ireland irish sailing sport

Keeled Over

The keepers of sailing’s worst-kept secret have finally put their hands up and come clean. As the Volvo Ocean Race prepares to set out from Boston today, en route to Galway and the first every Irish stopover, the Irish team have admitted that they have little hope of keeping up with the pack.

The dogs in the street knew, at this stage, that the Green Dragon’s keel was light. After all, it was pretty hard to hide during the straight-line drag race from Rio de Janeiro to Boston. The Dragons admitted that after the first night, they didn’t even see another competitor, and their blog posts during the leg took on the tone of an apologetic obituary. Of course, that was before the blog posts disappeared completely on April 27, with a final post entitled ‘We’ll be back‘, presumably quoting the captain of the Marie Celeste. Interestingly, the blog posts ceased when, reportedly, the Green Dragon team let go the majority of their non-essential team staff, i.e. those not involved directly in keeping the boat afloat.

The Dragon then came into Boston last. They came last in the two in-port races in Boston, and facing a powerful blast reach across the North Atlantic and another last place finish, they have pulled a stunt that no-one saw coming to deflect attention – allowing online gamers choose their route through the next leg via an online interactive poll. This does a couple of things for the Dragons.

Firstly, it allows the 200,000 gamers in the virtual VOR (maybe 50,000 of whom are active) have an active input to a team’s racing tactics – something that has never been done before.

Secondly, it goes some way to save face for the homecoming, and to turn negative attention, generated by their lack of speed, into positive attention, centred around this new innovation.

Thirdly, it gives them someone to blame if this leg goes tits up. ‘It was the gamers advice. They told us to zig when we should have zagged’.

All of which motivations, of course, will be refuted if anyone asks.

What is irrefutable, however, is that the Green Dragon team are frustrated. The podcast below is but a snippet of that frustration, taken from last night’s RTE interview with Tom MacSweeney on Seascapes. In the mp3 below Justin and Damian admit that they knew from the start that their keel was almost a tonne light. The lead bulb on the end of the keel, visible in the pic above, is where the majority of the weight is located for maximum leverage, and the Green Dragon’s is 500 kilos light. The keel keeps the boat upright, and helps transfer maximum power from the sails into forward motion. If your keel is 900 kilos lighter than those on the other boats, your boat is less upright, and goes much slower.  They’ve been doing that for more than 30,000 miles now, and the strain is showing, particularly as on the last leg, the second-hand Delta Lloyd snatched third at the mid-point scoring gate and beat the Dragons home.

The whole thing is available online here, and it’s worth a listen, because the lads expound on the full frustration and how hard they have being pushing, with little to show for it of late. Still, the online interaction is a novel tack to take, if you’ll excuse the pun, and worth watching to see what the results are. If the gamers take the lead and the Dragon romps home, there’ll be a whole new set of questions to be asked in Galway…


Nota Bene: This is a cross-post with the blog which is here.

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