Volvo Ocean Race: Calm after the storm leaves ‘Azzam ’sweltering in the slow lane

It’s hot and sweaty below deck and that’s before some onboard emergency dentistry

We're still in shock on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. The loss of Team Vestas Wind over the weekend has left us deeply disappointed that the Volvo Ocean Race is now down to six boats.

I was off-watch and asleep in my bunk when the news came through that they had hit a reef off St Brandon, part of a tiny archipelago 430 kilometres north-east of Mauritius. It must have been a word someone used but I instantly awoke and went to the nav station as the updates came in.

The loss of two lives when Shockwave went up on Flinders Island in Australia five years ago immediately comes to mind so we were delighted that everyone on board was okay and unhurt but even from what we know it still sounded horrendous.

Apart from that, we’ve heard very little of the details and it sounds like a freak incident.

We were especially aware of these islands from when we gybed north about 60 miles distant but the closest we came was to Albatross Island and all we could see was a small cluster of trees.

Virtual vacuum

We may be competitors but ashore, we’re also mates with Nicco and all the crew, including

Brian Carlin

from Tralee who was their on-board reporter. Many of us have sailed together or against each over the last 20 years and Nicco was on his third lap as skipper while Wouter ‘the Router’ Verbaak is one of the most experienced navigators in the race.

They’ll be looking forward to a few plane rides home but we still have over 2,000 nautical miles remaining in this leg from Cape Town to our home port of Abu Dhabi and we’ve just had 48 hours of the slowest sailing ever. It’s the aftermath of the tropical storm system and it left a virtual vacuum in its wake.

We're in company of Dongfeng and Brunel that have been anything from half a mile to ten miles away from us over the last few days, roughly midway between the Seychelles and Diego Garcia.

Thankfully we’re getting a little more breeze now and we’re making a steady 11.2 knots average. It’s fantastic to be moving again and get some fresh air through the boat – it’s badly needed.

It’s hot and sweltering below decks and outside the air temperature is up to 30 degrees: you can’t walk on anything that isn’t painted white without burning your feet or scalding your hands on anything metallic.

Compared to the old 70-footers, the new Volvo 65s are quite draggy in the light stuff so we do everything we can to improve performance. The means moving as much weight forward to the first ten to 15 feet of hull so that only the driver and the trimmer are in the cockpit.

Pretty solitary

One of my roles is bowman which is usually pretty solitary so it’s nice to have the company up here for a change.

Everyone else is as far forward as possible to get the backend of the boat as far out of the water as possible to reduce drag. If you’re on watch this means sitting with stacks of sails on the bow while off-watch involves lying on sleeping-bags in the bilges beside the forward watertight bulkhead.

In this heat the cabin is even more hot and sweaty than normal and a surprise visitor to the boat would probably fall over with the smell. But for us, we’re pretty used to our kennel so we don’t notice it too much and a couple of cold water showers has helped.

The cabin also doubled up as a dental surgery a few days ago as I needed a filling. After days of downing pain-killers, the time came for Phil “Wendy” Harmer to perform what actually turned out to be a pretty neat filling. It’ll need replacement once we get ashore but within three hours of the job I was feeling much better and back to normal.

That’s very welcome as clear heads are needed when the opposition is so close.

It’s been a little like stretching some shock-cord back and forth but we’ve managed to just stay ahead despite the millpond conditions over the past few days.

Iker Martinez on Mapfre took an incredibly bold decision to head out east, away from the pack around this light airs patch in search of new wind and took a bit hit on the leaderboard. The next 24 hours will be telling if this has paid dividends but it'll be a case of either hero or zero and they could possibly get a big jump on the rest of the fleet.

I’m glad that we’re moving again but we still have the doldrums later this week so more light airs. Hopefully the trade winds will settle in before then so we can make some progress.

This light airs stuff is just boring.