"Telefónica" boasts a brand new mast, one that will take the team 39,000 miles across the globe on what will be the eleventh edition of the competition, the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.
Following many arduous months of work on the performance, maintenance and improvements to the mast, "Telefónica” has been finally out sailing with her new mast. The mast has undergone many changes using all of the data recorded over the past few months of training, data that has been used to reach many decisions in terms of improvements.
The importance of having a good mast was summed up perfectly during a conversation back at the Team Telefónica base at Lanzarote: "A mast won't win you a race but it could lose you one."
The "keepers" of the mast
The Volvo Open 70s are finely tuned racing machines and many hours of research and development go into getting the best performance as well as reliability out of them. Just as with a Formula 1 car, every little part that makes up the boat requires special attention and is vital to the boat working well as a whole.
In the case of the mast it is the rigging department that is responsible for making sure it is in ship-shape. On Team Telefónica this is headed up by Spaniards Fernando Sales and Gabriel de Llano.
Both are experts in their field thanks to many years working professionally in the sport of sailing. They were part of Spain's Desafío Español in the 2007 America's Cup not only sailing but also in charge of the mast in the case of Sales and of the winches and rigging in Gabri del Llano's case. Their CVs got another boost from their involvement in Iker Martínez and Xabi Fernández's successful Barcelona World Race 2010-2011 project where de Llano was responsible for the winches, lines, hydraulics, mechanics and energy on the IMOCA Open 60 "MAPFRE", whilst Sales was in charge of safety, mast and rigging, ballast tanks and sails for the runner-up in the non-stop, double-handed race around the world.
"Harry" and "Gabri", as they are known by their friends, are in direct contact with and work alongside Neal McDonald, Watch Captain on "Telefónica", whose responsibility on shore is the Spanish boat's mast and rigging: "Anything to do with the mast is reported to Neal first, who then manages that information whilst keeping Horacio (Carabelli, Technical Director) informed throughout," explains Fernando Sales.
"Neal is someone with a lot of experience and he'll be the one making decisions about the mast on board," he adds. "He's been very involved in the design of the mast and is often in contact with Stevo, the designer. He is like the link between him and us."
Mast maintenance, mounting and dismounting the mast, measurement control and alignment are all some of the main functions of this department.
Putting up the mast
"Harry" and Gabri have been working particularly hard over the past week on the preparation of the new "Telefónica" mast: 31.6 metres of high modulus carbon to support over 400 kgs of sails.
"The first thing to do when a new mast comes in is to check that all of the 'holes' are in the right place" explains Gabri de Llano. "As well as to see if all of the lines which go through fit and work and that the radar parts work with our system, that the mast fits in the fitting made for it, as well as checking all of the screw and that all of the pulleys work and that there are no flaws at all on the mast..."
With all of that checked the phase of setting up the rigging begins, which is the fundamental part of the mast, because that's what's going to support it.
The Volvo Open 70 class rules where masts are concerned must also not be forgotten in this whole process. Some worthy of mention are the weight rule: minimum of 625 kg including all of the items adjoined to the mast such as backstays, spreaders, lights, antennae, radar, instrument sensors and read-outs, etc. There is also a centre of gravity that must not be at less than 12 metres from the Mast Datum (MD) for each boat.
"Once everything is set up it's important to check the weight," the head of the rigging department, Fernando Sales reminds us. "The class rules specify a minimum weight as well as an obligatory centre of gravity. The mast mustn't be heavier above or below that point, it's where the mast must be balanced."
Stepping the mast
The process of stepping the mast is by no means straightforward and involves a lot of time and prior preparation on board "Telefónica". The boat must be prepared for the new mast, which means giving the pins a good clean, the base a good going over and checking that everything is fixed on well, as the mast will be inserted into a hole on deck and will be a snug fit.
"Stepping" the mast, as it's known in sailing slang, requires a crane with a range of at least 40 metres in height, although the one used to step the new mast reached a range of 68 metres. "If everything is ready and it is just a matter of putting it up, it might be ready in just half a day," said Gabri. With the mast stepped, a new phase in the process begins: mounting the boom and the onboard systems, as well as the hydraulics.
More than holding the sails up
It may seem that the mast is there just to hold up the sails, but that is simply not the case. Of course, that is the mast's main role however, inside there are a multitude of cables running from top to bottom which handle all of the mast's electronic functions: VHF aerial, radar, warning lights, anemometer...
There are lots of cables inside. As Fernando Sales points out, that's where the riggers hand over to the electronics department, with Matt Davis at the helm: "We let them have free reign. It's a bit like builders leaving the electricians to get on with installing the electrics once a house is built."
What happens now with the old mast?
The old mast, with which the Spanish team have sailed and worked on since the start of the year will now become what is known as the back-up mast, or a replacement mast.
It must stay in perfect sailing condition, because if there is a problem with the current mast, the new one would have to be used. "It needs to be in perfect condition. It will be taken apart, but prepared ready for transport, should it become necessary," explains Fernando Sales.
Without delving too deeply into team tactics, we know for now that "it will be staying with us for the moment, but will then be transported to an important place from where it can be transported to any part of the world."
But knowing where in the world it may be is all part of the game...
SOME MAST FACTS
Height: 31.6 m. The equivalent of a 12-storey building.
Minimum weight: 625 kg.
Centre of gravity: a minimum of 12 m above the Mast Datum (MD)
Material: High modulus carbon fibre.
Designer: Stevo Wilson.
Builder: Southern Spars.
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