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Aboard Ericsson

Volvo Ocean Race • Ericsson Racing Team

Neal McDonald : "To evolve, we need to push the limits"

Two weeks after retiring from leg two the team is bringing solutions for a come-back

vendredi 20 janvier 2006Redaction SSS [Source RP]

Ericsson retired from leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race on 5 January due to a failure in the keel movement system. Just two days into the leg, one of the rods broke close to the clevis on one of the two hydraulic cylinders that control the canting of the keel. The sailing crew and shore team are now in Melbourne, waiting for their boat to arrive by container ship and preparing for a new start.

Aboard Ericsson
Richard Mason inspecting the ram

"I can see the boys are all itching to get back out on the water", comments Neal McDonald. "The whole team is feeling very determined and keen to get back up amongst the leaders. Once the teams get to Melbourne, only 31.5 points will have been awarded out of 108.5 points for the entire event, so the race is still very open."

Since the failure, many questions have been daunting the team. What happened ? Why did we have a second problem with the canting keel system in leg two ? What are the reasons for the failure and how can we avoid this from happening again ? Here are the first answers.

Following the ram failure, the Ericsson Racing Team set up a special Ram Project, headed by Technical Director, Magnus Olsson (SWE). The project group consists of a team of experts including the suppliers of the systems, structural engineers, Anders Carlberg from Semcon (SWE), hydraulics expert Greg Waters (AUS), the Farr Design Office and other specialists.

"We are all working together to achieve the same goal", comments Ericsson skipper Neal McDonald (GBR). "Everybody has their own area of expertise, bringing valuable advice and enabling us to explore the different options and move closer to a solution. This is why we all love ocean racing even when it isn’t a smooth ride. To evolve, we need to push the limits and this is what we do."

After the failure in South Africa, both the broken and the intact hydraulic rams were sent to Ericsson’s supplier, Marine Marine Marine nationale Hydraulics, where various tests have been carried out in order to understand the causes of the fracture.

As Magnus Olsson (SWE), Technical Director for the Ericsson Racing Team explains : "We have performed several types of researches, and used an electronic microscope to scan the broken rod."

"It will take a long time to understand the exact reasons for the failure," continues Olsson. "Today, we have a better comprehension of the problem but there are still unknowns. We are sailing a new class of boats and the Volvo Open 70s are very high tech. In a complex mechanism like the keel movement system, it is not possible to single out one component when you have a failure. It is rather a chain of events or the interaction between components that leads to a failure. It’s hard to imagine the loads on a boat like this when it slams into 15-foot waves."

A number of actions have been taken in order to increase Ericsson’s reliability and level of performance. The design of the clevis (the piece that connects the ram to the keel head) has been modified and newly designed rods will be fitted. Meanwhile the team is looking at a number of other areas where the system can be improved for enhanced performance and reliability.

"In addition we have to check out other aspects of the design, as simply modifying the broken components does not protect us entirely from further failures elsewhere", declares Neal McDonald. "In parallel, a lot of work is being done by our design team, engineers and hydraulic experts in order to make sure that we get the best performance while maintaining reliability in all parts of the boat - a tricky job for any designer or team who wants to be successful race."

The Ericsson boat is due to arrive in Melbourne onboard the Wallenius Wilhelmsen container ship "Tagus", at midnight on 26 January, after which the boat will be hauled out for a few days. The new components will be installed and the team will return to the water, to test the new systems and train for the in-port race.

The Ericsson Racing Team is keen to share the failure history which they have encountered, in an effort to help the whole fleet understand the nature of these problems and have asked the race organizers to involve the other syndicates.

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Crews’ quotes

- Guillermo Altadill (ESP) : "These are first generation boats and we knew that the canting keel systems would be the "Achilles heal" of the VO 70. Canting keels have been around for a while, but never before have boats with canting keels been pushed so hard.

"We had the same problems with the VO 60s when they were new. They were first generation boats and everyone had problems - breaking rudders, delaminating, dismasting. It’s always a steep learning curve sailing around the world with a new class of boat, so you have to expect problems and breakages and deal with them in a positive way.

"Four years ago, when Neal, Richard and I competed on Assa Abloy, we were in a worse situation as we were trailing the leader by more points and there were no in-port races or scoring gates in which to catch up. But we won leg three from Australia to New Zealand and went onto finish second overall at the end of the race."

- Damian Foxall (IRL) : "It’s frustrating to be out of this leg but all part of the game. There’s a long way to go and everyone will have their turn. We were in second place and doing well when we broke our ram, so it’s good to see that if we’d been sailing we would have been up there. The other boats better enjoy it whilst the going’s good because we are coming back !

"There is certainly a lot of progress to be made and we are putting in the groundwork for future races. This is what it’s all about - learning for the future so that new classes can evolve."

- Tom Braidwood (AUS) : "It’s disappointing because we had high expectations on the last leg. We really felt we had some good speed when we were racing against the other boats, even with ABN. However, seeing movistar, Pirates and Brasil 1 run into trouble on this leg makes me feel even more comfortable with the decision we made.

"It’s great to be back on home turf and I am really looking forward to the in-port race. With a number of Aussies and Kiwis in the Ericsson team, we should have lots of support from friends and family. I hope we get a steady breeze for the in-port race, to see how we all perform in a normal days racing. I don’t think our current position in the race reflects our potential."

- Magnus Woxén (SWE) : "The team moral amongst the Ericsson Racing Team is good as we all know that we made the right decision and now potentially we will have a better boat and be better prepared for the next leg. We are well rested now and excited to get out sailing again. So although it’s not good to be out of a leg, you have to look on the positive side and we are all determined to be in great shape for the in-port race and the restart."

- Richard Mason (NZL) : "We have made a lot of progress since starting up the Ram Project in Cape Town. I have been representing the crew (together with Neal), as I know the most about the hydraulics system and how it works. The broken hydraulic ram has been sent away for analysis and we now have a better understanding of how and why it broke, enabling us to make an informed decision on the best course of action."

- Jason Carrington (GBR) at a sailors and shore team meeting : "Now is the time when it’s important to be a team. We’ve got to work together to make sure the boat is in the best possible shape for the next leg. Look at Brasil 1 - it’s not just the keel movement system we need to focus on, it’s every area of the boat. We can’t leave any stone unturned and we must use our time now efficiently and effectively to make sure we are better than everyone else.

"I remember when we arrived into Sydney on Assa Abloy, we were in an even worse position and we hadn’t even broken anything - we’d just sailed badly ! But then we went on to win the third leg and arrived into New Zealand feeling like we were going to win the race. It is how you bounce back when you get knocked down that matters and we’ve got to keep our heads up, stick together as a team and go back out there fighting."

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