[Source: B&G] First up: congratulations to Pascal Bidegorry of Dongfeng Race Team who wins the B&G Volvo Ocean Race Navigator’s Prize for Leg 1. He was voted the top performing navigator of the first leg by the best possible judging panel – his peer group, the navigators themselves. And, of course, we should also give a nod to Ian Walker and his team aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for winning both the first leg, and the Cape Town In-Port race. Nice work, boys.
The Race Track
No time for Pascal, Ian or anyone else to rest on their laurels though as Leg 2 gets underway on Wednesday afternoon. This is a tough one, it’s both long and strategically tricky, crossing from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, from the Southern Hemisphere to the North. And it will be different to any previous race. This route to Abu Dhabi was only introduced in 2011-12, and on that occasion the boats were shipped part of the way – this time they will race every mile.
November 18, 2014. Night falls in the Cape Town Race Village the night before the start of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. Charlie Shoemaker/Volvo Ocean Race
The course heads south out of Cape Town to go around the Cape of Good Hope, before turning to head north-east into the Indian Ocean. There are two exclusion zones on this leg, and the first one is almost immediately relevant. It is defined by a great circle line between Maputo on the east coast of South Africa, then Madagascar, Mauritius and a point at the eastern edge of Oman. The idea of this zone is to keep boats out of the pirate territory that lies off the coast of East Africa and to the south of the Arabian Peninsula.
So once around the Cape the fleet must head north-east rather than north, to stay out of the East Africa exclusion zone. Only when they have cleared it, can they turn due north for the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and so to the finish in Abu Dhabi. The second exclusion zone will only be relevant on the run in to the line – an exclusion zone to keep them out of Iranian waters. No prizes for guessing why.
The opening section to the Cape of Good Hope is often upwind, and it doesn’t look like it will be any different this time. The start is at 16:00 (all times are UTC) and the forecast has a strong south-southeasterly blowing, thanks to the interaction of a high pressure to the west of Cape Town, and a low pressure to the south. If there are any cobwebs – which I doubt after such a short stop-over – then they will get blown away pretty quickly as the boats indulge in a tack-fest to the southern tip of Africa.
November 16, 2014. Andrea Petersen Volunteer in Cape Town for the Volvo Ocean Race, had an amazing sailing experience onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing invited by her idol Ian Walker. Charlie Shoemaker/Volvo Ocean Race
The Cape of Counter-Intuitive Routing
Back in the day, when Leg 2 was a rip-roaring, padlock-the-halyards-to-the-cleats, last-one-to-Freo’s-a-softie sort of affair, there was only one way to go after the Cape of Good Hope – south. Go south, wait till it’s blowing dogs off chains and then turn left. This is exactly the same Southern Ocean strategy that we talked about in our Preview of Leg 1 dealing with the St Helena High.
When the race course was changed to include Asia and Leg 2 became a race to the north, rather than east, the opening section of the leg appeared to be a very different strategic problem once the boats had cleared the Cape of Good Hope. After all, you don’t want to go east now, but north-east – so surely, sailing south from Africa in search of breeze is madness?
The Whole Sorry Mess…
The reason this strategy might actually make sense is a little thing called the Agulhas Current. This starts at somewhere around 27degS and flows down the east coast of Africa, following the continental shelf, until it spills out into the south-east Atlantic. And there, this warm water current meets the cold water and the east-bound storm systems of the Southern Ocean. Most notoriously, they come together off Cape Agulhas, which overlooks the Agulhas Bank, the final projection of shallow continental shelf into deep water.
This combination of inbound storm systems and outbound current, of warm water and cold water, of big waves and shallow ground, creates one of the nastiest pieces of ocean on the planet. And if you want to go from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi on the direct route, you’ve got to go across the Agulhas Bank, and battle the current north. Whereas dipping south from the Cape of Good Hope, down into the Southern Ocean and then going east before you turn north, means dodging the whole sorry mess.
So, the strategy from the Cape is likely to be the same as it always was – head south into the Southern Ocean and try to find an east-bound low pressure system that you can hook a ride on. The forecast looks good for this strategy at the moment, with a low pressure system ready and waiting close to the Cape on Thursday – it could make for a relatively straight-forward opening to the leg. It’s the next bit that might be tricky…
November 17,2014. In the Boatyard; Dongfeng Race Team preparing for Leg 2. Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race
Exit? What Exit?
The trick with this strategy is finding the exit – let’s say you get a ride on a low pressure system, smoke east in a blaze of spume and glory for a few hundred miles…. then what? The problem now is finding the off-ramp – transiting from the westerly storm track and dodging around the sub-tropical high that dominates the Indian Ocean to get into the trade winds.
This should sound familiar – and yes, Leg 2 is effectively the second part of Leg 1, but in reverse. The reason is that the earth’s climate features distinct bands, lying horizontally and looping the globe, running out from the Equator to the Poles in a mirror image (there is a great diagram half-way down this article). As we’ve already seen, when racing from north to south, the fleet are constantly crossing from one band of climate to another, and in this respect, Leg 2 will be no different to Leg 1 – the trick is finding the right entry and exit points for each transition.
Dodging the High. Again.
At this time of year, the Indian Ocean’s equivalent to the St Helena High should be situated a long way east, but nevertheless, if the fleet go too far that way, they will run smack into it. And that will be slow – there’s no wind in the centre of a high pressure system. So this part of the leg will be all about a smooth transition from the ride on the low pressure system into the south-east trade winds, by skirting around the western side of the High.
The band of north to north-easterly winds around the western edge of the high pressure system is usually sitting around the latitude of Madagascar, and the fleet will look to use these to power into the trade wind zone. By the time they get north of Mauritius, they should find themselves in the trade winds, blowing at a decent strength.
In theory, the next thousand miles or so, going north in the trades, will be the most straight-forward part of the leg. The random factor here is that we are entering the cyclone season for the South Indian Ocean. These storms spin-up on the edge of the Doldrums and travel south – they destroy the trade winds, and can leave the navigators with a tricky choice between too much wind and not enough. Then it will be into the Doldrums, and predominantly light air all the way north to… the finish?
Unlike the Atlantic, where we saw the well established route through the Doldrums (at 30degW) come good once again for Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, there is no such history for this part of the world. Since the last sailboats to regularly go this way (with an eye on the clock) were square riggers, there is no encyclopaedia of racing knowledge to fall back on when the weather forecasts are all different and about as useful as an ashtray on a motor bike. So, no more homespun, common-sense rules of thumb from me for a while, either.
If that wasn’t bad enough (the weather, not the lack of homespun homilies) we should remember that it won’t just be light air in the Doldrums – there will be clouds and thunderstorms, and all the usual risks of getting caught out with lots of sail area up in a 40 knot squall. The Indian Ocean is the world’s warmest, and that means plenty of energy to drive the thunderstorms.
November 17,2014. In the Boatyard; Team Vestas Wind preparing for Leg 2. Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race
Once the fleet clear the Doldrums, they will be heading upwind into the Arabian Sea in the north-easterly trade winds – or in this case, monsoon winds, as we are in monsoon season. This breeze ‘should’ just about take them all the way to the home straight, into the Gulf of Oman. Expect the monsoon winds to weaken as they go north though, and we will probably see a light area transition zone as we close on the Gulf.
Once they get into the Gulf, race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says that the predominant local wind blows from the northwest and is called Shamal. And that means a long upwind section into the Strait of Hormuz, before a left turn and a final reaching leg to Abu Dhabi.
And there you have it – lots of contrast and a wide range of conditions face the crews over the next 3-4 weeks. Just like Leg 1, it’s going to need stamina, patience, and will suit the all-rounders. I’ll be back here next Tuesday to see how the first week went.