Thriving when things go wrong


April 23, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

Eleanor Mordaunt, the logistics manager for the Volvo Ocean Race yacht Movistar, doesn't exactly like it when things go wrong.

But if everything always went smoothly, she wouldn't enjoy her job.

"I think I like to be improvising ... when you get that panicked phone call from the boat," she said.

Mordaunt, 35, is one of the few women in a senior position on a Volvo Ocean Race team. She is part of the traveling shore team that flies around the world while the boats are racing and prepares for their arrival.

Her job includes everything from finding a laundry facility for the sailors' clothes, to coordinating two matching sets of containers that hold traveling sail lofts and office and gym equipment, to finding housing for the sailors, the shore crew and their families.

But, the unofficial job is to keep a cool head when rigging breaks and to find ports of call when the schedule becomes shredded.

This stopover in Baltimore has been easy. When Movistar was pulled out of the water at Port Covington, there was no major damage - and no surprises. So Mordaunt was filing her expenses from the last stop in Rio de Janeiro.

In the last Volvo race 2001-2002, the native of Lymington, England, sailed three legs on the women's boat Amber Sports Too. She was on the leg from Annapolis to La Rochelle, France, when the boat's mast snapped - leading to the boat resigning from the race.

"You don't have the sort of people on the boat that would panic," she said. "You are just methodical about sorting things out."

After competing, Mordaunt said, she was ready to "get out of the boat and into an office and use my head a bit, too." Her previous Volvo experience makes her good at this job; she knows what the sailors need and expect, and how to deal with the unexpected.

"Our team, we've had a lot of unscheduled pit stops," she said.

Eighteen hours after the start of the race in Spain last November, Mordaunt got a phone call from Movistar. "They said they had major systems failure and they were coming into port," she said. A part of the hull that holds the keel system had failed. She had to ship the boat to Cape Town. "I love that stuff," she said.

The boat made another unscheduled pit stop in Albany, Australia, to tackle a problem with the hydraulic keel system. "You have to suddenly pull a lot of favors from people who don't know you," she said. In tiny Albany, Mordaunt set out to find parts for the high-tech boat.

Most dramatically, the boat began to sink 250 miles off Cape Horn. Mordaunt was in New Zealand when she got that call. This time the keel doors had broken off. She booked a plane and got to Ushuaia, Argentina, an hour before the boat limped in.

While maintaining contact the the crew, she she found an Argentine team of boat builders to work with her shore crew and located epoxy and foam so the yacht could be stitched together.

So, once Movistar had an essentially clean bill of health this time, she said, "Oh my God, it was nice."

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