Racing in the Volvo Ocean Race is not just about sailing skills. It takes all sorts of other skills to keep the boat going fast.
The crews double up as sail-makers, medics and engineers and each person has a special responsibility. Gear failure can have devastating consequences.
On March 30th, the International Jury received a letter from the skipper of Amer Sports Too, Lisa McDonald, explaining why her crew had to break into their emergency fuel supply.
The letter reads: "We left Rio de Janeiro with an ample amount of fuel for the predicted 19 day leg to Miami. Normally we allow 8.5 litres per day for generator use - charging the batteries, making water and ballast. The generator used approximately three litres of diesel per day. We were carrying an extra four litres per day for this leg in our regular diesel tanks"
"March 23, 2002. We discovered that the primary fuel intake lead to the first fuel injector had been cracked for some unknown amount of time, and had finally broken. As a result of this, we lost an exponential amount of diesel (through evaporation). Once the problem was diagnosed, we checked the diesel levels, and discovered that of the original 160 litres, only 20 remained. Repairs were attempted to the broken generator - and we were ready to restrict our generator use to one hour of running per day, so that we could complete the leg using the remaining supply of diesel."
The repair was unsuccessful and the generator was deemed unusable. The emergency charging system consumes more than double the amount of fuel than the generator. On March 24, the crew rigged the alternators to the main engine, and charged the dangerously low batteries. There was just 10 litres of diesel left.
At midday GMT on March 24th, Lisa and her crew declared an Emergency Situation to the Volvo Ocean Race Headquarters. They broke open their sealed emergency store of diesel in order to continue to race in a safe and seamanlike way. They needed their navigation lights and communications as they were entering a busy shipping zone and they needed water for food and drink.
This was just part of the saga which disrupted Lisa's watches and had crewmembers sweating it out down below in 35 degrees Celsius, trying to fix problem after problem. Not the best of working conditions. While immersed in the generator's problems, the electric-powered water maker failed, not the nicest of problems when sailing in extreme heat. The crew had to resort to making water with the hand-pumped emergency water maker, which could barely cope with the crew's daily requirements in the tropical heat. At the same time, the crew were pushing the boat harder than ever to keep the competition at bay.
"First one thing broke and another and another" explains Abigail Seager. "It kept on like that for over a week. And all that time, some of us had to stay down below trying to fix the breakdowns. Actually, Emma Westmacott, Liz Wardley and I did not spend more than a few hours on deck during that week.
"It was a snowball effect. It started out with a fuel problem when we where halfway to Miami. The pump that supplies the generator with diesel from the fuel tank broke down. We use this diesel to power up the boat. With that Power we run amongst others, our water ballast and water makers."
"We tried to resolve this breakdown by changing fuel filters, bleeding the engine and so on. We noticed that we were using a lot of fuel. Much more than was normal. We actually thought we had resolved the problem with the fuel tank but there must have been yet another breakdown because the fuel was evaporating."
The emergency water maker failed too, and just as skipper Lisa McDonald was contemplating, having to organise a rendezvous with a ship or call into port for water, the main water maker was coaxed into action.
The final outcome? The Race Committee was satisfied that the emergency situation declared by Amer Sports Too warranted the use of their emergency fuel and supported their request to the International Jury to waive any penalty for its use.
The technical details? The failure of the generator was due to a fracture in the return fuel line that runs from the fuel inlet of the injector pump to the first injector. Fuel is fed through the fuel filter to the injector pump. The fuel pump delivers more fuel than is required, thus a return line is needed. The return line runs from the inlet of the injector pump via all three injectors and back to the fuel tank. The fracture in the return line running between the pump fuel inlet and the first injector would have had two effects. Fuel would be pumped out of the fracture in the pipe and air would be sucked into the injector. The pumping of fuel through the fracture would also reduce the fuel being delivered to the injector pump.
This would not stop the engine starting or running on idle, but it would very likely stop it when the revs were increased and would stop it when a load was applied. The main engine used approximately three times as much fuel as the generator and the Race Committee believed that this explained the reasons for the excessive fuel usage.
Conclusion: If you think yacht racing is easy, then think again. These girls not only have to race their boat competitively, but they also have to understand the intricacies of every piece of equipment onboard. Could you do it?