TEAM ABN AMRO | VOLVO OCEAN RACE | Leg 6 | Annapolis - New York - U.S.A.
Victory for ONE, disappointment for TWO By Andy Rice of Sailing Intelligence 9 May 2006
For ABN AMRO ONE to win Leg 6 was an unexpected bonus, although for ABN AMRO TWO to finish last was a deep disappointment. Mike Sanderson has never looked so tired in this race than at the end of this, the shortest offshore leg of the whole event. In part, that was the problem, because less than two days at sea doesn’t allow for the time to settle into a proper offshore watch system. For these boats, 400 miles is neither a sprint nor a marathon, but somewhere unpleasantly in between. And so this, combined with the heinous conditions, meant that Sanderson barely got a wink of sleep.
But no matter, because ABN AMRO ONE revelled in the nastiness and swept past the Statue of Liberty more than two and a half hours ahead of Pirates and the chasing pack. Sanderson was understandably delighted to have won a leg where it could so easily have gone against them. “It was a goody. That’s another monkey off our back. We didn’t get away with the Annapolis In Port race, we did get away with the Rio In Port race, and now we’ve got away with this. It could have been anyone’s leg, but I think we might have been leading since we turned the corner out of the Chesapeake. We don’t even know when we got in the lead.”
For such a short leg, Sanderson saw surprisingly little of the opposition. The two ABN AMRO boats trailed out of the Chesapeake but as they turned the corner into much fiercer conditions, ABN AMRO ONE shot into the lead. Not that they knew anything other than what the six-hourly skeds were telling them. “The first sked we had a three-mile lead, the next sked a 10-mile lead, then the next one a 15-mile lead, and so we throttled back. We saw Brunel on the way through, then some distant lights that we shot past at great speed, and then we never saw anyone for the rest of the leg. It was very odd. But that first night was very windy, very rough, very hard core. We backed off to 85% of full speed at times, doing 10.8 knots instead of 11.8 at times.”
With winds reaching up to 55 knots, this leg has provided fiercer conditions than even the Southern Ocean could offer. But Sanderson wasn’t that surprised. “This is a notorious part of the world, it’s a bit of coast where a lot of damage has been done to boats over the centuries. There was a big system building up out there, so there was going to be some wind in it.” The wind wasn’t predicted to be smack on the nose, however. The fleet had at least expected to be able to stay on one tack and make good ground towards New York, but the wind was more northerly than that, turning into a full-on headbanger, directly into the wind and the waves.
The same could not be said for ABN AMRO TWO, unfortunately, whose gear damage relegated Seb Josse’s crew to the back of the fleet and has given them plenty to do between now and the restart in two days. While Sanderson and Co are catching up on sleep, the ABN AMRO TWO team will suffer a couple of sleepless nights in New York if they are to be up and running for Leg 7. Navigator Simon Fisher said: “Although it was only just over 24 hours, I’d say it was one of the toughest legs of the Volvo so far. Twenty-four hours of bashing upwind in 50 knots is hard work for anyone.”
“We were on the wind all the way from Cheseapeake to North Cove,” said Sanderson. While these were conditions hardly to be savoured, ABN AMRO ONE at least had the consolation of knowing they were quick in such nasty circumstances. “The boat goes quick upwind in breeze, and when we’re sailing with the Code 4 jib and one reef in the mainsail, I don’t think anyone can touch us. We saw that back in Sanxenxo when we lined up against Pirates, and I think the difference is exaggerated even more when we’re all stacked up with gear on the wide boat. The boat once again was beautifully prepared by the shore crew, and beautifully sailed by the guys on board. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
A nasty bruise will remind watch captain Brad Jackson of this leg for some time. Sanderson commented: “Brad was standing behind me when I was steering, and he was finishing doing some sail stacking when this wave came round the back of me and just took him out. He was flying through mid-air until his harness took up. This dumped him in between the life raft and landed his hip on the steering pedestal for the spare rudder. I imagine he’s got a very black bruise there.” But Jackson will stay on board for the next leg across the Atlantic. And Dave Endean’s maintenance list on the boat is pleasantly short and trivial. Despite the severe pounding, ABN AMRO ONE held together beautifully.
Hard work becomes doubly hard when things start to go wrong. “Things were going reasonably well until we tacked onto starboard on a nice lift and everything was going well, and the boat was going well, and we were in the process of taking in the second reef, when the tack line on the Code 4 snapped and the Code 4 was left flogging out the side of the boat, so we were forced to bear right away and get that down, get the
third reef in because we were having problems with the second reef. Unfortunately we spent about half a day with three reefs in and a storm jib, which is not really ideal, even if there was 30 knots.”
After such a resounding start to the race, things have not been going so well for ABN AMRO TWO on recent legs. Si Fi sees no significance in this, however. He and the rest of the team remain upbeat about their abilities despite their drop to 4th equal with Brasil 1. “It seems hard. Everyone is working together really well and we are still hitting our numbers but lady luck doesn’t seem to be with us at this stage. We were catching the other guys and closed right up to them on the exit of the Chesapeake, so we thought we were up with a fighting chance but it wasn’t to be. We’ve got to the bottom of the fleet now, so the only way is up.”
For ABN AMRO ONE, this leg couldn’t have worked out much better. Not only has Sanderson added another 7 points to his score, but closest rival movistar came off the worst from a four-way tussle between all the Farr boats, who all finished within 15 minutes of each other. While the Spanish team crossed 5th, Pirates of the Caribbean came 2nd and have leapfrogged movistar into 2nd overall. Just half a point separates these two on the leaderboard, while ABN AMRO ONE sails ever further out of reach at the top.
ABN AMRO ONE pulls it off again! 9 May 2006
In the crisp, dark early hours of the morning ABN AMRO ONE pulled into a still-sleeping New York harbour in first place at 04:07 local time or 08:07 GMT. After only about 400 sea miles, this was the shortest leg yet at one day, 15 hours, seven minutes and 36 seconds.
Sanderson was completely relieved. "It was a very sweet victory. As we are closing into the finish they are getting sweeter and sweeter. It was pretty wet and wild!" Sanderson had been nervous about this leg even before the race began. "It was quite a stressful race for us because if we wanted to win this leg we were going to have to push it pretty hard upwind." Up until now, Sanderson has avoided testing the limits of ABN AMRO ONE so as not to risk breaking anything.
ABN AMRO ONE were about 23 miles ahead of the second boat into port, Pirates of the Caribbean. They thereby strengthened their lead over the fleet by another seven points, to a total of 70.5 points in the race standings. After a disappointing in-port race, the win was a big boost to the crew.
Skipper Mike Sanderson was clearly elated on the dock. "It would be nice to get some breeze at a start for a change! The conditions weren't quite what we expected. We knew we would have to hang it out a little." With this win, ABN AMRO ONE has won five out of six legs.
From the beginning, Sanderson said, "we realised we had to push the boat out of the red line. We have to grab the points if we can. Neither Stan (Honey) nor I slept hardly at all. The guys have done a really fantastic job!"
At one point once they'd caught some wind trimmer Tony Mutter patted the deck and said, "these are the conditions she likes!"
Navigator Stan Honey said "The most heinous part was the first part of the Chesapeake where we got pretty far behind. We managed to catch up most of the way, and pass four boats by the mouth of the Chesapeake and we got within striking range of the leaders. We found a way to get back into the pack with a couple of good shifts and a short cut."
This leg was no walk in the park
Noone on the crew got any sleep the first night out on the water until about eight in the morning, and the skipper and navigator hardly any at all. The first night was one of the toughest of the entire race, said the crew. They were tacking the whole night through. They got a few hours of sleep in the beating conditions up the coast on Monday afternoon.
The leg was expected to be tough, and the boat struggled a bit in the Chesapeake Bay where breezes were light. The big gains were made after they made it out the mouth of the Chesapeake in first position. With the right sails, once they hit a bit of breeze they powered past the fleet in the last third or so of the leg.
All in all, the crew said, it was an exhausting time for the crew and although the leg was brief in time it felt interminable. They did manage to take a few photos up the coast, however. This was the first finish, where they could catch some breeze at the end.
The fleet at one point got stuck in a hole, and crew ONE was able to take advantage of that and go straight between the fleet going about 23 to 26 knots of boatspeed. They were on the wind for most of the journey up.
Honey said "I think we only saw 40 knots briefly, but there was a lot of 25s and some 30s on the nose. The sea state wasn’t too bad, but there was just a lot of beating and tacking. That was the toughest. We were mostly sprinting it."
The crew is very relieved
Bowman Jan Dekker said "the furthest ahead the fleet was ahead of us was about four miles. Then we got a good wind angle and we got on the wind. We went the right way, but it was very rough and tiring. It is always a balance how hard you push. It is very stressful as well, not just physically but mentally tiring. You couldn't take your wet weather gear off, you'd be ready to come up on deck at any time."
The race was not without incident, however. Watch captain Brad Jackson was swept along the deck and was bruised up enough to have to spend much of the leg below deck in his bunk. He wasn't seriously injured, however, and is currently resting up before being checked out medically.
Trimmer Tony Mutter was clearly happy with how the leg turned out. "We struggled in the light air. But about two-thirds of the way down we got a reaching breeze and were the first boat out of the entrance. She was a pretty bucking ride for the last day and a half!"
Mutter said "Getting out of the Chesapeake was pretty exciting, we had 24 knots for two hours and covered the last bit off pretty quickly." He said his favourite part of the race was blowing past the second, third and fourth-placed boats once they hit the right sail combination in the Atlantic.
The best possible result for the crew
Bowman Justin Slattery said "the boat has been through quite a lot, and all the bits and pieces are where they should be. Everyone is all right except for Brad who got banged up a bit. But he'll be all right." He said the leg was about tacking and sail changes just about every hour or so coming up the Atlantic.
Watch captain Mark Christensen also praised the teamwork on board. "The work of the boys was great, they were changing sails in record itme. After the Annapolis bridge we cut that corner through the spectator boats, which saved us some time. After getting out of the Chesapeake we saw we were getting closer to the boats in front, and we just kept full speed on."
Now, the crew is looking forward to their hot shower and enjoying New York once they get some rest. Sanderson and his crew were in New York last year when they were testing out ABN AMRO TWO on their first transatlantic. " I love sailing into New York harbour, it’s fantastic. Sailing past the Statue of Liberty is always a fantastic sight however many times you have done it."
Honey was the first American to sail into New York. "It is always fun to sail here. I have had the pleasure to sail here a fair amount on Playstation and it is nice to go by Liberty, Governor’s Island and the Battery. It’s a beautiful harbour. The pilots and traffic control couldn’t have been more helpful."
Prepared for anything: ABN AMRO ONE gets ready 7 May 2006
This stage of the race gave the skippers and designer pause back in the day when they were designing ABN AMRO ONE and TWO. Shorter legs under tricky conditions are one of the wild cards of the race, and there are four of these to go before the end. The crews are also very conscious of the fact that in New York, shore crew are not allowed on board to repair anything they might damage in this rather short leg. These almost 400 miles from Annapolis to New York City’s North Cove will make for a short but intense leg.
In general, the weather and navigation team are expecting light winds in the Chesapeake Bay but within 12-18 hours somewhat stronger winds as the fleet heads due north towards New York. In effect, this leg is two in one and all within about 30 hours of racing. The advantage all the teams have in this leg is that the weather data available on the east coast of the United States is among the most detailed and accurate in the world. However, anything can happen and conditions in the Chesapeake can change quickly.
One advantage the TEAM has is an American navigator, Stan Honey, and weather consultant Ken Campbell. Both know these waters quite well. They are joined by experienced navigation consultant Mike Quilter of New Zealand. However, the route is the route. Given the time constraints, the fleet could bunch together in the drag race to New York as the crews play it safe.
Getting out of the Chesapeake Bay
Given the fickle winds of the Baltimore in-port race, the start tomorrow on 7 May from Annapolis could also prove challenging.
Mike Sanderson said, “even if we don’t get good breeze out of the bay, let’s hope we are with the pack with whatever the Atlantic throws at us. It is changing a lot at the moment. We hope that when the music stops, we have a chair to sit down on! A 400 mile race isn’t a bad length. What is nerve-wrangling is we have a speed problem under eight knots and we are leaving the Chesapeake Bay. We’ve had plenty of times when we’ve enjoyed the pace of the boat, but this may not be one of them.”
Stan Honey said that “At the start we will probably have a light seabreeze. But a gradient easterly is not a good direction because it often lends itself to light air. Getting out of the Chesapeake will be the hardest thing for us getting out of here and the most tactically significant. It should be very light, zero to ten knots, in the Chesapeake.”
Campbell of Commander’s Weather Service predicts that “you have got light winds right at the start, with the chance of a sea breeze and for some wind holes. Within 12-18 hours, there is also a chance of strong easterly winds.” He, Honey and Simon Fisher of crew TWO have been preparing for this for a while. “There is certainly more data to look at, sometimes that can make it more complicated, if the conditions are diverging in different directions. But you’ve got to deal with a confined area which is the bay, where the winds could be fairly light.”
Into the Atlantic
Honey said that “there is an easterly associated with low pressure coming up the coast. We should get that sometime in the early morning on the 8th. We will probably see close reaching once out of the bay. The Gulfstream doesn’t figure in at all.” In some ways this leg will be business as usual: Volvo will continue to send their forecasts every six hours. However, they will send some additional data because there is more data available in this part of the world, and higher resolution weather models.
Quilter said “There is less help we can give on this leg.” He said that because there are so many variable conditions, and that Leg 6 is basically coastal sailing, “your technical options are reduced. You just have to sail up the Atlantic, you can’t go anywhere else.”
Honey predicts that the fleet will probably be pretty close together. However, he shares Sanderson’s cautiousness. “We may have some trouble staying with them in the light air. I am very apprehensive, but that’s normal for me!” He predicts 20-30 knots of wind once outside the bay. And he is conscious that although the leg is short, “it is long enough that we still need to get some sleep.” Due to the constantly changing conditions, said Honey, the forecast could have the boats reaching New York in upwind conditions most of the time in the Atlantic. This could mean about 30 hours at sea.
Once into the New York harbour, the boats will be docking beyond the WTC site at North Cove. This will take the fleet in front of the Statue of Liberty up the river and should make for some exciting views for both the crews and the crowds on shore.
A TEAM is sad to leave the United States
Sanderson has enjoyed Baltimore and Annapolis. “It has been exciting but hectic for us! It has been great to be in the States, and everyone is so enthusiastic about sailing here. How can you not be excited to be here?”
Sanderson said he is ready for what is next. “We’ve checked our last bits and pieces, and we are ready to take her across the Atlantic. We’ve had some experience with that. That is a bit of the world we know reasonably well.”
One sailor is especially eager to get Leg 6 behind him and move on to Leg 7 towards Portsmouth. Sailor Rob Greenhalgh is a Hamble native, which is very close to the port of call. “I am looking forward to very good results these next two legs! I can’t wait to go home though, It has been a long time since I’ve gone back.”
Crew TWO is hungry 7 May
Although all the teams are looking to rack up the ever-important seven points from Annapolis to New York today, there is one crew which is especially hungry to gather some points during Leg 6. Crew TWO is particularly hungry to gain a podium position and stage a comeback from Leg 5.
Skipper Sebastien Josse said that “the points are very important because it means that we are fighting for the podium. A lot of things will happen and a lot of positions will be changed between the second and fifth spots. One point is one point - even half a point is important. You see that that this can mean the difference between us and the Pirates.” The race for second and third is tight at the moment, and both movistar and Pirates are out to keep crew TWO in fourth position overall.
The changing nature of the legs, said Josse, meant he is altering the watch system a bit. “Like a Formula 1 driver, you have to know the track, the corners. We also have to know our way. We have to rest now and be prepared to spend two days sailing to NY without sleeping. That doesn't mean that we pass the whole day sleeping now, but we change our rhythm, try to sleep earlier and wake up at decent hours. This way we follow a more ‘cool’ rhythm.”
One sailor is especially excited
Skipper Sebastien Josse aboard ABN AMRO TWO is keeping the crew he had on the last two legs, including Lucas Brun of Brazil. Gerd Jan ‘Johnny’ Poortman will sit out Legs 6 and 7. As there are 11 crew members on crew TWO, one member at least always sists out each leg.
Brun was delighted with the decision. “I am very happy to be chosen again. It is really cool. I wasn't expecting it, I was expecting the worst. So this was great news!”
The ever-excited Brazilian said that “we’ve really improved a lot together, and we have been very solid since the Southern Ocean legs. Seb was pleased with the crew under tough conditions. He was confident we needed this crew for this transatlantic (Leg 7), which is very good for us!” The crew feels that this past leg was one of their best yet despite their result, and they are looking for gains this time around.
Brun said the decision in no way reflected on the capabilities of his fellow bowman Poortman. “But it is always difficult for the person who has to decide, and for the person who is not on board. And Johnny is a fantastic member of this crew.” Brun says now what remains is just to make sure the boat is 100%. “The leg will be more like an in-port race, where every detail counts. It’s going to be tough tactically and physically.”
Nick Bice is back as watch captain after a sitting out a leg due to a broken bone in his hand. He was in the tough position of having to help decide who would or would not be on board during this leg. “We discussed it quite a lot. We thought Lucas’ performance as a sailor has stepped up to the next level. It is great to have him on board in the Southern Ocean. These boats are harsh on people. But in sports these decisions have to be made.”
For skipper Josse, the first half of the leg is expected to be the toughest part of this short leg. "We expect a light start,” he confirmed, “but then not so bad for the ABN AMRO boats after that. Maybe 20 knots, but then it will drop for the finish. It will be a little bit tricky."
Fisher said “the last two legs were a bit tough for us. But we are really keen to redress that situation, and we hope to be on that podium by Portsmouth.”
Bice said “this is almost a day race up to New York. We’re looking forward to stepping up the intensity. We do have spares on board and enough talented people to repair anything that needs repairing. I’ll be on the boat at 100%!”
Josse says he and his crew are ready to push hard this leg. “Now only hours before he start the boat is ready, loaded and the shore crew did a wonderful job. We are technically very calm, SiFi and I are looking at the weather forecast and having to plan in advance because the Chesapeake is shallow and narrow is the "way" you have to follow it with the currents. We cannot make mistakes.”
Fisher said “easterlies are expected from the Chesapeake up to New York. It will be quite a tactical leg. We are doing what we normally do, working with our Stan (Honey) and (consultants) Mike (Quilter) and Ken (Campbell).”
George Peet said that “we all know this little jaunt might not be the best for us in light airs. But we are going to give it everything we have got!”
Keeping the faith
Navigator Simon Fisher was characteristically upbeat, and said that there he stresses less than he used to. “We worry about it less and it gets as we go on. It gets less stressful!” The mood onboard, he said, was upbeat even in the darkest moments of the race.
Given the average age on board is 26, these young sailors feel they can push hard physically. Andrew Lewis said there “will be two days of no sleeping going to New York. This will be a full inshore mentality all the way. I'm totally confident and everyone is fired up more than ever.”
Fellow ‘kid’ Simeon Tienpont said that “we want to be up there on that podium! It is definitely getting tougher, and we’re bumping up against the end of the race. It is getting harder and harder to gain an advantage. But I believe in the TEAM and that we can do it! Anything can happen in this race.”
Peet remembers a year ago when he and Lewis joined up with crew ONE to sail ABN AMRO TWO into New York harbour. “We only knew eventually we’d be there again! This should be pretty cool, we love New York City. We are proud to be American and show everyone what our country has to offer!” He said that this leg could be the chance the crew is waiting for. “It is up to us to show the others what we've got. The durability of our boat is a big advantage, and we've sailed enough to really compete.”
Hans Horrevoets, one of the four professionals on board, said “our greatest frustration is that the level of the other teams has skyrocketed. We just need to keep positive.” Horrevoets has something else to keep positive about: his wife Petra is expecting the couple’s second child in September.