sports Too, skippered by American Lisa McDonald, campaigned the 2001-2 Race following in the footsteps of Tracy Edwards and her Maiden crew who raced around the world amid blaze of publicity in 1989-90.

“None of us have any experience of the Volvo Ocean Race and are up against other crews who have a lot of experience on board,” said Caffari.

“So this is just the start of things and we are confident we will grow as a team as we learn the boat and roles.”

Team SCA  is one of 27 boats taking part in the 1800 nms Round Britain and Ireland Race which starts in Cowes and is likely to take six days, but a forecast for heavy weather for the first night which will see the fleet battle against uncomfortably strong headwinds, will rule out any chance of setting a new RBI record.
These Team SCA girls mean business

"We are quite excited about the heavy weather forecast because we have done quite a lot of nice sailing so far and have not done long upwinds in big seas so it will be a good time for us test the crew and boat’s performance,” said Caffari after a general abandonment of all classes at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.

Veteran sailor Sir Robin Knox Johnston, who at 75 is the oldest competitor, will use the race as part of his preparations for the solo transatlantic race, the Route du Rhum, in November but his 16 year old IMOCA Open 60 Grey Power will struggle for speed in a pedigree fleet of some of the fastest boats on the planet including the Omani MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail, the favourite for line honours.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Is Pippa Middleton preparing for Volvo Ocean Race?!

A charity gig? Or is Pippa Middleton honing her helming skills for Volvo Ocean Race!!!

 The opening skirmishes at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week were cast aside yesterday as near perfect sailing conditions produced some cracking contests, and despite being only two days in, some hot contenders for ultimate class honours.

A busy night for the boat repair teams in Cowes meant a full turn-out for the Daring class, including the damaged Double Knot and Destroyer as well as a return of IRC Class 0 boats Tonnerre de Breskens and Tokoloshe II after their collision on Saturday. But it made no difference to the leaderboard in either class.

Giles Peckham, a veteran of 30 Cowes Week regattas, once more stretched his legs in his Daring Dauntless and scored his second win of the week, again by more than four minutes. Two minutes separated the next three boats, with Magnus Wheatley’s Destroyer, which was holed the previous day, coming in fourth having led for much of the race.

“It was an interesting race with lots of opportunities to change places, so it was about finding the shifts and finding the pressure and working out how much effect the tide had. So it was very tactical,” said Peckham, who in 2008 was crowned King of Cowes when he won an Laser SB3 event, beating champions from all other classes.

Defending his class win of 2013, the popular Peckham is now favourite for this year’s title though a forecast for light airs today and Tuesday may see some changes to the rankings, as they are bound to in the big boat class which has so far been dominated by Scottish businessman Lord Irving Laidlaw in his Reichel Pugh 52 Cape Fling II.

Laidlaw, with tactician Peter Holmberg on board along with offshore whizzes Paul Standbridge and Emma Westmacott, arrived in Cowes with a mission to overhaul the winter’s defeats by Piet Vroon’s Tonnerre de Breskens, who beat them in nine of the ten races they raced during the Caribbean season.

At Cowes, the tables have turned though, Tonnerre was forced off the course in the opening race after a collision with the GP42 Tokoloshe II and then made an error on the start line yesterday to finish behind Cape Fling after a close contest.

“We did a really nice job against them in the Caribbean but this week they are the benchmark,” said Frank Gerber, Tonnerre de Breskens boat captain.

“But it could get interesting if the wind goes light over the next two days when Tokoloshe II should come to the fore. We might still be able to win this class – we missed out over the last couple of days but we can’t afford to screw up now.

“We won here last year and beat Tokoloshe in the Round the Island Race so we have as good a chance of winning as anyone.”

Pippa Middleton proved herself an expert and competitive helm when she took charge of one of the UKSA boats as part of a charity event which will be supported by the Princess Royal and the Duke of Edinburgh this week.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Has Sir Ben Ainslie splashed £1 million cash on a new toy?

There’s been a lot of fun at 2014 Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week trying to work out the whys and wherefores over Sir Ben Ainslie's fabulous new boat, which predictably is called Rita.

Sir Ben Ainslie and girlfriend Georgie Thompson on Rita

 He and his glamorous girlfriend Georgie Thomson were spotted on the boat on Saturday but despite a squillion questions to a zillion people, no one seemed to know what it was, where it came from and why it was there. No nuffin!

But we did some digging and discovered – eventually - that it is a beautiful Hoek Design Truly Classic 65 (we think). Apparently it combines early 20th century elegance with 21st century underwater hull configurations and she is a performance cruiser which means she is fast and comfortable!

It was recently in Berthons in Lymington for a big-gish refit including air conditioning, chain plate covers, and general upgrades to get her ready for the 2014 season though it is unlikely that Ainslie will be able to find time to race her due to his 24/7 commitment to raising funds for his Ben Ainslie Racing bid for the America’s Cup.
Rita at Berthons in Lymington

A boat similar to this one – possibly this very boat (see below) was up for sale recently for £1.1 million which probably isn't far off what Ainslie earned from the last America’s Cup. This one has raw teak decks and a varnished mahogany doghouse – absolutely gorgeous.

No idea if it is Ainslie’s boat but the fact it is called Rita, the name he has given ALL his boats throughout his brilliant career suggests it belongs to him. It is enough to give us major boat envy!!!

Here is what the Hoek Design Truly Classic 65 look like inside. Get ready to dribble.....

And this.........

Daring -do!!

It all kicked off in the Royal London YC last night as the Daring knuckle-bruisers tried in their own way to sort out the mess from earlier in the day when Magnus Wheatley had this hole put in his beloved Destroyer by John Hackman's Doube Knot. It was heartbreaking because Wheatley spent around £10,000 on his restoration and this little dent will add another £2-3,000 to the bill.


Disappointingly (!) the paramedics were not required but no one would have been surprised if a few punches had been thrown. This is a very competitive class, packed with spiky owners reminiscent of the good old Laser SB3 charlies who used to come dressed like super heroes each time they raced, sporting virile hairy chests and runaway mouths……

The Daring is a conspicuously beautiful and elegant day boat. It stands out as a thing of beauty, even among the confusing mass of hulls that greet visitors when the Red Jet weaves its way across the Solent to Cowes. The people that sail them, many of them Squadron members, are not so elegant but they tend to be fantastic sportsmen. It is THE class to watch in 2014.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

On Flintoff watch at Arundel

Lancashire getting tonked here in Arundel by Leicestershire - Second XI Twenty20 finals day with 'the big man' Andrew Flintoff in action. Jordan Clarke has just been hit for six but Flintoff is bowling well - just bowled Michael Thornely.

He isn't being overly active in the field but he's keeping up with the kids. It was funny hearing the crowd clap sedately when it was announced he was coming onto bowl. Suspect it might be a bit different tomorrow night if he plays at Old Trafford.

Mark Chilton, Second XI coach was very emphatic about the 'if' when I spoke to him. We will have to see how he comes through today he said when I asked. But if Lancs beat Leics in this first semi final, will they risk playing him in the final?

Forty overs might be overegging the pudding. He needs to play cricket, Chilton said.We'll see how he goes.

His team arrived at Arundel in a coach, apart from Fred who drove in in his BMW and was asked at the gate if he was member or player. That reflects the charm of this place.

Oh my god
. Fielding at mid on, he has just let one go through. Very apologetic to bowler but that was a bad fumble.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Matt Prior hungry and ready to play for England

Matt Prior is hungry and ready to play for England, says his coach Mark Robinson a day before the England team for the first Test match against Sri Lanka starting on June 12.

Robbo came into the press box at Hove to while away some time as he waited to be interviewed by BBC's Kevin Howell. So what did everyone think, he asked assembled journos. Would Prior get the nod?

General consensus was that Prior was short of time in the middle both with the bat and gloves and his keeping in this match against Notts had been a bit ropey.

This is a difficult ground to keep at because sometimes the ball comes through and other times it doesn't he said and Chris Read hadn't exactly covered himself in glory.

Ideally he would have had more time in the ring, Robbo conceded but he was ready mentally and hungry. He was also unlikely to break down once he started, he added.

We questioned him on how he could be so confident and he said he had been working especially hard this past week and had passed all sorts of tests set by Bruce French, the England keeping coach and by diving around the wicket.

He might be up against a move to change the guard, removing tired old England players (our words) with fresh young ones (ie Jos Buttler). Peter Moores might be a fan of changing the guard we felt but Robbo wasn't sure. It was a strong promo for Prior but we pointed out that we weren't the ones who needed convincing!! We'll see what happens tomorrow?

Friday, 11 April 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Kate Middleton makes Grant Dalton titter

What on earth was she saying? Was it her America's Cup foiling jokes? The 'Ben Ainslie anti-fouled my bulwarks' story?
Must have been hilarious - never seen Dalts laugh before!!!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Steve Finn and Matt Prior show first signs of England rebound

Four sessions are a long time in cricket - enough time it seems to turn round careers as we might have seen this week at Hove in the first county championship match between Sussex and Middlesex.

When it started on Sunday morning, Steve Finn was facing a ruined international career after a miserable winter. All the talk here was how the England bowling coaches have tweaked with his run up, action and confidence with catastrophic consequences.

Steve Finn  on his way back???

And when he started bowling on Sunday afternoon, the signs were not good. Droopy shoulders, slow run up and sluggish delivery. His first four overs went for 20 overs and he was taken off, confidence shaken further.

Nice work Matty!

Matt Prior too had a miserable winter - like all of us really - where he looked nothing like the match winning gladiator he'd been in 2012. He had gone for more than a year without making any significant runs and needed to rattle off some impressive runs to shove Jos Butler or Jonny Bairstow off the keeper stage.

When he came into bat, he scratched around and none of his attempts at the big shots came off in the first few overs. Ironically Finn gave him a few loose deliveries to get his confidence up and there was one widish ball that Prior lent into beautifully and drove to the boundary with immaculate timing.

Many of us decided at that very point that Prior was back! But we were a bit premature....he was dropped twice on his way to a half century and again on 55 so the luck controller was looking out for him. But by the time he got to the hundred - the first century of the county championship season - the technique and power were working together in glorious harmony.

Textbook cover drives were purposefully struck, the cutting to third man was beautifully judged and gently executed and his hooking was a little agricultural but effective, until James Harris put paid to the entertainment with a super catch at square leg.

Big sighs of relief and a standing ovation as Prior strolled off the field,125 runs better off, bat under his arm and smile on his face.

There was a smile too on Finn's face since Prior was his fourth wicket in a day's exhertions that will have gone a long way to fast tracking his long haul out of the doldrums. There was more pace and more intent...and more wickets...4-67 from 17 overs after being 0-20 from four overnight.

Hoorah....a good day for England someone said!

Monday, 10 March 2014

How can British quadriplegic Hilary Lister possibly sail 850nms from Mumbai to Muscat?

British quadriplegic sailor Hilary Lister will set out on an extraordinary journey from Mumbai in India to Muscat on March 12 aiming to complete a 850 nautical mile voyage across the Arabian Sea despite not even being able to hold on tight.

Follow Hilary and Naswa's amazing story here on Oman Sail's website

Lister, supported by Oman Sail and sailing with Oman’s Nashwa Al Kindi, is paralysed from the neck down but became one of Britain’s best known sailors in 2009 when she sailed solo round Britain to set a new disabled record.

Eight months ago, she teamed up with ‘Nash’ after meeting her during a visit to Oman to give a series of motivational talks at Oman Sail.

They hit it off immediately and started to plan ‘something’ together so on March 12, this pair of trailblazers will set sail from Mumbai on a stable 28-foot Dragonfly trimaran, which has been specially adapted to take the sip and puff sailing technology Hilary relies on to control boat  speed and direction.

The 850 nautical mile voyage will take anything from 9 to 15 days with the two girls operating a watch system to ensure safe and steady progress, with Hilary undertaking most of the navigation duties.

Ever since she started sailing 11 years ago, Hilary who suffers from degenerative disease Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy has felt a strong calling to the oceans and although she has never spent more than 36 hours at sea before, this latest Mumbai to Muscat challenge is her most exciting yet.


 “This is a big challenge in terms of personal endurance and navigating large stretches of water and being responsible for myself and other people as well,” she said.

“But I can’t wait. I love the ocean and feel a huge call to it. I also feel it’s a huge privilege to make this voyage, especially with Nashwa who will be the first Omani woman to make an oceanic passage and that makes me a very privileged person.

“If we get more than 10 to 15 knots it will be a fantastic ride – we will be strapping ourselves to the boat and loving every second of it.”

Also on board will be a carer to attend to Hilary’s medical needs and Oman Sail’s Niall Myant, a qualified yachtmaster with a vast amount of experience of offshore sailing, who will help in the event of an emergency.

At worse, help could be 48 hours away but Nashwa, a 32 year-old Omani dinghy instructor who last November won the ISAF President Development Award for outstanding achievement in the development of sailing, is confident they will make it safely to Oman.

“I will be the first Arab woman to do this so if I reach Oman safely, this will be a record. I’m very excited,” she said.

“We could have between 10-20 knots which is quite strong but we are hoping most of the trip will be less but it is not predictable because sometimes the wind comes from the north and sometimes from the east so it depends on which wind will win.

“There will be no support vessel during the journey but we’ll have a radio, radar and a life-raft. If we need help, it could take 48 hours depending on where we are.

“My friends and family keep asking me why I am doing this but the truth is I love sailing and one day want to sail solo so this is a small step towards my dream.

“Also I’m doing this to inspire Omani people - if I can do this then there is no reason why Omani women shouldn’t go after their dreams,” said Nashwa who learned to sail in 2011.

The two women will take turns on watch. Hilary will have three straws in her sip and puff system to control steering, sails and navigation and when it is Nashwa’s turn, she will switch off her system and operate the boat manually.

During the day, a watch will be six hours and at night three or four hours with breaks for drinks and meals.

“We’ll have dehydrated food so we only have to add water and we have other meals that self-heat when you flick a switch,” explained Nashwa.

If successful, the Trans-ocean crossing which has been sponsored by Oman conglomerate Mistal will  be the first to be completed by a severely paralysed woman and the first to be recorded by an Arab female sailor.

The route is a direct one used from Roman and pre-Islamic times when the Indo-Oman trading links, which have been so important to the development of Oman, were first established.

Follow Hilary's progress at

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Alex Thomson on his mastwalk: never again!!

Alex Thomson is used to blazing new trails as he demonstrated when he won the Clipper Race in 1998-99 to become the youngest skipper to win a round-the-world race.

This week it was a different trail but just as cool. Despite having a fear of heights, he walked the length of his 100 foot mast as his boat Hugo Boss was heeled at a 45 degree angle somewhere off the coast of Cadiz in Spain and dived fully suited, into the water.

Within hours of the video of his mastwalk going live, 250,000 people had viewed it, twice as many as the numbers who tuned in when he completed a similarly crazy stunt walking the keel of Hugo Boss in 2011.

Thomson had to lie in a bath for an hour afterwards to calm down

He came up with the mastwalk idea last year and took it to his sponsors Hugo Boss, who have been supporting his sailing successes since 2003. Predictably, they loved it and gave him the backing to go ahead, with a team of 25 cameramen, medics  and sailors plus a helicopter for some dramatic overhead shots and a stuntman just in case Thomson froze, as he thought he might, before leaping into the water.

He trained by attending the diving centre near his home in Southampton where some members of the British Olympic diving team train and although he jumped from the 10m board he only managed a training dive from 5m before losing his nerve. 

Next thing he knew, he was perched precariously at the end of his mast about 15 metres above the sea trying to remember everything he'd learned in the pool.

“I was very nervous,” admitted the 39 year-old skipper who is best known for his attempts on the non-stop solo round the world race, the Vendee Globe. 

“I’ve been up the mast plenty of times when racing in the Vendee but I wanted to do this when the boat was fully powered up with the keel out of the water so before I set off, I was really questioning my own sanity.

“But it is good to do something challenging.

“I ran up the mainsail – I had tested a few pairs of trainers to find some that gripped well. When a boat is heeled at 40 degrees it is hard to scramble up the sail but at 45 degrees, it was a bit easier.

“It took about 16 seconds to get to the top. And then there was a massive broach and the boat tacked. I could see the gust coming and knew the boat had leaned over too far but I had enough time to get to the rig and hang on.

“We had to put a fibre sticker at the top of the mast because there are no shrouds to hang onto up there and I needed something vaguely stable that I could stand on before I went off – but it was like a flipping springboard.

“My boat captain and good mate Ross Daniel was helming and he did all the work. All I had to do was climb to the top, grow some cahunas and dive off. He had to control the boat and make sure it stayed over for long enough.

“I wouldn’t do it again. Everyone was pretty stressed and by the time we were finished, I had to lie in a bath for an hour to try and calm down. It was a lot less pleasant than I thought it would be.”

For now, the stunts are over. Thomson is now concentrating on his next race, the two handed Barcelona World Race with Spanish sailor Pepe Ribes starting at the end of this year. 

That will take three months and then his sights will be set on the next Vendee Globe in 2016.  It will be his fourth attempt at claiming sailing’s most highly prized offshore trophy and if rumours are to be believed, this attempt will be made in a brand new boat which will immediately place him as a favourite to win.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Alex Thomson: he's no Tom Daley but blessed with BIG balls

Some say Alex Thomson is more style than substance. Make your own mind up here......


And he's off.......

This looks photoshopped...!

Alex Thomson takes a stroll to the top of his mast!! What a great picture and how cool that Hugo Boss have an athlete on their books who is prepared to do these crazy stunts!! Go Alex!!

This isn't the first time he's been sleep walking.  Do you remember this??

Friday, 28 February 2014

Clipper's decision to stop the race highlights perils of one design racing

The debate over One-Design racing has been rumbling for years but the suspension of sailing in the latest leg of the Clipper Race has brought it back under the spotlight.

Clipper Ventures were one of the pioneers of using identical boats in their round the world fleets.

While other races favoured boats designed to a particular rule as in the Vendee Globe’s IMOCA 60, or boats rated under a handicap system according to their size as in the early Whitbread Races, Clipper blazed a new trail with a fleet of matching boats which placed the focus on crew performance rather than on technology.

It was the best solution for their business model which was based around giving risk-reduced opportunities to amateurs as opposed to challenging professionals as in the Volvo Ocean Race, which when it starts in October will be One-Design for the first time ever though, unlike Clipper, all boats will be owned by teams rather than the race.

For that reason, halting racing due to equipment failure in the Volvo is unlikely but for Clipper, this is a recurring consideration. In the 2005-06 event the race was suspended for seven weeks – coincidentally in this same leg to China – after several boats started to have issues with their keels.

Skippers reported excessive keel movement so all the boats were quickly diverted to Subic Bay in the Philippines where the the faulty parts were replaced and strengthened.

The loss of a keel is the most dangerous of all gear failures since a boat can upturn in seconds with disastrous consequences as Tony Bullimore famously discovered in the 1996 Vendee Globe, when the Briton has had to be rescued, so safety has to be at the forefront of all Clipper’s equipment selections, says Race Director Justin Taylor.

“When one forestay went on Jamaica, we didn’t suspend racing because we thought it was a one-off then two more went in quick succession and it became apparent that it could be a fleet-wide problem,” he said.

“Safety underpins everything we do at Clipper so it was an easy decision to make the decision to suspend racing and take the fleet to Hong Kong to make repairs.

“We can’t cut costs when we are making our equipment choices. When safety is involved, we do not care about costs. We will spend whatever we need to put a problem right.

“Everything on our boats are items you can buy off the shelf because we need to have boats that we can repair ourselves anywhere without specialist help.

“These forestays are a case in point – the bottlescrews that have gone can be bought anywhere. They have failed and we will get to the bottom as to why in due course but we have a solution to correct that which has been signed off by surveyors and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) so we are perfectly happy with that.

“If we hadn’t designed the yachts so that all parts were interchangeable then this would not be possible. By the end of the weekend, we will have 12 boats re-rigged and sailing again. Who else in the world can turn round 12 racing boats and get them racing again in such short order.”

“The logistical problems of getting all 12 boats in one place and getting the right parts and the right personnel out to repair them is probably our biggest nightmare in all of this but it has all been factored in.”

Race officials at the Volvo Ocean Race are watching closely, keen to circumvent costly problems if possible. Trials on some of their brand new identical Volvo 65s have now stretched to 10,000 nms which should minimise problems on the race track, said Volvo race director Jack Lloyd.

“We fully expect to have issues with bits and pieces on our boats,” he said. “We are very new into our programme but so is Clipper because these Clipper 70s are brand new boats. They had a few problems at the start and were short of testing time and they have sailed in some really atrocious conditions.

“People are paying to have the experience in the Clipper whereas we designed a different product for professional sailors but I can’t imagine a situation where we would stop racing and get all the boats in to fix them because in the Volvo, getting to the end of a leg is half the challenge.

“If we had three forestay problems, we would inspect the whole fleet because we would want to know if it was down to the way the boat was being sailed or down to the equipment.”

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Extreme Sailing Series' Smiling Assassins: Franck Cammas and Ben Ainslie

Over the years, I have partaken happily of a few Singapore Slings yet the one the organisers laid on as a prologue to 2014 Extreme Sailing Series was deeply intoxicating, blowing us away then dragging us back craving more.

What a brilliant curtain raiser to a year-long sporting event. Big names, close action and some cracking (literally) drama all combined to create a bit of a blockbuster.... and all without any casualties. Hoorah.

But is this as good as it's going to get? Will the rest of the year be a let-down or could the beaming smiles on show at the skippers press conference turn sour over the course of the next few months to keep interest levels in Extreme sailing high. Let’s hope so!

Steely eyes...winsome smile

It was a stroke of genius to put Singapore in as an opener. A bunch of rusty crews, some of whom had never set foot in an Extreme 40 before, going out on a tiny urban course better suited to row boats with a weird wind and gusts violent enough to blow dogs off chains. 

It had all the makings of a demolition derby…..and boy, did it deliver! One near capsize, two itsy-bitsy crashes then finally, the mother of all pile ups, where Aberdeen Singapore was slung by a violent gust across the deck of Groupama. Never before had we seen a catastrophic hoist like it on a race track. Spectacular.

Being rammed up the backside was Franck Cammas who was making a comeback in the Extremes after coming fourth in 2009 and fifth in 2010 which by his standards is rubbish.

He emerged from the rubble with a big smile but then Cammas is a master of the dazzling smile. During the Volvo Ocean Race, the one he won in 2012 to add to his burgeoning pile of top notch booty, we saw that broad French grin a lot in the latter stages and learned quite a bit about what lies behind it. 

Iron mostly, with a bit of steel and grit. Oh and a good set of knuckles and some big balls though he is famously prone to a bit of deafness. His way is the best way and god help anyone who stands in his way.

He reminds me a bit of……..Sir Ben Ainslie (JP Morgan BAR). In fact he reminds me a lot of Sir Ben Ainslie. 

Winsome smile...steely eyes
The two have been  formed from the same high quality ectoplasm. Both of them are genuine legends who have dedicated their lives to winning…..and both have a pathological hatred of losing so go to some lengths to find ways of winning.

Both appear to be given to ready smiles when the cameras are rolling yet the sunny muscles only flex around the mouth and rarely reach the eyes, which are apertures to their extraordinary obsessions.

Neither appear on too many Christmas card lists among fellow sailors or race officials. Ainslie for sure has a good grasp of venting his frustrations using 'Expletives' therapy. Cammas is a trained concert pianist and possibly when there is an instrument to hand, runs through all the Chopin Etudes to ease his pain.

Ainslie: bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win

All the Extreme skippers are competitive yet Cammas and Ainslie take it to a different level, sharing a bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win. This, I feel sure, will keep us more and more entertained as the competition unravels.

Cammas: bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win

Morgan Larson (Alinghi) and Leigh McMillan (The Wave Muscat), both great Extreme 40 sailors and both known quantities will continue their simmering feud from 2013 sticking rigidly to a tried and tested formula of no risk sailing. That too should prove absorbing especially if McMillan sniffs a chance of winning his third consecutive championship title.

Paul Campbell-James (Gazprom Team Russia) and Rob Greenhalgh (Oman Air) are breathtakingly talented and both know how to win having been crowned champions in previous series.
Yet things have moved on beyond recognition since they last competed so only time will tell whether they can once again find a winning groove. First signs weren’t great but first signs mean diddly-squat in this long drawn out multi layered roller coaster contest.

And of course there is Dean Barker (Emirates Team New Zealand) who is under enormous pressure to prove he is no choker and can lead the Kiwis to glorious victory. Some believe his position as helm of Team Emirates New Zealand is at risk so he will need to pull out all the stops to silence his critics. If he is unable, you might not have to wait long before they make some epoch-making changes.

We’ll come onto the others in another blog but that’s quite enough for now. There is some massive talent on show in 2014….just touching on some of the tantalising rivalries has left me craving more………thank god we only have three weeks to wait before the mayhem and madness in Muscat kicks off.