[Source: B&G] Leg 2 is finished, but the overall race has never looked more open. After almost 12,000 miles of ocean racing, we have a three-way tie for the overall lead. Team Brunel and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are at the top of the leaderboard with a first and a third each. This just outdoes Dongfeng Race Team’s two second places, thanks to a tie-breaker that counts the number of leg victories.
Never mind the spectacularly tight leaderboard, it was also a quite spectacular finish – with Dongfeng Race Team overtaking Team Brunel at the final headland, only to get the lead back a couple of hours from the finish. After fighting their way back into contention, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had to console themselves with a third place.
Closing on the Gulf
Pic1. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
We left the fleet closing on the Gulf of Oman (Pic 1), with Team Brunel enjoying an 11 mile advantage over Dongfeng Race Team, who in turn had a 30 mile lead over Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Just under 300 miles behind this group Team Alvimedica were out of contention for the podium, but had their own battle to fend off a charging MAPFRE. The Spanish were in search of redemption after that disastrous swing to the east ahead of the Doldrums that we reviewed in last week’s blog.
The forecast anticipated that the wind would lighten, and then shift into the north-west, forcing the leaders into a tricky light air beat up the Gulf of Oman to the Strait of Hormuz. Relief would eventually arrive in the shape of a freshening northerly that would veer to the north-east.
Climb Aboard the Rollercoaster
Pic2. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
We can see how this situation has started to develop in Pic 2, from 00:30 on the 11th December (all times UTC). The three leaders have all hit the big wind shift to the north-west off the coast of Oman and tacked to port. The lighter conditions have also compressed the fleet, with the mileage gaps halving – although as they are now all beating upwind in light air, those distances would still represent a significant amount of time.
Pic3. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
If we move on 12 hours to Pic 3 at 13:00 on the 11th, we can see that the locals, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have gone back into the coast, and made some great gains. It was Adil Khalid that called it, according to onboard reporter Matt Knighton; “He predicted that at 0900 we would get the sea breeze as we drew closer to shore. Sure enough, we could’ve set our watches to it. It was much more than anticipated – nine knots. You always assume it’s just a quick gust that soon will die out. This one held for the next 11 hours.” It was a very profitable 11 hours for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, closing them to within eight miles of the leading pair.
The gaps continued to tighten throughout the rest of the day, as the sailing remained relatively straightforward and straight-line in the north-easterly thermal wind. It was early in the morning on the 12th when it started to get funky again, with a shift back to the north-west, and back to upwind sailing.
Into the Strait of Hormuz
Pic4. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
If we look at Pic 4 from midday on the 12th December, we can see that once it got shifty, Team Brunel maintained a pretty tight cover on Dongfeng Race Team. Both boats stepped out a bit from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, whose earlier gains on the coast converted back to a loss when the wind shift came through. It will always favour the leaders when the wind shifts and turns a reach into an upwind leg, as they will have spent more time on that leg going straight, without tacking.
The navigators on the two lead boats then took it on big time – going through the passage between an offshore island and the mainland at the Musandam Peninsula – in light air and against the current. It didn’t pay, and it also seems to have cost Team Brunel the lead.
Pic5. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
In Pic 5 from 17:50 on the 12th December, we can see that Dongfeng Race Team have led Team Brunel away from the headland, sneaking past on the outside. The wind shifted through almost 180 degrees and got very light in this period. It ended up coming from the east, leaving them both going downwind and making precious little progress. The Chinese were able to consolidate their advantage over Team Brunel to move out to a 0.7 mile lead, but meanwhile…
The Pendulum Swings…
This was the moment when the pendulum swung back to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. When the leaders hit this hole, skipper Ian Walker saw the opportunity ahead. They went right around the outside of the island to make sure that they stayed in the better breeze, and by the time they got around the corner, Abi Dhabi Ocean Racing were just four miles behind and right back in the game.
Pic6. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
When the wind filled in, it came from the north-east and turned the final home stretch into a downwind gybe-fest until about 00:40 on 13th December – Pic 6. This was the moment when the wind went far enough to the east to finally enable them to point at the finish. Just looking at that picture, you can almost feel the palpable sense of relief aboard the two lead boats, as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s challenge had faded in the shifting winds of Arabia, and they slid back to eight miles off the pace.
And Then There Were Two
Pic7. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
Dongfeng Race Team now just had to fight it out with Team Brunel. The Chinese had played the shifts very nicely to extend to a 1.7 mile advantage, and that should have been enough. But once they were back to sailing in the same piece of water in a straight line, Team Brunel had a clear edge. The Dutch went past the Chinese to recover their lead at about 05:30 on the morning of the 13th December – Pic 7.
Dongfeng Race Team’s skipper, Charles Caudrelier was blaming it on boat speed: “Brunel have been much faster than us for a few days and we don’t know why. We’re a bit disappointed because we did a good job to pass them, but they keep passing us. You have to do well, but you also have to be fast. If you’re not fast, it’s difficult to win a leg.”
Bouwe Bekking and his Dutch crew finished a couple of hours later, having gained a 16 minute lead over Dongfeng Race Team, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing reaching their home port in third place, just short of two and a half hours later.
Pic8. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
Behind them, MAPFRE had drawn level with Team Alvimedica as they entered the Gulf, and the pair raced side by side until early in the morning of the 13th December. In Pic 8 from 02:30 on the 13th December, you can see both boats had been happily reaching towards the Musandam Peninsula in a light easterly breeze. Then it started to shift into the south-east, and they both gybed off the lifting wind shift. Team Alvimedica gybed back as the wind flicked back to the east – that was their big mistake.
Pic9. (c) Volvo Ocean Race
If we have a look at Pic 9, two hours later at 04:30 on the 13th December, we can see that while Team Alvimedica prevaricated, MAPFRE committed to the new south-easterly and stretched towards the coastline. The commitment earned them a lead of four miles. They continued to extend from there and eventually left Team Alvimedica in their wake to get fourth by a solid ten hours – of course there is still the small matter of a possible request for redress for standing by Team Vestas Wind and that may change what are currently, provisional results. Team SCA came home in sixth about nine hours later to conclude Leg 2.