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The ultimate single handed sailboat race - around the world alone
Norfolk Virginia was one of the few stops in the Velux 5 Oceans single-handed race around the world.   I was fortunate enough to be at the harbor when one of the sailors arrived.

The previous stop for this guy was over 2 months ago, when he and the rest of the sailors left Freemantle Australia - some 14000 miles of sailing through challenging oceans.

I spent some time chatting with one of the guys onboard the second boat to arrive in Norfolk. I learned this guy was the project manager for the effort, so myself and another guy from Georgia were treated to a unique perspective of the event. I'll try pass along some of the elements we talked about - in no particular order. There's no proof reading, so ignore the spelling / grammar.

During design and construction, weight and speed are the first concerns. A typical open 60 will weigh in the neighborhood of 20000 pounds. Consider that Come Monday weighs about 40,000, so one of those things weighs approximately half of what I'm sitting on as I type this. (

The average cost of a new Open 60 is approximately 2 million. They traditionally get passed from one owner to the next and as they age, they become the training boats for the new-comers. The boat that came arrived here in Norfolk in first place is for sale - asking 700,000 euro - which is approximately 1 million.

During the years since the tall ships, the sailing industry went from the standing rigging being lines, to stainless cable, to rod rigging. Today, the 60's all use synthetic rigging. It's stronger than the stainless rod rigging, and even has less stretch than the rod rigging. Everything will eventually stretch, so yesterday they were tuning the rig of the boat I was on.

The way the stretch was accounted for was interesting. Rather than tweaking the turnbuckles, they actually lift the mast then drive wedges beneath the step. The mast is lifted by putting an aluminum block through the mast at about 1 foot above the deck level. The block is roughly 2 inches wide, by 3 inches high, by about 2 feet long. They put a hydraulic jack on each end of the block, and start lifting the mast.

Since the material used in the standing rig is synthetic, it's also affected by ultraviolet light. This is countered by encasing it in 2 covers which look very much like the outer covering of yacht-braid.

The standing rigging doesn't last forever - the guy said it's good for essentially one around the world event then a half dozen trans-atlantics, then they replace every bit of it. The total cost of the standing rigging is approximately .5 million.

The sails are definitely not off-the shelf items. A complete set of sails will cost about $250,000. I forgot to ask how long they'll last.

Another thing I found interesting is that the trend today is that the gooseneck is not attached to the mast, but rather it's attached on the cabin top just aft of the mast. This eliminates the huge compression forces on the mast.

The boats have engines - very small - roughly 25 horse - which can be clutched from the shaft (obviously). The guy who arrived in second place carried about 100 gallons of fuel and used about 3/4 of it during the 14,000 mile sail from Australia. The engines are only used as generators.

In an arena where the objective is to build light boats, I asked if they're basically throw-away hulls, built on the edge of safety, expecting to last for a single event (like the America's Cup boats). I was surprised to hear they're very strong and that they'll last a long time - hence the ability to pass them from one boat owner to another.

They're fast. They'll surge up to about 35 Knots in surfing conditions, but will maintain a solid 21-22 knots in good wind / sea conditions. The Japanese sailor averaged 11 knots for the 14,000 mile trip from Australia.

They have the ability to stay in contact all the time, but in reality they report their position approx every 4-6 hours. I assumed that was an automatic transmission but wasn't sure. They carry an antenna that'll give them the ability to send video back to wherever they terminate, with bandwidth up to broadband speeds you get from your cable modem at home. They also carry an iridium phone, giving them the ability to dial any number in the world, at any time, just like you use your cell phone.

Below decks is nothing short of amazing. After stepping inside (you have to crouch to get inside), you're in a small room that has a chart table on the centerline, with all of the instruments just ahead of you. There was a VERY tiny video camera pointing down, clearly giving a view of the captain. There was another very small video camera just above the doorway, pointing to the instrument panel. Is it possible that was to allow a support team to locate the boat if the capt was washed overboard? There's no toilet onboard. None. You do the math.

The engine is located directly on top of what we'd consider the keel. Don’t expect nice cushions for the capt to set on while plotting the course .... There were none onboard. NOPLACE - and that includes the bunk.

Speaking of a bunk - the only thing onboard was a pipe berth on the port side, (same room) with a canvas "bed".

The boat is split into essentially 5 "compartments", but from what I could see, only two of them are "used". The "compartments" appeared to be structural bulkheads, with nothing in any of them except the 2nd from the back (the main cabin) and the second from the front - the sail locker.

From the back ......

There's a pretty good sized compartment that only contained cabling for the electrical components. Forward of that was the "main cabin", forward of that was a compartment that seemed about 6 feet wide, running the width of the hull. It looked like it was the place to store spare stuff - but it was pretty empty. Forward of that was the sail locker - pretty good sized - and forward of that was the bow compartment - which I assumed was totally empty.

The support teams follow the boats from port to port - which adds to the cost of the "sport". I was told an owner can expect to spend about 1.5 million for the trip around the world. Assuming few damages, the majority of the cost is the staff and the travel to and from the support base. Fortunately there were no damages to the boats arriving here in Norfolk, but they still go through the boats with a fine tooth comb because as they put it - overlooking a single item could result in a lost mast in the final days of the event.

Where next ..... Following the restart of the race, they're expecting it to take 12 days to make it on the last leg back to Spain.

I asked what route they would take and was told it's a mix of a rhumb line and a great circle route. I asked how far north they'll go, and was told they'll go roughly to 45 North, then go east from there, then follow the remainder of a great circle route once they get to the eastern side of the Atlantic. That's not as far north as I would have expected ..... As points of reference, Albany NY is at 42 degrees, Bangor Maine is 44 degrees, and Bismarck ND is 46 Degrees. Those latitudes are from

For those of you who've not had the opportunity to see these guys, you need to spend some time out of you day to be here for the landing of the next guy. It's VERY VERY impressive. The only thing I can think of that compares to is watching a ship come home from a deployment, to the pier full of the waiting families. This is truly a spectacular sport and you'll probably never be able to witness something like this again. It's something you don’t want to miss.

OK...... The warm weather is calling - so it's time to either walk the docks of waterside and get something to eat at Joe's Crab Shack, or cast off lines and enjoy a day on the water........ Such decisions to make.
Uni stepping on deck to the cheers of the crowd, welcoming him to Norfolk. He's the one in the watch-cap, being interviewd by the news media on the left.
Uni arriving at Waterside in Norfolk - wearing the wool cap, being interviewed by the news media
Uni meeting other members of his support team and the fans who'd shown up to watch his arrival.
Uni (with the beard), greeting others who'd shown up to watch his arrival. This was a VERY impressive event, with a lot of emotion as he walked ashore for the first time since leaving australia a little over 2 months ago. 14,000 miles alone.
More people welcoming Uni to Norfolk. There were a lot of very happy people present, including his girlfriend and his mother - both from Spain.
Uni's boat - a boat designed to run in the "open 60" class.
A shot of the boat that arrived first into the Norfolk port call. This sailor was something like 2300 miles ahead of this closest competitor.
A view from immediatly inside the main cabin, looking at the chart table / navigation instruments. The seat is actually the cover for the engine. There are no living accomodations in the hull. Note the video camera in the upper right of the nav station.
A view of the port side of the main cabin. You're looking at the pipe berth - note there are no cushions anywhere in the boat.
A view from the port side of the main cabin, looking forward into the sail locker. There are no watertight bulkheads, no head, nothing that will add weight to the boat. Everything has a purpose, and no attention given to living accomodations.
A view from the port side of the main cabin, showing the engine and how it's connected to the shaft. The chart table is immediately above the engine - with no sound isloations - it's just as you see it - no frills - just function.

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