Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sea Gem vs. Puma

In my last post, I explained that Sea Gem is pretty far from a racing boat, and I know that for a fact, as I was recently on the ultimate racing boat. 

The Volvo Ocean Race, an around-the-world sailing race, stopped in Miami for a two-week event.  Through work, I was a lucky recipient of a ticket to "crew" one of the boats during a practice race off the coast of Miami.  Here is a photo of the boat (Puma) on its way through the cut to the Atlantic.  (If you look closely, you may be able to see me in the stern--I am wearing a light blue shirt):

The Volvo Ocean Race boats are 70-foot racing boats built entirely with modern technology that did not even exist in 1986, when Sea Gem was built.  They have canting keels, operated by massive hydraulic rams, to maximize righting force (to keep the boat from leaning over).  They are made almost entirely of carbon fiber.  They have several high-tech sails that are changed (manually, by a crew of ten men) to maximize performance on any given point of sail.  They have lifting centerboards.  To save weight, they use special no-stretch ropes instead of metal fittings.

With all of this technology at work, the performance is staggering.  The wind was very light while we were sailing, mostly between 6 and 8 knots.  Even with a spinnaker, Sea Gem would be lucky to muster 3, maybe 4, knots in that wind.  But Puma sails faster than wind speed.  In 6 knots of wind, we did 8 knots.  In 8 knots of wind, we did 11 knots.  And, apparently, the Volvo Ocean Race boats will hit 40 knots--faster than most power boats--in the right conditions.

So, am I jealous?  Not at all.  To achieve that performance, comfort is not only compromised, it is banished altogether.  Living conditions aboard Puma were awful.  It was hot and humid, dark, cramped, and extremely noisy.  Because the boats are carbon fiber and are not insulated, every noise is amplified into the interior.  There is one bathroom for ten men, who sleep nearly stacked on top of each other in tiny, mesh cots.  It is truly miserable.  That discomfort is necessary to achieve maximum performance, but for a liveaboard like Sea Gem, I will gladly sacrifice performance to be comfortable.

Although Puma and Sea Gem are polar opposites, I was pleased to see that they share one piece of equipment in common: the mighty Hella fan.  Whether sailing at 3 knots or 40, those things just plain work.

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