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Oxley’s Ocean Race: 100 days to go. Bring it on!

Will Oxley

camper 300x199 Oxleys Ocean Race: 100 days to go. Bring it on!At 0500am on the 19th July our yacht CAMPER set sail for the UK.  There was not a breath of wind but she was still managing an average of 13.5 knots without any sails up or even a mast. She is tucked nicely between containers stacked five high, enroute to the UK onboard a Maersk Line ship.

It’s less than five months since CAMPER was launched but we have already managed to sail over 8,000nm (16,000km): nearly half way around the world.

I talked earlier about the “testing” phase in our preparations and the new restrictions which prevented teams from using another yacht to trial against.  Similar to Formula 1 “testing”, these restrictions are all about trying to reduce overall costs.

History tells us that the “fastest” yacht generally wins the Volvo Ocean Race but of course it is never that simple. We hope our design team has provided us with a fast hull, however there are a multitude of other factors and decisions that we have made, and will continue to make in the next three months to the start, that will determine the success of our race.

Reliability is key, and many of our miles here in the Pacific have been in adverse conditions in the New Zealand winter. We even managed to spend over 60 hours under storm jib and got to test out our Musto wet weather gear and thermals in conditions that were probably colder than we will see in the entire race.

Throughout all this we managed to refine the systems on board to a stage where we feel the yacht is thoroughly prepared for the race ahead.  The sails are the engine room of a racing yacht and, with new restrictions reducing the number we can carry, we have worked hard to refine our sail inventory to determine the sails that are fastest for each combination of wind angle and wind speed.

In practice, we achieve this by running five minute tests for each sail combination at as many wind angles and wind speeds as possible. We then compare the performance of each sail combination and decide the optimum for those conditions.  It is a long and sometimes laborious task but at the end we now have a much greater understanding of how fast the boat can go in a variety of conditions and we now know which sails we should be using in which conditions.
This will make my job of routing the yacht around the world a lot easier as I can better predict where we should place the yacht on the race track to make the best use of the predicted winds and currents.

This is what our five months in NZ has been all about and as the red machine was loaded onto the ship our entire team, I am sure, felt that we had spent as much time as possible on the water and achieved all the goals that we had set ourselves.

We even managed to fit in a race to Fiji, which was a great change from the days of testing. This was a real race as we battled for line honours against an ORMA 60 multihull. In the end, despite a frenzy of sail changes as the wind lightened on the final approach to the finish, they beat us across the line by 18 minutes.

The competition kept us focused for the entire race.  We all agreed that the race turned out to be far more valuable than we had imagined.  The intensity on board was much higher than during “testing” and we ran a full race watch system. Nonetheless, instead of stopping for a cold beer underneath a palm tree, we instead quickly turned back to sea and headed off for another five days of testing. We now know our boat well in moderate to heavy conditions and we will look to focus on our light air sailing when we launch again in the UK in early September.

We will sail the boat from the UK to Palma, where our headquarters are based. Along the way we will re-familiarise ourselves with some of the racetrack for the last few legs of the course. With competition tipped to be stronger than ever in this year’s race there is a very good chance that it will come down to the last few legs.

At the end of July the team will break for some rest while the boat is “sailing” to the UK. Beggars for punishment, a number of us will take the opportunity to do some more sailing. Some of the crew are off to Europe early to take part in the Fastnet race while a few of us will take part in some of Australia’s east coast sailing circuit so that we can keep sharp. We clearly have VERY understanding families.

The start in Alicante is coming up fast and there is now only 100 days to go as I write. Bring it on!

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