Volvo Ocean Race: Keeping King Neptune happy

Posted May 02, 2012, at 4:32 p.m.

Wall to wall. That’s our goal. We want to be leading this leg from start to finish, but we have a long way to go.

Leading out of Itajai, Brazil, was cool. That first night we hung on in some breezy, tight reaching conditions. Two boats split low to the coast and probably had less mileage to Miami at a few points, but we were in what we believed to be a more dominant position on the track. A few days ago we hit some light air walls, and CAMPER and Telefonica came on strong. But we fended off their charge and reopened up to a 30-mile lead.

We were pretty pleased, and at the same time knew that the game was just starting. Then we reached the doldrums with their light, shifting winds, and that lead was chopped down to less than 2 miles in a matter of hours. Just when you think you can rest easy with a bit of a lead, before you know it, it evaporates before your eyes. This race is not easy, and gives you an idea as to how close it can be.

When and if we pop out of the doldrums, hopefully we’ll get into pressure before the other boats do. Then, from here to Miami we have plenty more light air potholes along the way, trade winds, the Caribbean Islands, Jamaica and Cuba, the Bahamas and finally the Gulf Stream. What could possibly go wrong?

On Monday, we crossed the equator for the fourth and final time this race. I have to admit that it seems like about a month ago we were crossing it for the first time, heading south from the Mediterranean Sea to Cape Town, South Africa, on Leg 1. I’ve lost track of time, but I think that was the middle of November and about five and a half months ago. And, it wasn’t too far from this point that our mast came tumbling down after which began quite an ordeal in the life of this crew. So we have proceeded with caution ever since. Not caution as far as sailing and pushing the boat is concerned, but caution with regard to superstition.

On Leg 1 we had two youngsters aboard who had never crossed the equator before. Rome Kirby and Amory Ross, both who had to endure the wrath of King Neptune and the traditional rookie crossing ceremony. Both were great sports, confessed their crimes to the King (played by Tony Mutter, complete with a toilet paper beard) and were abused with rotten flying fish necklaces, four-day-old freeze-dried food, and a large swath of hair cut out of their heads right down the middle in sort of a reverse mohawk pattern. All in good fun. But there was one thing missing. Nobody remembered to bring a libation to give to the King, give to the sea, give to the boat and of course one slug for each member of the crew. A sailing superstition that ranks right up there in importance. Sure enough, the King apparently brought our mast down about two days later out of spite.

Lesson learned. Don’t mess with King Neptune.

Since then, we have certainly gone well in the other direction. Large bottles of rum stashed for equator crossings and other landmark events like around Cape Horn or Christmas or a birthday. No messing around. To the point of making sure, the King knows we will offer him as much alcohol as he wants — “have another” just for safety’s sake. Better be safe than sorry, right?

So around 5 a.m. local time Monday, right at the break of dawn, we crossed the equator for the final time in this race. One for the King, one for the sea, one for our boat, PUMA’s Mar Mostro, and one for each of the crew. Or in Amory’s case, a few sips to the point that he woke this morning from a brief nap exclaiming that he might have a little hangover.

A bit exaggerated, but certainly worth it if the King is happy.

Ken Read is skipper of the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. The 39,000-nautical-mile round-the-world yacht race is the world’s longest continuous professional sporting event. Visiting five continents over nine months, the world’s best offshore sailors risk their lives every day competing in the ‘Everest of sailing’. The race began in Alicante, Spain on Nov. 5, 2011, and will stop in Miami this May before finishing in Galway, Ireland early July. Follow the race at www.volvooceanrace.com

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