Archive | Volvo Ocean Race

To the Trade Winds – Leg 1 Week 2

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source:B&G] It couldn’t last – all that tight inshore racing. The Atlantic Ocean is too big a place to roam around in a pack, and sooner or later something was going to create a split, it turned out to be a broken rudder and the Cape Verde Islands.

Last Tuesday we left the fleet north of the Canary Islands, tracking close to the coast of Africa. There were some deeply unpleasant schedules immediately afterwards with not much wind around – but no one managed to make any kind of breakaway. Everyone wanted to stay close to the coast, because the sea/land transition, and the thermal differences found there, would create wind even when there was very little gradient breeze.

They all got going on Wednesday as the wind eased round to the north-east from the trade wind direction, even if there was little of the fabled trade wind velocity. It remained tricky sailing and early on Saturday morning (18th – all times are UTC), almost the whole fleet was still stuck together on the African coast. The exception was Team SCA, who got burned flying a little too close to the sun (the Sahara) on Friday, and then picked up a fishing net.

Conditions finally improved on the Saturday, and when the trade winds filled in strongly from the north-northeast, the fleet high-tailed it out of there.

Breaking the Rudder

Early on Saturday morning, the leader, Dongfeng Race Team, hit something solid and they hit it hard. They broke the rudder and spent a couple of hours putting the spare in place. And this is where our story begins…

Pic 1 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 1 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Once the Chinese were back up and running, the fleet were gybing downwind in perfect trade wind conditions throughout Saturday. It should have been fun sailing (Pic 1), even if things were a little tense. The wind was shifting, and everyone was hyper-aware that at some point they had to pick a lane for the Doldrums.

No one wanted to commit first and everyone wanted to play the fleet – so they traded gybes; trying to stay on the favoured side of the pack and on the favoured gybe, and to not go past the point of no-return, where they would miss the moving target they had pinned on the entrance to the Doldrums; a target that moved with every new weather forecast. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes the favoured route was also taking them right through the middle of the Cape Verde Islands.

It was like a game of chicken, big volcanic islands rising up to almost 3,000m, create a lot of disturbance in the wind. Any boat that took the inside option and went through the islands might be sailing faster towards the target, but if they got parked up in the lee of a volcano for a couple of hours, the gains would disappear like tears in the rain.

Wardrobe Malfunction

Pic 2 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 2 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The split started to appear overnight on the 18th /19th October (Pic 2). The broken rudder had positioned Dongfeng Race Team to the south-east of the pack, and they then got a great wind shift that was taking them fast in the right direction. The combination of these two factors made the route through the islands too tempting to ignore. Navigator, Pascal Bidégorry and skipper Charles Caudrelier went for it.

I suspect that the rest of the fleet were already sailing higher than their fastest VMG angles to get around the top of the islands, so Dongfeng almost immediately got back the lead they had lost because of the broken rudder –
and some… but could they hold it all the way to the other side, never mind all the way to the Doldrums?

Once the news of Bidégorry and Caudrelier’s gamble got out and the early gains became clear (they jumped out to a 30 mile lead by Sunday morning), Team Vestas Wind and MAPFRE decided to go with them, and suddenly it was game on.

Tense and Tricky

Pic 3 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 3 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The main action in the Cape Verdes (sounds like a WW1 naval report) happened on Sunday 19th , as we can see in Pic 3. No one was having an easy time with 100km of leverage between the leader of the north-western bunch – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing; and to the south-east, Dongfeng Race Team. At this point the scores on the board had the Chinese team over 60km ahead of the Emiratis – but the game was far from over.

Pic 4 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 4 – © Volvo Ocean Race

It looks like Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel went looking for an accelerated wind funneling around the island, while Dongfeng Race Team were working hard to play the wind shifts. By Sunday evening, they were all clear of the islands (Pic 4) and the leverage between the north-west and south-east wings of the fleet was now a whopping 160km – with Dongfeng Race Team ‘leading’ by 73km.

Converging

One of the favourite maxims of this blog, is that a lead isn’t a lead until you have banked it, and closed the leverage back down. In this case, the convergence started quickly, and it was soon clear that the north-west wing was now taking back their losses. All four boats gybed to port, and came steaming out of the north with a great shift and good breeze. The three to the south were having to work much harder – as you can see from the number of gybes they threw in as the fleet came back together (Pic 5).

Pic 5 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 5 – © Volvo Ocean Race

By the morning of the 20th October, the fleet were all lined up west to east, with just a handful of clicks between Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team on the leaderboard. From a casual glance, it seemed that the Cape Verde split had made little difference after a day and a half of tense racing. But no… they were still 60km apart in leverage – and this is where the Cape Verde split will have its biggest consequences.

Pick a Lane

The Doldrums were looming fast, less than 24 hours ahead of the fleet and the opportunities to change lane before they hit them had pretty much reduced to zero. So, west to east, left to right in the front row we had Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team Brunel, Dongfeng Race Team, MAPFRE and Team Vestas Wind.

The old salts say that west is best to cross the Doldrums. It cost them to get there – but maybe Ian Walker and the Emirati’s strategy to go to the north of the Cape Verde’s would finally pay out like a run on a Vegas slot machine?

Impact!

At the time of writing, the most recent report is from the morning of Tuesday 21st October, and the fleet have hit the Doldrums and hit them hard (Pic 6). The boat’s tracks have gone wobbly, speeds have plummeted and the wind arrows have reduced to little dots – the cloud battle has begun.

Pic 6 – © Volvo Ocean Race

Pic 6 – © Volvo Ocean Race

The navigators will have switched from strategic mode – worrying about weather models and routing software – into tactical mode, focused on the B&G radar to try and read what’s coming their way in the next cloud.

What Happens Next?

We mentioned in the preview that traditionally 27-28W is the best place to enter the Doldrums. In (Pic 6) the light blue line you see to the left of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is 30W. So Walker is set up on about 29W, while 130km to the east, Team Vestas Wind are on about 27W – no one is taking a flyer here.

But look at those faint wind arrows at the bottom of the picture, they are slightly but significantly bigger and stronger to the west. It looks like the western boats have the narrower band of Doldrums to cross. If they get an even break with the clouds, they should come out first.

Sail boat racing doesn’t always work like that though, and once they are out the other side of the Doldrums, the relative exit positions from east-to-west will still have a big impact on the drag race to FdN in the south-east trades. An eastern boat will have a wider, faster angle… but if I had to put money on it, I’d say that this later gain isn’t going to outweigh the advantage that the western boats should have by exiting first.

Of course, these are the Doldrums, and something else entirely could happen – but for now, the dice has been rolled, the lanes have been picked and we just have to sit back and watch it play out…

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DongFeng Race Team break a rudder on Day 7 of Leg 1

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

DongFeng Race Team break a rudder on Day 7 of Leg 1

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Dongfeng’s broken rudder setback

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Dongfeng Race Team lost the lead in the Volvo Ocean Race early on Saturday after the boat hit an unidentified object and broke their rudder. They lost the lead but replaced the decimated part and they were soon back sailing at 20 knots. The problem enabled Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to take the lead but the rest of the fleet were still hot on their heels. The Chinese team’s problems began at 0210 UTC when a ‘violent impact’ hit the boat. Dongfeng’s onboard reporter Yann Riou picks up the story: “We had two options, installing the emergency rudder or removing what was left of the old rudder and putting the new one in place. We decided to go for the second option.

“Thomas (Rouxel) put the diving suit on. He jumped into the water… removed what was left from the old rudder (not much) and we put the new one in place.

“We are all disappointed… it does not look very fair but there’s nothing to do about this.”

It has not been plain sailing for Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi crew either. They reported narrowly missing a net yesterday afternoon but the winds were so light that they were able to take avoiding action. Team Brunel and Team SCA were not so lucky and were held up briefly after debris caught in their keels. The Dutch boat even had to send a swimmer into the water to dive down to remove a strip of rubber from their keel. The women’s team also showed an irregular track and reported running into a fishing net, leading to more lost time behind the rest of the fleet who are now some 50 miles ahead of them.

The seven-strong fleet were expected to arrive in Cape Town in the first leg from Alicante at the beginning of November but their estimated arrival may be delayed after light winds in the Atlantic held up their progress.

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Onboard DongFeng Race Team – Leg 1 – Day 4

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

Onboard DongFeng Race Team – Leg 1 – Day 4

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Onboard Team SCA – Leg 1 – Day 4

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

Onboard Team SCA – Leg 1 – Day 4

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Onboard Team Vestas Wind – Leg 1 – Day 4

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

Onboard Team Vestas Wind – Leg 1 – Day 4

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The real Volvo Ocean Race

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

Although we have been critical of the Volvo Ocean Race communication philosophy a few times, we have to admit that the quality of footage produced by the onboard reporters on Alvimedica and Vestas Wind is outstanding.

Brian Carlin, onboard Vestas Wind, sent a very sincere report of a difficult 24 hours that saw one laptop dying after taking a swim and a VO65 getting trapped in a breeze of 1.5 knots while the rest of the fleet was sailing away. Move forward to 2:03 in the clip to watch how skipper Chris Nicholson described his boat’s situation: “We’re in deep s–t here”. One can’t give a more honest assessment of one’s troubles!

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Team Alvimedica reports on the third night of Leg 1

Posted on 14 October 2014 by Valencia Sailing

[Source: Team Alvimedica] There was absolutely nothing charming about night number three. All of that talk about the reality of the race setting in, leaving the med this and that–the biggest challenge we have had so far was in making it through the night. A malicious front that has turned out to more aggressive, less predictable, and last much longer than anticipated—particularly its sea state—has left us licking our wounds a bit in these early hours of the morning. As Dave Swete acknowledged, “35 knots, upwind—yep. Feels like the Volvo to me.” Even Ryan Houston admitted that this had been a “proper touch-up,” a standard not easily (or pleasantly) met.

Quote Charlie Enright: “We’re managing, still in the peloton after a massive mistake so all good, cant ask for much more.”

Theatrics aside, everyone has taken the opportunity to fall into their respective heavy-air roles and I think it’s best to get these bashings out of the way early. We always seem to come out stronger as a team and everyone’s aware that our inexperience shows most at the weather’s extremes. But it is also where we have the most to learn, and there have been some mistakes to analyze when the dust settles. Charlie gave a quick synopsis before I sat down to write: “We’re managing, still in the peloton after a massive mistake so all good, cant ask for much more.” He’s referring to a costly sail call that left us with the smaller J3 in the air for too long, when we should have been going faster on the larger J2. A midnight sail change to rectify the problem and we’re off again in chase of the leaders. Lesson learned, and we’ll get the miles back so nobody’s too fussed.

Next up are the Canary Islands and an inside track along the northwestern coast of Africa. New territory for all of us and it should be exciting once the sun comes up! But for now everyone’s just trying to take care of each other and the boat, and I will borrow Charlie’s signoff in that I can’t ask for much more than that.

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