Stamm the magnificent en route for second race win

We speak to the Velux 5 Oceans leg winner about his last 43 days at sea

Tuesday December 5th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected
Some might argue firstly that Bernard Stamm's victory on leg one of the Velux 5 Oceans occurred just two nights into his 42 day 22 hour and 18 minute passage from Bilbao to Fremantle or secondly that his overall result in the Velux 5 Oceans is now assured. However this is a singlehanded round the world race, through some of the toughest waters on the planet on the longest course of any solo race. As this leg has demonstrated anything can happen in solo round the world racing and there remain all manner of possibilities.

For example how many of us would have predicted that on this leg Mike Golding and Alex Thomson would both break their boats and be out of the race? With this in mind possible outcomes of the Velux 5 Oceans including no finishers all, or that Stamm's boat experiences a severe breakage opening up the competition once again. All we can say with any certainty at this stage is that Stamm's position is good , with what looks set to be an advantage of around four days on second placed Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of Yukohat the end of the first leg - (the Velux 5 Oceans is scored on cumulative elapsed time remember).

This morning (UK time) Stamm was in fine form when we spoke to him. Last night he slept for around seven hours and although he had still to cut his newly acquired seadog beard, he was feeling like a new man. Getting so much sleep early on after reaching shore, he said, was unusual as breaking the routine after such a long period at sea usually took him a while.

Overall Stamm says the feeling from this 43 days leg was that it was very long, although this may just be shaking off the memory of the very much shorter first leg of this race finishing in Cape Town as it has previously throughout the event's 25 year history. Compared to the previous BOC Challenge/Around Alone, an event Stamm won overall four years ago, the Velux 5 Oceans has been described as being like two Vendee Globes back to back with a third leg sprint finish across the Atlantic.

Most skippers, we get the impression, would have prefered the race to have stopped in Cape Town from a sailing perspective. Stamm takes the view that the present Velux 5 Oceans format is just a different challenge. "The course is okay. I like this competition. Now, maybe with such a small amount of boats maybe it would be better to make more stops...."

Our reflection on this first leg was that the weather was all to cock. First there were the hurricane force winds 48 hours into the race that resulted in all but Stamm and Koji scuttling towards port to effect repairs. There was then a very oddly positioned static low pressure system out in the Atlantic that caused the competitors to experience headwinds almost all the way down to the Canaries. Mid-South Atlantic the weather finally worked in Stamm's favour as he was able to cut several hundred miles off the normal route, thanks to the South Atlantic high being well to the west and being able to sail down its eastern side. Finally there were several periods in the Southern Ocean where boats were experiencing no wind (as occurred to Stamm around the time of the Thomson-Golding invident).

In contrast Stamm doesn't think the weather was so unusual. At the start for example he says: "We are never so close to Cape Finistere [NW Spain] at this time in the other races, we always have the chance to go far outside. I think more outside it would not have been so difficult than so close to the Cape. It is a new configuration and I think at the end of October in the Bay of Biscay there is a lot of chance to have big wind. And in the Southern Ocean it was normal. We had a lot of time with 45 knots, and under the fronts it was very strong, but it was short and we didn’t have a very bad low like sometimes we've seen in the Vendee Globe."

While the images of Stamm on the foredeck trying to recover his staysail that had half blown over board as his boat was hove to, being tossed around in the swell, the waves around him flattened by the fierce winds, remain vividly in the memory, the winds off La Coruna where not as strong as those he came across as a front passed over him last weekend. Off Cape Finistere he says the most can remember seeing was 62 knots. "On this leg three days before arriving here I had 70 knot in the south in a front. For 12 hours I had 45 knots, and for six hours I had 55 knots! It was not the same at Cape Finistere. There it was only two or three hours really aggressive, but it was difficult because it went from 15 to 45-50 knots directly and the sea was bad." Off Cape Finisterre the strong wind and the effect of the shallow water through being so close to shore made the sea much more dramatic.

Stamm admits he was fortunate in the South Atlantic. "I was lucky to cut the high pressure just before South Africa, especially as the gate closed just behind me. But after that I think they [those chasing him] did a small mistake to try to go the same direct way. Alex saw he was not able to go the same way as me, and he was quicker on the outside than Mike and Kojiro."

Over the course of the race Stamm says his Pierre Rolland-designed Open 60 experienced normal problems one might expect during an arduous long distance solo race - battens breaking, sail damage, etc. "It was always things you can repair, but it is not good to help you sail quickly to the finish line."

He finished the race with just four headsails usable, the Solent, the staysail, the Code Zero and the big genniker, having broken his small genniker, two spinnakers and losing his small jib. He kicks himself for the latter. "I lost the small jib very stupidly. I hadn’t tied it down well enough on the deck and it fell into the water – that was just six hours after the start! It was a very important sail for the south but I didn’t have it any more." With the small genniker the head tore off.

In terms of his progress towards Fremantle the principle thing which slowed him was breaking halyards. Why did this happen? "I think they were too small. I think we went over the limit, like we did for the food and some other small things. I think it is stupid to go so close to the limit." With the food he finished with only a small amount left and says it wasn't enough. To our mind Stamm looks thinner than when he left.

The halyard problems required him to go aloft on three occasions, but the main thing hampering his working on deck was a lack of fleeces. "I forgot my polars. That was stupid. It was very difficult with the cold temperature in the south," he says. "It was very difficult because I had nothing to keep warm. So when I went on deck - manoeuvring or sailing, or whatever, - I took off the dry clothes and I put on the wet ones. When I came in again I put the dry clothes on."

Cheminees Poujoulat is not fitted with a heater, although Stamm says we should be adding the word 'yet' to this sentence. He will probably fit one for the next leg. One can only imagine how awful that must have been particularly having to climb the mast. In fact Stamm says that was not as bad as sitting around on deck or helming: "It was very cold but it is okay because when you climb the mast, you spend a lot of energy. It was difficult for my hands and feet but the rest of it was okay." As a result of the cold Stamm says he spent more time below than he might have done.

Obviously a key difference between Stamm's leg and those of Alex Thomson and Mike Golding is that he didn't experience any technical problems serious enough to put him out of the race. But it seems almost impossible to pinpoint the reasons, he didn't while they did. "I don’t know," says Stamm, "I don’t know Alex but I know Mike and his team and I think they made very serious preparation, but for me I had a big problem in 2004 and we spent all the year with my team trying to avoid these problems again."

During the Transat in 2004 Stamm's boat (the same one he is now sailing in the Velux 5 Oceans) lost her keel off Newfoundland. Stamm was forced to abandon her, only then to return to the scene witha rescue vessel to salvage her himself. Obviously the boat was virtually a write-off with no keel, a broken mast and an interior destroyed by water but the subsequent time Stamm spent restoring her has clearly resulted in a much stronger seaworthy boat.

Stamm says that one reason that other boats broke while his didn't is perhaps that with such a handsome lead he was able to sail more conservatively than they were.

We put it to Stamm that being older generation, his boat is perhaps less complex than Hugo Boss or Ecover. Her keel for example is canted by a block and tackle system driven by an electric winch, rather than twin hydraulic rams. Stamm again doesn't like our idea. "That’s true but with blocks you create other problems. The last Around Aloe I had the same problem as Alex when the top of the keel broke, but I could fix it." With a block and tackle arrangement, the top of the foil protrudes much further into the boat to provide far greater leverage. "For Alex there is not enough space - you need a hydraulic system not ropes. There is not enough space to fix something very tight." He returns to our original question. "So no, I think they are the same - they are all complex boats. We prepared the ship very well and they are very close. After that the differences is in the shape of the hull and the power of the boat."

In Freo, Stamm plans to lift Cheminees Poujoulat out of the water to check the hull and the foils. Then a complete check up will go on on deck, carefully examining the rig, winches, sails and the ropes.

Leg two of the Velux 5 Oceans has been put back by a week to ensure that there is enough time in port for the tailenders, still more than 4,500 miles from Freo this morning. With Golding and Thomson out of the running Stamm admits he hopes the pressure will be off and he will be able to sail more conservatively on leg two to Norfolk, Virginia - a passage even longer than he has just experienced. Saying this Kojiro Shiraishi has sailed an exceptional race. "Koji is getting better and better," acknowledges Stamm. "He is doing a very good race on this first leg."

Stamm concludes by saying he is very sad that Mike Golding has made the decision not to rejoin the Velux 5 Oceans. Maybe it just isn't a lucky race for him, we put it to him. This Stamm says he can understand: "It is like me with the Transat Jacques Vabre. There are some races which don’t want some skippers."

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