Archive | Volvo Ocean Race

Martínez bounces back

Posted on 25 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source:Volvo Ocean Race] MAPFRE, the Spanish boat which finished last of the fleet in Leg 1, has bounced back in style to challenge for the lead in the next stage between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi.

Skipper Iker Martínez (ESP) acted decisively after MAPFRE’s disappointing result on November 7 and introduced experienced watch leader, Rob Greenhalgh (GBR), and new navigator, Jean-Luc Nélias (FRA), to the eight-man crew. It was a tough call as Martínez was forced to drop the twice-Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux as a result, but so far, the changes have worked like a charm.By just before 1000 GMT on Tuesday, MAPFRE were just under two nautical miles (nm) (see panel) off the pace set by Leg 1 winners Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, but in a better position to sail directly to the finish than Ian Walker’s (GBR) crew.

November 23,2014. Leg 2 onboard MAPFRE. Iker Mart’nez at the navigation desk. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

November 23,2014. Leg 2 onboard MAPFRE. Iker Mart’nez at the navigation desk. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

Nobody in the seven-strong fleet is more determined to excel in this 5,200nm stage than Martínez, 37, who won the first three legs of the last edition in 2011-12 as skipper of Telefónica before their challenge faded for an eventual fourth place finish. “We want to get rid of the bad taste in the mouth from Leg 1,” he told volvooceanrace.com. “We’re determined to finish on the podium in Abu Dhabi.”

The strategy of MAPFRE has been simple: stay in the middle of the fleet as much as possible and make sure they don’t miss any breakaway moves from their rivals.

Martínez’s right-hand man, Xabi Fernandez, explained: “We spend all day and all night looking at our rivals. You want to measure the (wind) pressure in close detail, knowing that you just can’t commit any errors. “To be so close to the lead, we have sailed at 100 percent.” Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, meanwhile, have found themselves well to the west of the fleet almost by accident, when only a position report from Race Control informed them that the other six boats had tacked to the east while they ploughed on in the opposite direction.

November 23,2014. Leg 2 onboard MAPFRE. Xabi Fernandez trimming the main sail. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

November 23,2014. Leg 2 onboard MAPFRE. Xabi Fernandez trimming the main sail. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

 

Fortunately, for the crew on board ‘Azzam’, the wind pressure in their location has been higher than that of their rivals – at least for the time being – and they snatched the lead by Tuesday morning. Walker admitted: “We find ourselves a little bit out on a limb with the fleet, so I’m a little bit nervous right now.” Ahead lies a possible cyclone or tropical storm before a finish in Abu Dhabi in mid-December so it’s certainly not all plain sailing for any of  he teams from here.

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And so the Game Begins

Posted on 25 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: B&G] It’s been a flying start to the second leg, with some great sailing, big breeze, bigger mileage and some fabulous footage from the first week as the crews got a pasting. But while the sailing might have been tough, the strategy for the first couple of days was relatively straightforward. We talked about the problems for the first section of the leg in our preview last week.

The short version is that after the upwind leg to the Cape of Good Hope, the usual strategy is to head south or south east to find good breeze from the low-pressure systems circulating in the Southern Ocean. It turned out that no one had to go very far south at all. The wind was right there at the Cape, thanks to a low pressure system moving east under the African continent at just the right time.

November 23, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Taking advantage of the light winds, Luke Parkinson went up the mast to patch a Main Sail car. Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

November 23, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Taking advantage of the light winds, Luke Parkinson went up the mast to patch a Main Sail car. Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

We can see the fleet’s position after the first couple of days in Pic 1 from Friday afternoon, 21st November at 16:45 (All times are UTC). Team Alvimedica are leading at this point, but there’s not much in it, with just five miles separating the front five boats. The track shows the fleet beating south out of Cape Town, then easing onto a south-easterly course in a breeze that had gently rotated from south-east to south-west. There was nothing else gentle about it, as it was blowing 20+ knots and the boats were doing speeds in excess of that through some rough water.

Riding the Wind, Dodging the Current 

The fleet’s course over this first couple of days had two goals – to keep them in the good breeze from the low pressure and to keep them out of the worst of the Agulhas Current. This warm water current flows south down the east coast of Africa, around the Cape and then meets the cold water and the eastbound storm systems of the South Atlantic off Cape Agulhas, a shallow water projection of the continental shelf into deep water.

The combination of storm systems, foul current and shallow ground makes for one of the world’s roughest pieces of sea, never mind the fact that the current is also trying to push them backwards. But after a couple of days of going more or less east the fleet were past the worst of the Agulhas Current and thoughts turned to heading in the right direction. Er… isn’t Abu Dhabi North of Here?

After all, the finish line is in Abu Dhabi, and that was almost due north from their position after two days of sailing. It was time to start thinking about an exit lane. They were all sailing east on starboard gybe in a south-westerly, and a gybe to port would have allowed them to turn and point at the finish. Tempting… the problem was the South Indian Ocean High.

We talked about finding the right exit lane from the Southern Ocean in the Preview, the objective being to thread a route around the western side of the South Indian Ocean High. Leg 2 is effectively the second part of Leg 1 (when the teams had to find a way around the St Helena High), but in reverse. This part of the leg is all about turning north at the right moment to skirt around the western side of the High.

Pic 1 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 1 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The first gybes came on the evening of the 21st November – right after Pic 1 – and for the next 24 hours there was a lot of swerving around the ocean, as everyone wrestled with matching their weather strategy to the risk they were prepared to take relative to the rest of the fleet. If we look at Pic 2 from 20:24 on 22nd November, we can see the fleet have come back together after a sequence of gybes.

Pic 2 Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 2 Volvo Ocean Race

The most significant was the leverage that Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team Vestas Wind and Team SCA took to the south. It didn’t appear to have done them much good – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing went from 8 miles off the leader and fourth place to 21 miles off the lead and fifth place. The damage for Team Vestas Wind and Team SCA was worse, both trailing the leader – by 42 and 53 miles respectively – by the time they cashed in their leverage. Pic3 – © Volvo Ocean Race

If you look at Pic 3, you can see the reason for all the indecision – the South Indian Ocean High is centred well to the east, as it should be. Unfortunately, it is ridging all the way past Madagascar almost to the African coast. The result is a band of very light air stretching from west to east, almost from Africa to Australia. Thou Shalt Not Pass.

Taking it On

It was Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing that took it on first in a fairly dramatic change of strategy – after taking a dive to the south, they were now first to gybe to the north just after the 20:19 time of Pic 2. After sailing a tight tactical race in Leg 1, it appears that skipper Ian Walker has decided to change his strategy and let his navigator, Simon Fisher loose on some bolder moves.

The rest of the fleet followed in the next six hours and 24 hours later at 20:19 on the 23 November we had the situation in Pic 4 – with the whole fleet headed for what appears to be a windless void, and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing nearly 60 miles to the west of the pack. And with that kind of leverage there’s always the possibility of tears – but whose?

A Little Low

Pic 4 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 4 – © Volvo Ocean Race

It’s not quite a windless void (it rarely is) – a closer look at Pic 4 shows us that a band of north to north-easterly winds (blowing around the western edge of a southern hemisphere high pressure system) can be seen to the south-west of Madagascar. In fact, there’s actually quite decent breeze off the southern tip of that island, and overall, it looks like better breeze to the north and west than to the east. It looks like Walker and Fisher were right to head that way first…

Let’s fast-forward another 24 hours, to Pic 5 at 20:14 on 24th November, Monday evening and almost up to date. The better breeze has resolved into a little low pressure forming to the west of the fleet, and this has brought a building north-easterly wind funnelling between the little low, and the big high pressure system off to the east.

 Pic 5 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 5 – © Volvo Ocean Race

It’s clear from the leaderboard that Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are right back in the game after their early move north. They are back up to third, just a couple of miles behind leaders Team Brunel and everyone has now tacked to go north with them – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Up to Date 

Pic 6 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 6 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The situation is still very fluid and tricky though and no one can afford a moment’s lapse in concentration. If we bring things right up to date with Pic 6 and the latest fleet report from 09:55 this morning, 25th November, two things leap out. The first is that Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are now up into the lead. The second is that a big split is developing.

Pic 7 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 7 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The low pressure is on the move. The centre of the low has moved east and is now situated south of Madagascar, perilously close to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. If we zoom in to Pic 7, we can see that second placed MAPFRE are now leading the rest of the fleet into what appear to be stronger winds to the east…

The section of Leg 2 north from the Southern Ocean and into the trade winds always promised to be one of the most complex. At the end of the first week, we have the fleet poised for a big split to the south of Madagascar, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing apparently headed north alone, while the rest of the fleet have gone east.

The weather is complex, so bear with me… the little low pressure system that Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing used to lift themselves into the lead is forecast to fizzle out. The reason it will disappear, is that a new high pressure system will roll east from South Africa, out into the India Ocean. In about three days time, it will join with the South Indian Ocean High, but in the meantime it’s going to create some serious trickiness…

The key strategic question is whether the boats allow themselves to fall under the influence of this new high pressure, or not. Any boat that stays west (that looks like just Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at this stage) will get a new southerly breeze from the eastern edge of the new high, as it approaches from the west.

The good part about this is for Ian Walker is that a southerly means fast downwind sailing. The bad part is, that as the two highs merge, the wind will go through a potentially very messy transition as it rotates through the south-east into the east, until finally becoming the dominant easterly breeze from the northern side of the Indian Ocean High, AKA the trade winds.

The rest of the fleet look like they are trying to stay in the north to north-easterly wind on the western edge of the main South Indian Ocean High, until they can claw their way far enough north to get into the same dominant easterly breeze to the north of the high. The good part about this is that they stay in the same breeze all the time and avoid the randomness of the wind shift transition, the bad part is that it’s all slow upwind sailing.

To make things even more complicated, by the time they’ve negotiated all that, they may have to deal with a tropical cyclone spinning up north of Mauritius… but I’m not going to go that far up the track.

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It’s Walker’s turn

Posted on 23 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] In the race to Abu Dhabi, the home boat was the first to gybe north yesterday night. Having suffered from a ripped A3 and a broken steering system in the past days, the Emirati crew was hoping to make the most of the remains of the Agulhas Current to finally tackle the high-pressure system sitting north of the fleet. But Ian and his guys didn’t expect the other six teams to take their time, turning a couple of hours later and isolating them in the west. Over 90 nautical miles west of Team SCA, in the most eastern position, actually.

However, as dawn broke on the fourth day of Leg 2, being in front meant the Abu Dhabi yacht was the first to be slowed by a large area of light winds blocking the fleet’s path north. At the 0640 position report, ADOR were down to fourth in the standings but only seven miles off the lead.

November 22, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A GoPro shot of the watch team sailing the boat comfortably.November 22, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A GoPro shot of the watch team sailing the boat comfortably.November 22, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A GoPro shot of the watch team sailing the boat comfortably.Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

November 22, 2014. Leg 2 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A GoPro shot of the watch team sailing the boat comfortably. Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Skipper Ian Walker confessed to have been surprised that the rest of the fleet hadn’t turned north earlier. “Actually, we were worried that we were too far east and that the fleet had bolted north to before us,” Walker said.

Although Azzam has been the first of the seven-boat fleet to be held up by the light winds, Walker believes they should be well positioned to break through into more wind. “All the weather models suggest ‘west is best’,” he said. “Whether that turns out to be correct, only time will tell.The fact is that, to some degree, really, we are all guessing what happens next.”

One bonus for ADOR is that the lighter winds have enabled the crew to carry out a more permanent repair to their torn A3 headsail which they temporarily patched up yesterday – a relief with around 4,000 miles still to race to Abu Dhabi.

The bold move by the Abu Dhabi team was cautiously met by the rivals. Amory Ross reports from onboard Alvamedica: “After the 1am position report we were finally given the green light to go north. Will sees an opportunity to sail to the west of the high pressure and it was time to go. Unfortunately, we were maybe too patient; we were the last to make the jibe and in doing so, our timing was dictated by the fleet more than picking our ideal lane. Consequently, we’ve lost fairly big.”

November 22,2014. Leg 2 onboard Team Alvimedica. DAY 3. The fleet continues southeast away from Abu Dhabi,but the decision to turn north is tempting--were it not for a row of windless high-pressure in the way. Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race

November 22,2014. Leg 2 onboard Team Alvimedica. DAY 3. The fleet continues southeast away from Abu Dhabi,but the decision to turn north is tempting–were it not for a row of windless high-pressure in the way. Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race

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Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing shrugs off torn sail and steering breakdown

Posted on 22 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing] Despite having dealt with two major equipment failures in the last 24 hours, ADOR remains in a strong position as the fleet powers eastward on the third day of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi.

ADOR’s first breakage came shortly before nightfall on Day 2 when a turbulent sea-state – rather than strong winds – caused a split in Azzam’s A3 gennaker headsail. Having spotted the tear, the on-watch sailors quickly rallied their off-watch crewmates to help them change sails.

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Luke Parkinson shines a torch for Phil Harmer as he works to repair a 1.5 metre tear in Azzam’s A3 gennaker headsail on Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi. Image by Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

It was a race against time to prevent the A3 ripping beyond repair as the turbulent seas tossed the 65-foot long Azzam around like a cork. Once the crew had wrestled the enormous sail to the deck, they fed the damaged section carefully down through the forehatch, where Australians Phil Harmer and Luke Parkinson set about repairing it using spare sail material and special glue.

“It’s a good job it happened in daylight,” said skipper Ian Walker. “In the dark, we wouldn’t have seen it and it would have ripped the whole way. We don’t have a sewing machine so we’ve had to glue it back together.”

With the A3 patched up and back in use, the ADOR sailors got quickly into their normal rhythm as the wind built to over 25 knots overnight. Around 0130 UTC however, as they hurtled through the darkness, there was a sudden loud bang and Azzam spun instantly out of control, with her sails flogging noisily in the strong breeze. A turning block in the steering system had been wrenched off its mounting, leaving the right hand of Azzam’s twin steering wheels inoperable.

Once again the off-watch crew were quickly out of their bunks to help repair the breakage and after some skilled work by Kiwi boat captain Daryl Wislang, 30-minutes later Azzam was on her way once again.

Along with the rest of the fleet, ADOR’s goal now is to get east as quickly as possible to best set up for when the southern hemisphere trade winds allow a turn to the north.

With the fleet’s easterly – rather than northerly – track skewing the official fleet rankings based on distance to finish, at 0940 UTC today ADOR was a potential leg leader, at the head of a three-boat pack on the southern most edge of the seven-boat fleet and well positioned to make the most of the northerly turn.

Navigator Simon Fisher keeps his eye on the job in hand while his fellow crewmates work to repair a 1.5 metre tear in Azzam’s A3 gennaker headsail on Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi. Image by Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

Navigator Simon Fisher keeps his eye on the job in hand while his fellow crewmates work to repair a 1.5 metre tear in Azzam’s A3 gennaker headsail on Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi. Image by Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.


 

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Team Brunel breeze out of Cape Town

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Skippers of the seven boats in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet, which set out for the 6,125 nautical mile (nm) Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, left with warnings of possible cyclone activity and tropical storms ringing in their ears.
Race organisers took late measures to keep the 66 sailors away from the very worst of the weather on the Indian Ocean with a new exclusion zone leading to the Seychelles.

There were already zones in place to avoid icebergs in the Southern Ocean and the more unlikely menace of pirate attack further down the route on the east coast of the Indian Ocean. The latter zone was being kept secret from the public to avoid the possibility of the fleet being intercepted.

From the very start on Wednesday (1800 local/1600 UTC), the sailors were given a taste of things to come with gusts of up to 35 knots kicking up a procession of white-capped waves. It was a question of ‘don’t break your boat’ as most opted for conservative sail choices, while they wrestled to keep them under control and intact.

For the second leg start in a row, Team Brunel led the fleet out of port after wrestling the lead, first from MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP), and then Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) who were well in the hunt.

The fleet will continue to sail in these gale-force conditions, which Team Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright (USA) described before the start as ‘heinous’.

“I think we’re all going to have to be pretty conservative,” he told the skippers’ press conference, just over 24 hours earlier. “This could be the worst sea state these boats have ever seen.”

Favourites for the leg are Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), who have barely made a false move since setting out from Alicante on October 11. They followed their 12-minute win over Dongfeng Race Team in Leg 1 on November 5, by securing victory on Saturday in the Cape Town in-port race. When asked if there were such a thing as ‘home advantage’ in sailing, Walker, 44, was determined to keep his crew’s feet on the ground – as well as his own.

“First we have to get there,” he smiled. “I’ll be happy just to get within range and then arrive in Abu Dhabi. There’s a fantastic welcome for everybody in store once we get there, that’s for sure.”

Team Vestas Wind surprised onlookers when a choir on board their support boat burst into song just prior to the start. Their message was loud and clear: ‘There’s an even more important race we must win – to save the environment’.

Leg 2 is expected to take between 22 to 28 days to complete, depending on conditions. The boats will remain in Abu Dhabi over Christmas and the New Year before setting sail again on January 3 for Sanya, China.

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg2 Preview

Posted on 18 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[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

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.

Upwind Opening

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

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

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?

Doldrum Conundrum

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

November 17,2014. In the Boatyard; Team Vestas Wind preparing for Leg 2. Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

Monsoon Rains

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.

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Cyclone season awaits Leg 2 fleet

Posted on 18 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Volvo Ocean Race sailors set out again for the open seas on Wednesday with no piracy activity on their radar, but the threat of cyclones ahead on Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. Sailing conditions in Cape Town look challenging for the 1800 start (local time)/1600 UTC, with plenty of wind, but flat seas forecast.

Then the seven-strong fleet heads for the south Indian Ocean past Mauritius and there the sailing will become even more interesting. The Volvo Ocean Race’s meteorologist, Gonzalo Infante, explains: “We have just started the tropical cyclone season in the south Indian Ocean and it seems like we will have plenty of this activity for this leg.

“One tropical cyclone is forecast to be in the area just before the fleet reaches these latitudes, but forecasts need to be confirmed. Obviously, the weather will be key – if it’s possible to use it or keep out of its influence.”

To add to the spice, there are monsoon winds from the Gulf awaiting the fleet before it enters the Hormuz Straits, and probable scorching weather in Abu Dhabi in early December. Infante and Race Control have issued a spread of 22 to 28 days for the 6,125 nautical mile (nm) stage.

Unlike in Leg 2 2011-12, the fleet will not be shipped part of the way for security reasons. Dryad Maritime, the Race’s offshore security experts, have given Race Director, Jack Lloyd, the all-clear to plot a route all the way through.

With all the teams sailing identical boats, it once again promises to be anybody’s leg although the team to beat is undoubtedly Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) who followed up their Leg 1 triumph – by a mere 12 minutes from Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) – with victory in the Cape Town in-port race on Saturday. The latter win puts them three points clear in the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Race Series after two races.

At the other end of the spectrum, MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) have some issues to resolve after the boat surprisingly finished seventh and last for Leg 1.

Martínez has replaced his navigator, bringing in the highly experienced Jean-Luc Nélias (FRA), plus watch leader Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) to change their fortunes.

Dee Caffari (GBR) has her first taste of offshore action on the Team SCA boat, with five Britons on board including skipper Sam Davies. The others are Annie Lush, Libby Greenhalgh and Abby Ehler. Caffari’s entrance was always planned, however, as the team intend to refresh their crew for each leg.

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Walker rules in Cape Town

Posted on 15 November 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Ian Walker (GBR) and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew became the confirmed kings of Cape Town on Saturday, clinching the in-port race less than a week after arriving here as Leg 1 winners. The victory, by just over a minute, leaves them on top of the In-port Race Series too, and bursting with confidence for Leg 2 which starts on Wednesday (November 19).

Only in the sprint to the finish line from the final mark on the eight-mile course on Saturday, did Walker’s men look under threat with Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) breathing down their necks.

The fleet was split from the start in challenging conditions in Table Bay, under the famous Table Mountain, with winds jumping dramatically between 12 and 20 knots and rain clouds threatening throughout. Walker’s team from the Emirates have already shown that they can make the right decisions under the toughest of pressure, by edging out Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) by just 12 minutes in a thrilling Leg 1 climax last week after 25 days of sailing from Alicante to Cape Town. After some 20 minutes of racing on Saturday, they looked to have victory in the bag, especially after one of their rivals for the in-port series prize, Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA), suffered a tear in their headsail.

The battle for second place soon grabbed the attention of most with Team SCA and Team Brunel in a thrilling showdown after the Dutch found a burst of pressure midway round. Bekking had earlier told a press conference that the in-port series was not a big priority for him. But he and his crew were plainly giving it 100 percent as they scrambled with Team SCA for the second rung of the poldium. A problem with a gennaker failing to unfurl cleanly finally scuppered the efforts of the women’s crew to keep Bekking and co at bay and Team Brunel made one final effort to catch Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

Once again, Walker was ready for the challenge and by the finish line had a winning margin of a couple of hundred metres from Team Brunel with Team SCA in third.

Results Cape town In-Port Race:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 15:06:57 -1pt
2. Team Brunel (NED) 15:08:00 – 2pts
3. Team SCA (SWE) 15:09:04 – 3pts
4. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN) 15:09:22 – 4pts
5. Team Vestas Wind (DEN) 15:11:25 – 5pts
6. Team Alvimedica (USA/TUR) 15:16:14 – 6pts
7. MAPFRE (ESP) 15:18:32 – 7pts

In-Port Race Cape Town, 15 November. Photo: Charlie Shoemaker/Volvo Ocean Race

In-Port Race Cape Town, 15 November. Photo: Charlie Shoemaker/Volvo Ocean Race

 

In-Port Race Cape Town, 15 November. Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget /Team Alvimedica

In-Port Race Cape Town, 15 November. Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget /Team Alvimedica

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