As opposed to what you can imagine, the skipper spend relatively little time at the helm.
Steer effectively is a task extremely arduous and difficult, after a few hours it becomes difficult to maintain a high concentration and the autopilot is more efficient. Consider also that Imoca 60 yachts are very fast boat and the cockpit is often flooded.
The skipper stays at helm in all situations when it is important to “squeeze the most”: low wind conditions, especially tight corners with the spinnaker, or when you are close to your opponents and the priority is to impose a supremacy, and so on…
Sailing the ocean, particularly in solo, is a chess game where the player and skipper are the same piece, while the ocean becomes like an immense chessboard. The decisions taken today will materialize days after in a disadvantage or advantage. In this context, it is better to be in a condition of clearness of mind, to make the right decisions, and be in good shape to implement them consistently for 100 days is more important than individual exploits.
To maintain consistency and clarity, throughout the competition, the activities during the days must be extremely rhythmic and ritualized.
First of all, you never change the time on board according to the reference time zone; generally it is used for the whole race the UTC time (as you may have heard in the film “Zulu Time”) according to the Greenwich Time. While sailing in an East-West or West-East direction, time zones change with extreme speed, in practice you lose the relationship between sunrise and as we are used to know in teh land.
Much time of the day is spent in front of the laptop and electronics tools to analyze weather information, consider the strategy of competitors and above all develop your own.
An long-awaited moment is to receive the positions of the opponents, and in the Vendée Globe the skippers have agreed to receive them 5 times a day, I think a good compromise rather than receive them continuously and stress yourself. Imagine playing a game of football and know the result update every 20 minutes: if you have gained over your opponents is a holiday, if you lost its difficult not to be discouraged. We said before that the choices, the “moves” in the chessboard concerning our strategy are reflected in days, and if it is easy to continue to believe in your choices when you are ahead, this is a much harder task to do this when you are accumulating disadvantage.
The most talented skippers are able to maintain this condition of clearness of mind up to the end, do not fall in arrogance and keep the humility to correct possible errors.
Obviously they are not playing at Virtual Regatta, It’s not just pushing a few buttons in the heat of your room to implement a strategy: there are tons of sails to move, hoist, and constantly adjust. The sails surface of an Imoca 60 is about 600 square meters of sail… and you have to do all this activities alone, often in difficult conditions, 24 hours a day for months.
In the next post we will see how the skippers sleep, eat, and something about the other “rites” of the day.
Thank you all, Sergio Frattaruolo