Friday, January 29, 2010

Eel Strikes, Weather Windows, and Nasty Seas

5:22 GMT
Lat 45°57’ North Long 1°59’ West
Heading 255°

It was a long night in a very small hotel room with terrible internet access, but we received just enough GRIB files to know that we needed to get the heck out of dodge.  There are not a lot of weather windows in January, and to safely transit the Bay of Biscay in winter, we needed to leave La Rochelle sooner rather than later.

At 10:00 AM local time we were in the commercial harbor, anxious to get going.  The wind is out of the NW and anticipated to move North, that's some seriously good news for us so we are moving fast!  The bad news is that we were not the only ones with business in the harbor, and about 15 eel fisherman are anchored and tied together with chains, blocking the mouth of the harbor - not all that uncommon in France but awfully inconvenient this morning!

Thankfully, my Franco-American crew proved their value once again and JC Caso was able to negotiate some movement from the fishing vessels (who completely get what we are all about) and we were on our way...

Now it is 1722 GMT and we are pounding our way upwind in 40 knots of breeze gusting 50 in the Bay of Biscay.  Hell of a way to ease a new (to me) boat and rusty skipper into serious offshore sailing again.  But at least we are on our heading!

She Sails!
The boat is FAST.  We were banging away at 15 knots until we decided to roll up the staysail, and now we're doing 8-9 knots and it is still very wet and rough.  I just finished a two-hour trick on the helm, hating to put the boat under so much load right out of the gate, but there are not a lot of options until we see the Northerly shift we are banking on.

And while getting the snot smacked out of me is probably good for my psyche, we are going to ease the pain on the boat as much as possible - this is a delivery to a refit, not a race.  Still, things look good for getting home and seeing my kiddies soon.

More reports as soon as I can manage - thanks for all the interest and support!


Test Sail Jan 28, 2010 La Rochelle, France
Photo by Olivier Blanchet VELUX 5 OCEANS

Test Sail Jan 28, 2010 La Rochelle, France
Photo by Olivier Blanchet VELUX 5 OCEANS

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Das Boot (Photos by Billy Black and Thierry Martinez)

Gone Sailing

We are scheduled to sail today, not across the Atlantic, but off the coast of La Rochelle, France. It will be a great test of the recent mods to the boat and get us all ready for the upcoming delivery. It was icy on deck yesterday (and snowy on deck last week) so hopefully the days will continue getting warmer. We’ll have some guests onboard including Yannick Bestaven with the Watt and Sea company, who developed the hydrogenerator technology, and a few other characters. I’ll meet the Mayor of La Rochelle later today, and I must say that this port has been more than gracious in greeting us and treating us like heroes. La Rochelle is obviously committed to the Velux 5 Oceans Race and committed to the competitors. The Port of La Rochelle is hosting the boat while here, and companies like Hydroem, Watt and Sea, Marc Lombard, Incidences, and even the local chandlery have pitched in to make it successful. More on the sail in my next report!

    Above Photo by Olivier Blanchet VELUX 5 OCEANS

The Blue Machine

Jan 27 2010

I am a fairly large guy, standing 6’1’’ (186 cm) with a barrel chest measuring about 50 inches (127 cm). So, consider that we have this very special car in France that we have coined The Blue Machine. It belongs to my friend and crewmember JC Caso and dates back to 1982.  He lives here in La Rochelle and The Blue Machine is part of his everyday life - he claims it is an “original French car," whatever that means.  I share this with you because seeing three grown men (including me) and about $500 in groceries (provisions for the Transatlantic) crammed into The Blue Machine is quite a sight.  I simply don’t know how we fit, but here is a photo to prove it!

Amazing Energy Production

Jan 26, 2010

My shore crew Jeffrey Wargo and JC Caso have been working hard in France for weeks to ready the new boat (new to me at least) for a transatlantic crossing in just a few days. We're going for a Saturday, January 30th Departure and this is not exactly the best time to do the trip!

Our mini-refit has been very productive and focused on two main tasts: Safety for the delivery to the US and specialty jobs best done here. We've had a full ultrasound of the keel done, rebuilt the hydraulics, met with boat designer Marc Lombard and sailmaker Incidences. One of the key specialty jobs has been the installation of our prototype hydro-generator system, something that we are incredibly excited about. If everything works right, this amazing technology could very well eliminate the need to carry any fossil fuels aboard for the entire trip. We'll be testing two units tomorrow along with the fully integrated electrical management system that registers the energy production aboard and the performance of the boat. Great geeky stuff for guys who love electronics, and perfect stuff for the spirit of this ECO 60 Class.

Rams By Gucci

The last two days have been busy here in La Rochelle, France on the new girl.  She's the old Proforms/Whirlpool and she is a gorgeous beast.  I'll post all her specs as soon as I can, but as you can imagine, we've been absorbed with moving through the list so that we can take advantage of the rare weather windows that open up this time of year.

We’ve been absorbed with the big job of installing the new rams for the canting keel. The keel hydraulic system is one of the biggest systems in the boat, and this is one of those specialty refits that was best done here in France, where the technology and hardware was developed. The new rams were made right here in La Rochelle by Hydroem, the company that made some of the first successful canting-keel hydraulics (think Isabelle Autissier) and also made the hydraulic unit in my old boat, Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America. They are as high quality as you can get with titanium parts, and my shore crew and I think they officially register as “Gucci.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Journey Begins

First, let me welcome all of you to what I hope to be an interesting, exciting, and compelling journal of what will be my third lap around the planet in the 2010-2011 Velux 5 Oceans Race. We chose the nickname "Team Lazarus" for our effort, marking my 'rise from the dead' of ocean racing retirement to get back into the mix in the ECO60 Class of this great race.  The full Lazarus website contains all sorts of goodies - great videos, detailed sponsorship proposals, news clippings and press releases - but this is where we'll put the day-to-day story of my journey to the start line in La Rochelle and beyond. So welcome, and thanks for tuning in.  I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I know I will.

Leaving On A Jet Plane
Saying good night last night to the kids was more emotional than I would have expected. 
I couldn’t hide my feelings and concerns from Tate - she picked up on my sadness and became very emotional herself, you just can't fool her for a minute!  5 year-old Wyatt doesn't quite grasp the enormity of the whole 'sailing across the North Atlantic in the dead  of winter' thing so was a bit less emotional. Time really buries the bad stuff - I'd forgotten so many of the feelings that have occurred in the past twenty-four hours, but they're familiar as well - leaving your family for the unknown is just not something that ever disappears from your heart.  Leaving like this is just so different than the days before I loved these creatures so much more than life itself, and I continue to promise myself to be cautious and make dammed sure to stay on the boat...

The whole process of embarking on this next campaign is intended to be an epic journey not just for me and my shore crew, but for the entire family. I want it to be a hugely positive experience for the kids, and the lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes as I loaded Tate into her carpool this morning - well, no matter how exciting, anything can happen and it would be foolish to forget about that whenever any of us put to sea.

Tate was all questions this morning, just as she has been for the past couple of months of living the circus that the startup of a major ocean race campaign like the Velux 5 Oceans is.  But today's questions were different than last week's; they've changed from "Daddy, when can I go to France?" to "Daddy, why can't Jeffrey and the crew bring the boat home without you?"

Life is all about balancing how bad you want it, and great things take great sacrifice.  In some ways I feel alive again for the first time in years, and in others, the desk in a warm office and the associated life-treadmill seems an easy way to to stave off the lump in my throat.

I guess if it was easy, everyone would do it.  And God knows I love it.  And now, I head to an airliner for my reunion with destiny.  The race has already started, and the rest of the world just doesn't know it yet.