Lucas Chapman's insights into preparation for the Volvo Ocean Race

Lucas Chapman is a Newcastle boy who is about to fulfill his lifetime ambition – to become a Volvo Ocean Race sailor. With five Sydney Hobarts under his belt, he's no stranger to offshore sailing. As he embarks on his biggest challenge to date, he'll supply blogs exclusively for Mysailing readers, giving us all an insight into life in the toughest crewed ocean race on the planet from onboard Turn the Tide on Plastic.

BLOG ONE – PREPARATION

The start of the Volvo Ocean Race seems to be coming at us like a freight train. First blood has been drawn with the ever so strong Mapfre taking away the In-port race last Saturday. Now all minds and energy are turned to this coming Sunday and the start of the first leg.

The arrival into Alicante was really what brought it all to life for me. It feels as though we were stuck in a bit of a time loop for the last few weeks. All the boats were out of the water in Lisbon for a service, before we started the Prologue race to Alicante. During this time, there was no sailing but plenty of long hot days in the boatyard. The whole boat was stripped down and all areas serviced and then put back together again.

There was also a load of freeze dried food to be sorted, packed and put into our shipping containers, clothing to sort out and importantly all our on-board spares had to be sorted and packed.

It often felt a little like ‘Ground hog day’, but plenty of valuable skills were learnt by the team, hopefully meaning that we can fix things easier if they break when offshore.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, like your clothing, that can cause a headache. During the race, we have two sets of containers that leapfrog every second stop. So, you need to halve your kit and make sure you’ve got the right clothes for each stop. For some this was quite a struggle logistically and rather amusing.

We hit the water with a splash, as keen as ever to get back into it for the prologue. Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t as excited. Very light winds for the start meant we had to motor a few hours down the coast of Portugal and start when we found some winds.

We had some light wind-seeking conditions for the first 15 hours before a big shut down in the breeze, which split the fleet inshore and offshore. We were pretty much in the middle and managed to pick up a sea breeze from the land that put us in third place for most of the leg.

In these conditions the entire internal stack, which is made up of spare equipment, safety equipment and food, is all moved forward down below. The sails on deck are dragged as far forward as possible and there is no sleeping in our bunks. You take your mattress and pillow and find a spot amongst the stack forward, not always the most comfortable.

The fluky winds often mean that within a few minutes of falling asleep, you’re woken up again to move the stack because the wind has increased a few knots. And not very long after, you’re up again to move it back. Just let me sleep!!

After a few days, you do begin to settle in, the routine is repetitive, wake up, sail, eat and sleep. I have a freeze-dried meal after every four hours on watch and a few bars throughout my time on deck to keep me going.

Approaching the Strait of Gibraltar, the breeze kicked in and very quickly increased some more. The funneling effect and acceleration of the wind through the Strait is phenomenal.

We got caught out slightly by this. We had our bigger J1 headsail on and as the wind increased very quickly, there was a scramble to peel to our smaller J2 sail. In the haste I didn’t get time to put on my dry smock top, great! A couple of waves down my front soon had me soaking wet.

Now we were on the J2 and a reef in the main short tacking through the Strait, no sleep and a lot of sail moving. Every time we tack we move all the sails and stack to the other side of the yacht to provide righting moment.

The sea state was relatively flat and max breeze was only about 25 kts, so it wasn’t too bad. Once through the Strait the wind dies as quickly as it increases, so it was back onto our bigger sails and light-wind sailing.

The two lead boats were out of reach at this stage and with only about 100 miles to our finishing gate, we were concentrating on defending our third-place position.

We fell into a bit of a light patch during the night and our 15-mile lead on the boats behind soon diminished, now they were in sight. It’s truly amazing how quickly you can lose out on these boats, a handy lead is evaporated if you’re not on the pace.

Coming from an IRC offshore background, I had the mindset of just sailing your own boat and not being all that concerned about the others and once ahead, you could stay there. However, in these boats it really isn’t over until you cross the line, anything can happen and if you’re just half a Knot of boat speed slow, the others will get away.

We managed to keep our third place right up until the last two hours of the race. We went to do a peel with one of our furling masthead sails because the wind had increased. As we started to furl the sail there was a ‘Bang!’, the furling line snapped and the sail unfurled again. We were now stuck with two sails in the air flapping about, one of them unable to be rolled up, time to get thinking.

As we went about solving our problem, team Akzonobel managed to slip past and beat us to the finish by a few minutes. Frustrating! But great to be in the top four and test our pace with the others.

It’s now time to put our minds in gear for the start of the race. Bags are getting packed, there’s more clothing and food to be sorted.

For me, sailing is the easy part, the shore logistics and organization is the tough bit. Am I ready? You bet!

In my case, the preparation has been over the last 4-5 years, I’m not able to do anything more right now to make me more prepared. It’s time to put it all into action. Let the adventure begin….

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