Archive for the ‘Extreme sports’ Category

A clean race


The latest edition of the Volvo Ocean Race has just begun, with 7 teams competing in this round-the-world spectacular.  One of the themes of this iteration is fighting the pollution caused by plastic.  The oceans are becoming seas of plastic, from fishing nets to microbeads, and the plastic is getting into the food chain.

One of the biggest offenders is the single-use water bottle, a now common item in many households.  All plastics degrade into tiny pellets, which stay in the environment for a long time, decades in some cases.  Although plastic can be re-used in making some products, the majority is simply discarded, ending up in landfills and the ocean.

Fish ingest plastic in the form of microbeads, which become lodged in their tissues.  Often, the fish are eaten by other fish, further up the food chain.  Humans are at the top of the food chain, so the things that creatures down the food chain consume can end up in our bodies.  The huge increase in the numbers of single-use water bottles portends ever-increasing amounts of plastic getting into our bodies.  The sailors of the Volvo Ocean Race encounter plastic in every ocean, all over the world.


Are we playing, or waging?


Yesterday, a good portion of the Western world watched two American teams wage football.  I mean, it sure didn’t look like they were playing.  To me, ‘playing’ means having fun, like on the swings, or tossing a Frisbee back and forth; not keeping score, just having fun.  I like to throw darts, and I will do so for a long time, just practicing, passing the time, and not competing with anyone.  I also like to play on the swings.  To use the word ‘play’ for the wildly different activities of swinging and tackling someone is just difficult.  I know that I am ‘playing’ when I am swinging back and forth, so how can I relate to lineman blocking as ‘playing’ a ‘game’.  Especially when the language gets unprintable and threatening gestures are being made.  That looks likes lots of fun!  So, do you wage tennis?  I used to wage hockey, but not very well.  Strangely enough, you don’t ‘play’ wrestling, you wrestle.  I never did figure out what was fun about wrestling.  But I loved to swim, playing ‘Marco Polo’ by the hour.

Fat Bottomed Girl


There is a new platform for ocean racing with big sailboats, called super maxi’s, which are very powerful. A recent entry to this fleet is called Comanche, and she sails under the U.S. flag.  Comanche is a single masted monohull sailboat, made entirely of carbon, including the sails.  She is 100 feet long, and needs a crew of about 22 or 23 strong, able-bodied sailors, because her sails are huge, and weigh hundreds of kilograms.  She made her debut in the 2014 Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart Race, when she was less than a month on the water.  Comanche still managed to take second line honors, behind Wild Oats, an Australian supermaxi.

About 10 years ago, a novel concept hit the world of off-shore sail racing.  A sailboat usually has a ‘keel’ which helps keep the boat upright, as well as reducing the amount of sideways movement the boat experiences.  Somebody had the crazy idea of making a hole in the bottom of the boat, and attaching hydraulic rams to the keel fin, so that the whole keel, including the big bulb at the end of the long fin which is several tons of lead, can be swung from one side of the boat to the other, providing more resistance to the wind blowing the boat over.  When the wind is coming from the right side of the boat, the keel is swung over to the right side, which helps to hold the boat upright against the wind.  This is called a ‘canting’ keel, and they have been on the big sailboats during many recent races.

Comanche has a canting keel, as well as dagger boards, which can be lowered to help counteract the sideways motion sailboats experience when sailing upwind.  Comanche is also very wide across the beam, compared to her length, thus the nickname ‘fat bottomed girl.’  But that fat bottomed girl has been getting faster and faster, until she set a new record for the distance traveled in 24 hours for her type of boat, with 618 nautical miles traveled in one day.  That means that Comanche must have maintained an average speed of about 27 knots, which is 31 mph.  Even at night.  Just with wind power.

The Best Racing on TV!


Something that I find positive in these troubling times is the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World, currently in the middle of leg 5.  Not just the race itself, but the way that the race is being publicized by volvooceanracetv dot com.  The media outlet of the multimillion dollar sailboat race, it has developed from a rough and ready “Are you there, Andy?  We can’t hear you.” type of programming to slick, finished productions, utilizing video taken on the boats, expert editing on shore, and a variety of programs available to watch.

One big change for this edition of the sailboat race round the world is the addition of a media specialist to the crews of the boats.  Even though the boats in the last race had hand held cameras as well as mounted cams, the coverage was spotty, because the crews were too busy racing to sit down and edit video for a couple of hours during their sleep time.  This was a sad thing, because the quality of the cameras was excellent, and the visuals of the open ocean were stunning.

In response, the Volvo Ocean Race organization required that teams each have a member of the crew who was prohibited from handling any sailing duties, be it helping move the huge sail bags to standing watches at the helm.  Their only duty was to record the race from the perspective of the people on the boats.  Because this did not require their complete attention, it was soon realized that the media crewmen were an asset, because they had the time to effect repairs that were time consuming, so that the sailing crew could get some rest when they were not on watch.

Production facilities capable of editing down hundreds of hours of video into a half hour or shorter program every week were also made part of the effort, so that the weekly shows and specials were professional looking, with quality editing and soundtracks.  In the last race, the 2005-2006 series, only one weekly program and a monthly program were produced, and they often had a somewhat amateur feeling to them, kind of like watching home movies.  When it became obvious that the boat crews could not provide enough video to sustain a weekly program, crews were hired to film crew member’s families, and event management going about their duties.

Having enough video to work with is not a problem this time around, at least since the end of leg one.  During leg one, the Puma crew seemed to be the only ones able to produce any  substantial footage for the programs.  Since the Cape Town in-port race though, there has been a much better balance between the various boats.  And each one of them has experienced a lot of drama and excitement, which has made producing gripping episodes much easier.

Even though the carbon footprint of the race is still large, the result of several teams flying containers and shore crews from port to port, the overall impact is probably much smaller than the NASCAR or Formula 1 series, because the competitors are using the wind for their power.  And the wind sometimes has too much power, resulting in rigging being broken, sails ripping, and boats being fractured.  To me, it is refreshing and uplifting to see people competing with each other and Nature without having to burn thousands of liters of petrol, and using up hundreds of tires, but still racing extremely high tech machines.

Games people play


Want something new and different to do during the downtime at work, or when you are sitting around wishing that there was something worth watching on TV?  Try the Volvo Ocean Race Virtual Game!  Over 70,000 people have signed up to run a virtual sailboat in this ’round the world’ race, which follows the same course as the real Volvo Open 70 boats.  You don’t have to be a sailor, or even know anything about sailing, just be interested in participating in an online game.  is the URL that will get you to the sign up page.

For those of you who are into sailing, the new 24 hour record for a monohull boat was set during leg 1, at 602 miles.  That is by a sailboat, folks, not a power boat.  Maintaining an average of about 25 knots, or 30 miles per hour, for 24 hours is quite a feat.  This is the Formula One of sailing, with boats built entirely of carbon, huge sails, and a special ‘canting keel’ which allows the boats to go upwind.  This is not NASCAR, with things going around and around, this is not football, with people hitting each other,  this is not any sport you have ever seen.  People have died during these races, and boats have been lost.

In an age when burning gasoline is becoming less than politically correct, sailing is a clean, green sport.

Sailing around the world


In a couple of days, on October 4th, the 2008-2009 running of the Volvo Ocean Race Round The World begins.  This is ‘life at the extreme’, sailing around the world in the most advanced yachts in there are.  People have died during this race, and boats have been lost.  The race covers much of the globe, from Spain to South Africa, Australia, Brazil, the United States, and back to Europe for the finish.  From dodging iceburgs in the Southern Ocean to standing watch in shorts, the crews experience a wide range of weather.  In-port races provide action up close, while videos are recorded and transmitted from the boats during the 5and 6,000 mile long open ocean legs.

The race began as the the Whitbread, in 1974, the result of a challenge thrown down in an English pub.  Run every 4 years until now, the race is considered the Himilayas of sailing.  The boats are now built specifically for the race, at a cost of millions of dollars.  They are constructed almost entirely of carbon, using techniques developed in the aviation industry.  In order to allow sailing even faster, they have keels which can be moved from side to side.  The last race saw 25 whole days subtracted from the previous record, with boat speeds of 25 to 30 knots being common.  One boat covered 562 miles in a 24 hour period, setting a mark which still stands.

You don’t have to be into sailing to get excited about this race, because it is flat out, balls-to-the-wall action from start to finish, apart from the occasional windless days.  The crews come from all over the world, and are the best of the best at what they do.  This race is about using a knowledge of Nature, advanced technology, and the power of the human spirit to challenge the deep blue sea.  Check it out at  They even have a web TV site, with highlights of past races.  I think that it is a lot better than watching cars burn up gas.