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21 December 2001, 07:21 pm
Mark Christensen Of illbruck Challenge On Leg Two
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Mark Christensen photo: illbruck Challenge

Volvo Ocean Race
Sydney

Leg Two was not the hardest Southern Ocean leg I have done. It wasn’t as cold as some and there weren’t the heavy running conditions that we had on leg 5 of the last race;
it never snowed, although we did see a number of large icebergs, which is always disconcerting, but it was definitely the hardest mentally.

illbruck went into leg 2 with two years of preparation including a couple of weeks in the Southern Ocean a year ago. We had just won the first leg and I felt we were very prepared. So to be pulled from your bunk to be told that the bow needed bailing and later that the boat was sinking was very hard. A lot of things go through your mind: are we out of leg 2? Are we out of the race? Is this the end of two years' hard work? Will we even make it out of this alive?

Most of those questions had been answered by daybreak, we were alive, we were still in the race but we were probably out of leg 2 and we still hadn't stopped the leak in the bow properly. Most of the first night is a blur. I spent a lot of time bailing and then went on deck. Shortly after there was a call for a "medic". I was available to go downstairs and so went down to find Waffler [Stu Bettany] sprawled across the keel frame, head in the toilet covered in blood.

It was a lot better than it initially looked, but the difficulty was in trying to get the needle into his head to stitch him up because of the vicious waves. I think I ended up with almost as many holes in my hands as he in his head. He had a lot more holes than the three stitches required.

The second day we were in damage control, assessing the damage and considering solutions, we were not racing. The biggest problem was that the wind gear and mount were missing from the top of the rig. Ordinarily, one of the bowmen would be pulled up the rig and the wind gear would be replaced but with the mounting bracket missing as well that was not an option. We considered fixing it to the rig some other way but decided there was too great a chance of losing the second wand. On the third day we fixed it to the antennae mast at the back of the boat. This worked okay downwind, but not close to the wind or in big seas, also the wind speed under read by about 50 percent. It was okay to drive by but caused big problems when using the sail crossover chart or VMC [velocity made good] chart.

Psychologically we were still out of the race, we hadn't attempted any repair of the bow well and the wind gear was only just in place. The big change was when Amer Sports Too sailed higher onto our line and we then had another boat to play with. It had seemed until then that the fleet had sailed away and we would be left to play by ourselves for the rest of the leg. With hindsight we were less than 30 miles off the lead, with over 6,000 miles left to sail.

The middle part of the leg was strange in some ways, in that no matter how hard you pushed, the fleet stayed together. Even when boats were dropped off the back, the weather closed the fleet back up at Eclipse Island and effectively there was a restart. Originally I was against having Eclipse Island as a waypoint but with hindsight it may have saved a life and it definitely helped us being able to pick up some replacement parts. It highlights the emphasis Volvo has placed on safety.

During the leg it felt as if we were the only boat having difficulties, however after reading some of the emails once ashore, you realize every boat encounters problems. Maybe we had less or made better decisions when dealing with our problems. Maybe we just got lucky. After Eclipse Island, we were racing and back on a roll. I felt that we weren't doing anything special but I know we weren't doing anything wrong and that puts the pressure on the other teams. On the long legs it comes down to the number of mistakes you make and how you deal with them.

To come back and win this leg after nearly sinking was unbelievable. There was initial euphoria but I think a lot of us were probably a bit stunned. My wife kept asking after the finish what was wrong, why was I so quiet? That first night shattered the illusion that these boats are bullet proof, we were very close to sinking. I guess that makes you look at things a little differently.

Leg 3 is a different beast to the last two. It is the first of the shorter legs, but is still 9-10 days long. It will basically be a sprint to Hobart, catch your breath and then a sprint across the Tasman Sea. Finally, it will be all hands on deck after rounding North Cape for the last 24 hours into Auckland. There will be a lot of pressure on the skippers to balance pushing the boat versus burning out the crew. We have kept the same crew as the last leg, but may change our sail inventory to reflect the coastal nature of parts of the leg.

The big question mark is how much influence Hobart and the Derwent River will have on the outcome of the race. We sailed a practice Leg 3 at the same time last year with Tyco and News Corp. We finished a couple of hours ahead of Tyco, after they suffered from a broken headboard car, and they were also a couple of hours ahead of News Corp. We all restarted at the same time, different to this year where we will restart three and half hours after we finish the Hobart Race. We felt at the time that if we had been able to start with the same time differential as when we finished that two hours may have blown out to ten or twenty by the time we reached Auckland. History will tell us in a couple of weeks, but the leader in Hobart may also be the winner in Auckland.
Mark Christensen/News Editor
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