PUMA Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ken Read is fresh off a Transatlantic Race win, where his boat Mar Mostro hit 30 knots and made 551 nautical miles in a single day. The race wasn’t all white-knuckle sailing, however, as a steadily waning breeze made the last several hundred miles extremely slow going.
The high-intensity skipper gave us 10 minutes of his time to talk about the race and what is next on the boat’s schedule.
SAIL: For those of us who were following along, the beginning of the Transatlantic Race 2011 was an all-out drag race at the beginning, followed by periods of almost dead calm toward the finish. What was going through your mind?
Ken Read: Like you said, it was a flat-out drag race from the beginning of the race until about of the way through. The beginning was perfect Volvo 70 weather, and Rambler 100 (a 100ft super maxi that ultimately won line honors, though Mar Mostro won on corrected time) is basically a Volvo 70 on steroids, to be honest. It suited the two boats pretty well. Offshore racing, especially when you’re starting days and weeks apart, is going to be a crapshoot. It was going to be the luck of the draw between us and the smaller and medium sized boats, all due to weather patterns. We got the good weather draw, and fortunately we were fast enough to take advantage of it.
We had one point where we were going between two weather patterns and fortunately Tom Addis, our navigator, nailed it. There are a lot of good navigators out there, and we have a navigator whose strength is weird weather patterns. He picked it apart and came up with a path through, and sure enough that path was spot on. We got through whereas other people got stopped at the gate, and the rest is history.
SAIL: The other super maxi in the race, ICAP Leopard, broke its bowsprit within the first 36 hours of their race. Did this affect your race at all? How would you have handled an equipment failure like that, if it had happened on Mar Mostro?
By the time Leopard broke their sprit, we were (surprisingly) about 50 or 60 miles ahead of them. We were so shocked that we had that mileage on them that we had really turned our focus to Rambler. So it didn’t really affect our game plan for the race. But if a bowsprit breaks on this boat, we’d slow down without a doubt. We have a contingency plan to fly our sails that do go up the sprit straight to the bow. It’s not as big of a deal on a Volvo 70 as it is on a boat like Leopard, where the sprit is considerably longer. It’s one of the IRC things that we don’t have, since we don’t work the handicap. If we wanted this boat to be an IRC boat, we’d have a bowsprit that is three times longer. But we don’t – we have a Volvo 70, and this is what we’re stuck with.
SAIL: How’d your crew hold up? You have some new guys on the boat, how’d they manage?
KR: They were great. The racing part of the voyage that we just completed was just spectacular. Boat, crew, communication and gear – there were zero drawbacks. But then you have to transition into delivery mode. Fortunately we didn’t drop down into England. Keeping the boys out of the bars was probably good for the bars of England. Maybe not good for their income, but good in general. We’re continuing on to the Canaries, getting some testing done. It’s been valuable because we’ve had a four-day debrief on our way to Lanzarote, which has been good. Although I’ll tell you – racing is one hell of a lot more fun than a delivery.
SAIL: What’s your training schedule going to be like now?
KR: We’re taking 10 days off – most everybody is going home. Our whole shore base is already here and set up 100 feet away from the boat, so it’s just like we’re in Newport, but totally different. And now we’re onto the next phase of our program.
SAIL: What kind of improvements do you want to be making to the boat now?
KR: There are a million improvements that we want to be making! We like our boat at this point, but we’re not in love with it. And that’s the way race boats are. We have to take what we’ve learned and get faster. And that doesn’t stop once the race starts. We have a long list of what we hope will be improvements, but really only time will tell.
SAIL: You’ve done considerable IRC racing this year – do you think there are significant benefits this? Are you planning on doing more regattas?
KR: I’m pretty stunned by how competitive the boat is within IRC. We’ve done IRC racing in the past, in the old boat, and it seemed to be very condition-dependent. A boat like NUMB3RS, for example, is a great IRC boat. It has no weakness. But with a Volvo Ocean 70, if we get 18-20 knots in Newport for a weekend, then we’re probably better than NUMB3RS in that one condition. For a week-long regatta, or even a weekend regatta where we didn’t have those conditions, they’d smoke us. It wouldn’t even be close.
Offshore, it’s a different matter entirely. Offshore you get varying conditions. You get light weather patterns that you can sail away from, or you get such a range of conditions that you can just simply make up for the low percentage of time that you’re at a lousy point. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. This time around it was our race. Next time around, the little boats are going to come up from behind, that’s just the nature of offshore racing.