Learning points from the Palermo Monte-Carlo race

With a 4th place on the water, behind bigger boats and teams with more practice and experience on their boats, the Palermo Monte-Carlo race was a big success for Team Maverick. But there was also a lot of stuff that went wrong during the race. Continuous improvement is a big part of the team culture, so it’s important that we learn from the things that go wrong. And we want to share that learning with all of you.

Problem #1: Lost the staysail halyard out of the mast

The swivel for the staysail halyard is held on to that halyard by a stopper knot. Unlike the swivels for the other furling sails there is no slot inside this swivel for a dogbone, which would be a more reliable stopper.

When we went to change from the J2 to the staysail in strong winds on the approach to Sardinia, this stopper knot came undone which meant the staysail went for a swim and the halyard plummeted into the mast. Mousing a halyard through the mast in these conditions is not possible, so flying our staysail was no longer an option. Sadly we have had this problem before and thought we had resolved it by using a different stopper knot.

Learning point: Improve the reliability of the stopper knot. Solution pending at time of writing.

Problem #2: Jib tack line snapped

Approaching the mandatory course gate off Porto Cervo in the dark and 30 knots of wind, the jib tack line snapped. Maverick’s jib tack line runs forward from the cockpit inside the boat and comes out of a small cavity in the deck all the way forward on the bow. The cavity is tiny, which makes it incredibly difficult to re-mouse a new tack line around the stainless rod that directs the line up to the sail. With all this happening at night and on the bounciest and wettest end of the boat, it took over 20 minutes of fiddling before a new tack line was ready to go.

Learning point: Have ready-to-go backups for all systems and controls that are hard or impossible to access, especially in the conditions in which those systems and controls are likely to fail.

Problem #3: Failure of hydraulic controls

The keel evidently had such a good time on full cant to starboard that, after foiling past Bonifacio at 20kts+ and straight into a massive wind hole in the lee of Corsica, it decided it wanted to stay there. As the hydraulic vang and traveller were still working, the fault seemed to lie in the connection between the control buttons and the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller: the brain that receives all hydraulic commands and sends them on to the hydraulic system). The frustrating thing here was that the hydraulic system itself was still working, we just had no way of telling it what to do.

An attempt to resolve the keel control issue accidentally resulted in a very mysterious but very complete disablement of the entire PLC, which meant that there was now no way of telling any of the hydraulics what to do. The rest of the race was sailed without the use of our hydraulic vang and traveller.

Learning point: There should be a ready-to-go backup method of commanding the hydraulics that bypasses the PLC.

Problem #4: Lack of testing and knowledge of manual keel controls

With no electronic control of the keel, we resorted to the often-discussed-but-never-really-tested manual keel controls. A set of manual hydraulic controls for the keel is obviously a great plan, but its usefulness is vastly reduced when most of the crew has never used it before. It didn’t take very long to educate people, but in an emergency situation it could have been a more serious problem.

Learning point: Everyone on board must have sufficient knowledge of the hydraulic valves and switches to be able to work at least the manual keel hydraulics.

Problem #5: Alternator no longer charging batteries

Around the same time that the hydraulic controls failed, we discovered that the alternator on the engine wouldn’t charge our batteries anymore. Perhaps it decided that with all our hydraulics down we didn’t need power either.

Learning point: Have another way of charging the batteries.

In this case we were one step ahead of the game! We carry a hydrogenerator that deploys off the back of the boat, makes us power-neutral at around 7 knots of boat speed, and charges our batteries at anything above that.

Problem #6: Damage to hydrogenerator

We felt very smug about our hydrogenerator until the sea state built enough that the entire device bounced out of its bracket on the transom and was dragged behind the boat on its safety line. The good news was that it was quickly noticed and recovered back on board. The bad news was that one of the blades had snapped off and we didn’t have any spares on board. We tried using it with only two blades, but it wasn’t generating a lot of power and the imbalance was causing so much vibration and drag we had to pull it up.

Learning point: Make sure the hydrogenerator can be locked into its bracket. And don’t leave the spare blades on a shelf in the container.

Although we always race to win, this program and especially its early stages are all about learning as much as possible. All of these problems are frustrating but they do translate into the quickest way to learn your yacht. At some stage the gloves need to come off and you need to stress test not only the systems, but also the people using them. The Mediterranean provides a great safe arena for this. Preparation is about preventing problems but also being ready for the inevitable one you did not anticipate.

We are looking forward to one more race in this arena in October, the Rolex Middle Sea Race, before we set off on the RORC Transatlantic Race in November.

Stay tuned as we keep sharing our progress with you.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”

Kees Postma, Team Maverick