Debriefed: a Post VOR interview with Ken Read Page 2 - Sail Magazine

Debriefed: a Post VOR interview with Ken Read Page 2

In May of 2007, a fledgling team called Puma Ocean Racing announced their intentions of competing in the 2008/2009 Volvo Ocean Race — a 37,000 mile round-the-world grudge match that’s fought out in the world’s fastest monohulls — in Boston, MA. As an attending journalist, I can report that while excitement ran high, expectations were fairly limited. Not because of the sponsor
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If you did the race again, would you do more rotation, or would you aim to have the same sailors aboard the whole time?

I am still convinced that crew rotation is important. E4 had a faster mode. This race will only get more competitive, so each team needs to have a deep bench. A lot depends on the people and the specific qualities that they bring. Fortunately, we had a deep bench.

What was the worst call that you made during the race?

That would have been the third night out of India, heading to Singapore, in the middle of the sea. There were lots of squalls, and I got us way out of phase; it felt like the boat was going backwards. Tacking these boats is a project that involves getting people up out of their bunks, moving gear. Every time we shifted on a header, the wind immediately shifted back. This probably happened five times that night. We ended up developing a different way of stacking and dealing with squalls, which made it much better in the end. That whole ordeal probably lasted 30 hours.

How about the biggest gamble that paid off?

Certainly the leg from Ireland to Sweden, when we blew up the kite. We sort of fell asleep at the switch while we were dealing with the sail and we somehow got 100 miles away from the fleet. Because of this, we had to sail around the big low-pressure system. We were becalmed going through the center for three hours, so we probably took 15 hours of sched losses. We found ourselves 120 miles behind, but then it was our turn. We knew we’d get [the good wind and conditions] — it was a matter of time. [Ed. Note: Puma finished second in this leg, behind E4]

What do you reckon was your best decision that you made?

It would have been the personnel decisions that I made early on. This race is won or lost before the start. Having guys like Kimo Worthington and Neil Cox — it will always be people who win or loose this race. We had a great sail program thanks to Justin Ferris, and Botin and Carkeek did a great job on the design. These were the tough decisions that led to great success.

Do you think the race outcome was altered by Tele Blue’s second encounter with the hard at the start of leg nine?

It certainly didn’t help them [laughs]! Part of sailboat racing is making sure you don’t hit the beach. It’s part of the game.

Now that it’s all said and done, design-wise, what would you do differently if you were working up a new VO70?

There were a lot of features on different boats that worked out well. Jumper-less rigs on the Telefonica boats, as well as their deck layout saved windage and weight. The windage savings there couldn’t have hurt. The shape of E4’s bow in reaching conditions gave them an extra gear that was unheard of, allowing them to make big gains in heavy air. Same with the Telefonica boats in the light conditions. The twisting daggerboards on the Ericsson boats were a nice feature.

On our boat we came a long way structurally. Reliability is a huge part of the race. E4 was the most reliable boat and they didn’t need to fix anything, at least that we know about. Having halyard locks and reefing locks will trickle down to cruising boats as you can save a lot of chafe. Our sails in particular were great. We learned a lot about UV exposure, as we [the fleet] tripled the UV exposure that previous VOR sails have seen before. North Sails would say that the biggest thing that they learned was how to deal with UV exposure.

As for our daggerboards, we went with large, broad boards. These were not as asymmetric as other boats used, and we suffered a weight penalty. The Telefonica boats proved that smaller, asymmetrically shaped boards are just as good, if not better, plus they are a lot lighter. So, we’d rethink our boards next time.

Dock talk during the Boston stopover pegged E3 as the fastest boat in the fleet. Do you agree? If so, what made that boat so quick?

Potentially, from an all-purpose view, E3 was a really good boat, but they suffered the same fate as us: when you’re good all around, you’re always hanging in there, but there’s no real condition where you can make great gains. Building your boat for specific wind ranges is a consideration.

What are your immediate plans, post VOR life?

Cruising on my powerboat with my wife and my daughter, surrounded by five miles of beach with no other people around. Kimo [Worthington] is also with us on an identical boat, so we’re having fun cruising. I’m playing a lot of golf, taking notes on this race, piecing the puzzle back together, giving ourselves grades, and dealing with sponsorship. I’m also trying my best to keep Puma psyched.

Do you think Puma is in sailing for the long haul? Can we expect another Puma Ocean Racing entry in the next event?

I hope so, but there are a lot of factors that determine marketing budgets. They are putting all of their efforts towards next summer’s World Cup [soccer], which takes their mind off the marine world. So it’s up to us to keep their interest up. They are thrilled with the results they got, but there are lots of little things that need to get taken care of [before they make their decision].

Do you think that you’ll do the race again?

My answer is along the same lines as the answer I gave you for Puma. To say that this was the experience of a lifetime is a massive understatement. I got to build a team from the ground up, which is something that I’ve always wanted to do in my career. There were things that I did well and others that I did not so well, absolutely. Looking forward, I need to consider what’s best for my family. There are lots of good opportunities, and I want to make sure that Puma is in it for the long haul. The team always comes first, and if I’m involved, great, but only if I’m the right guy.

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