Be Careful What You Say

Published on November 16th, 2016

Kiwi/American Conrad Colman, currently ranked sailing 16th in the Vendée Globe sailing Foresight Natural Energy, shares the challenges of a solo skipper on Day 11, November 16:


Conrad Colman

Yesterday I started off my live conversation with the Vendee press corps by saying that I had suffered a terrible technical problem when my tube of peanut butter had exploded all over the deck when I was just trying to squeeze some onto a piece of bread. We had a bit of a laugh and the press wished me well and hoped that peanut butter would be the greatest problem I would face during the Vendee Globe.

Karma was swift in its execution, however, as no sooner as I completed the call I reached behind the computer to unplug my headphones when I got a shock off the body of the computer.

Rogue electrons are never a good thing on a carbon race boat because carbon is an excellent conductor, and if an electrical component is discharging into the boat, then the whole of the structure becomes electrified. This is a problem because dissimilar materials (aluminum secured to carbon with stainless steel bolts for example) will corrode very quickly in the presence of an electrical charge and salt water.

I quickly set to turning off all the electrical systems one by one to try to isolate the electrical leak. This meant I had to unbolt various connectors directly on the 12V battery, while dripping with sweat (an excellent conductor), using metal tools and standing directly on conductive carbon fiber! I kept getting shocked and dropping the tools and having to start over again until I found my Gill neoprene rubber gloves in my southern ocean bag and could then work in insulated peace.

Once I had the electrical leak solved, I then moved on to the hydraulic system for canting the keel from side to side where I had noticed a drop in pressure and oil levels. Having found no trace of leaks previously, I put my hand into the keel box (the wet box in the middle of the boat that allows the head of the keel to pass inside) and found not only an oil leak but that the port side keel ram was unscrewing itself and was almost in pieces!

Imagine a ball point pen where the conical tip screws into the barrel of the pen, but now 1000 times bigger. Fully extended, each keel ram is over 2 metres long, weighs 80 kg and can push with 20 tons of force. I had to find a way to screw the end cap back in, with it in place, and without the proper tools, or otherwise my race was finished. Eventually I found that I could file steps in the cap with a metal file to engage a metal rod that I could hammer in a circle to screw it closed. Problem solved.

With every system functional and the boat fully powered up and charging south, I finally allowed myself a salt water bucket shower to wash the day off me. As the white soap bubbles ran down my body, washing off the red blood from skinned knuckles, the blue hydraulic oil, and the greasy metal shavings, the multi-colored mess ran on deck where it mixed with the brown traces of the earlier peanut butter explosion.

Perhaps I had been just a little hasty in declaring that split sandwich spread was the biggest problem I would have to face that day!

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The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.

For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.


Source: Vendee Globe

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