Archive | Volvo Ocean Race

AZZAM has a knife-edge lead as windless Auckland looms

Posted on 27 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing] With fewer than 200 miles to go to the Auckland finish line, our boys are clinging on to the Leg 4 lead after surviving a chaotic period of rainclouds and unpredictable gusty breezes on the approach to New Zealand.

After more than 5,000 miles of racing, Leg 4 is balanced on an absolute knife-edge. MAPFRE and Dongfeng are less than five miles behind and are sailing neck-and-neck in second and third place respectively. Light winds are forecast along the New Zealand coast this evening, meaning a long, slow night on the water for the weary crews who will have to guard against the ever-present threat of becoming totally becalmed.

“We are 70 miles from the New Zealand coastline now and in a few hours time there is going to be very little wind – meaning anything could happen,” said skipper Ian Walker. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find the whole fleet bobbing next to each other at some stage. We are trying to get everyone rested before what will be a very intense last 36 hours.”

Leg 4 has been tight from the very start, with any tactical or boat-handling mistake quickly and cruelly punished in the next release of the fleet position report. That’s the way it’s been for the six-boat fleet for 18 days since leaving China and now the final run in to New Zealand is promising no respite for the weary crews.

For the last two days ADOR had been patiently stalking its key rival, Dongfeng – impassively waiting and watching for the slightest sign of weakness or misfortune that could hand over the lead.

After endless hours of narrowing and closing the gap on the Chinese yacht, on 26th Feb, the ADOR crew got their chance when a nasty cloud formation shut down the breeze for Dongfeng and allowed Azzam to slip past into first place. “The wind has been all over the place and we have been changing sails like lunatics,” said ADOR skipper Ian Walker. “Finally we seem to have the right sail up and somehow we seem to have come out in the lead.”

Latest estimates predict the first finisher will cross the line in Auckland around midnight local time on Saturday, February 28.

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The Hunter vs the Hunted

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Dongfeng Race Team] Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dongfeng Race Team are locked into such an intense battle approaching Auckland that even the Volvo Ocean Race tracker is showing them as one boat.

There is still 800 miles to go and that is a long way in ocean racing. But as one can see from Charles’ blog below, whatever happens the team a skipper that is very proud of his team for coming back from what looked like a desperate last place last week.

February 23, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Day 15. We were this close at sunrise then Azzam got a gust of wind and slammed us. Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

February 23, 2015. We were this close at sunrise then Azzam got a gust of wind and slammed us. Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

“Three days of racing and two obstacles ahead of us. This is what separates us from a dream win in Auckland. Since last night we took the lead again, and with the pressure of being in front. To be in the lead after all the hard knocks we’ve taken on this leg is without doubt one of my, and the team’s, proudest moments since the start of this race.

We’ve had really hard moments, phases of total exhaustion, and moments of real frustration and anger but onboard there is always someone ready to re-motivate the others, someone with a positive outlook. I am so lucky to be surrounded by a magic team. Erwan who has joined us just for this one leg has delivered everything I have asked of him to make up for the absence of Pascal. Fresh and really motivated, he has brought us much more than just his talent – energy that we were perhaps missing after 4 tough legs.

February 21, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Day 13. Eric Peron on the bow. Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

February 21, 2015. Day 13. Eric Peron on the bow. Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

At the start of this race I was really feeling the pressure. The crew selection is the key to success on this race. You don’t need the best sailors, you need the best team – it’s not the same thing. The race is still very long, this leg also, everything can still happen, but those that know me well know that I am never satisfied. However, exceptionally, I can say that I am very happy with the choices I’ve made, and if I had to choose again, I would change nothing.

As a team we are managing to be competitive whilst fully respecting our commitment to train, develop and sail alongside our Chinese sailors.

Looking forward at the next few days, the two main obstacles are the crossing of an old weather front in 24 hours time, and the finish which looks light – not sure yet whether its upwind or downwind, it is not clear. It could be a total restart, but I am really hoping if it is, that it’s between the current top 3. The other boats are now quite a long way back, but anything could happen still.

Of course it’s always better to be leading, and I’d rather be where we are than where MAPFRE is – but MAPFRE has nothing to lose, they are very aggressive tactically. Abu Dhabi meanwhile will follow us for now and wait for an opportunity to jump on us.”

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Team SCA are on the back foot

Posted on 23 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Team SCA] Team SCA are reeling, slightly on the back foot this morning after a loss of miles late yesterday which came as something of a shock. But the crew are fighting back hard this morning making good speeds in breezes which are stronger than expected.

That said, despite losing close to 40 miles suddenly, they are on the rebound and have clawed back five miles already on the leaders. It has been a very unpredictable time, weather models seemingly struggling to predict these changes with any corresponding accuracy.

Long time leaders Team Brunel have dropped to fifth after repositioning east. It was yesterday afternoon, when Team SCA were just 26 miles off the lead, that the leaders appeared to run into a big zone of clouds with the wind upset and seemingly going in different directions, light at times before the breeze strengthened from the west. Team SCA out in the east appear to have had a period of light airs yesterday evening while the fleet sailed faster and so seeming to lose a chunk of miles. At 0640hrs on 22nd Feb, they had recovered to be 74 miles behind the leaders Abu Dhabi, but they were making steady gains back.

Carolijn Brouwer explains this morning: “The good thing is we have some breeze and are really moving along well, making 21-22kts of boat speed. We sort of thought we were doing well yesterday afternoon and then suddenly this big rain cloud seems to have hit the front of the fleet. We could see they were heading in different directions and slowed, light all over. We thought they were in a bad situation, we had the breeze and the opportunity to sail around them, it seemed. We held high to avoid this and according to the skeds we seemed to be on to a ‘winner’. But then we clearly ended up with 8kts and they were flying along and we managed to lose 50nms in one sked. That was a huge disappointment as all through the night we thought we were doing the right thing but it did not pay off.” “Now we are the most E’ly boat still, VMG’ing to 150-160 TWA just looking to get there as fast as possible.” “There are two options coming up, a big light area 24 hours in front of us. Either we can sail east right out towards the Fiji islands, go faster and get a narrower band to cross, sailing more miles, or we carry on straight line through the no wind zone which is more likely. The east looks risky.” “The real thing is it’s all quite uncertain, the models are struggling to predict what is happening with any accuracy. We are into the W’ly flow, sailing in 275 degrees TWD with 16kts of breeze, I think they hooked into it earlier ahead, but there is this huge transition ahead then after that good SE’lies. It is all pretty uncertain and changing all the time. It is hard to predict what is happening, even now we are a bit faster than we thought we would be!”

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‘So close, but still so far’

Posted on 20 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race was perfectly balanced on Thursday as the fleet sped towards Auckland with just under 54 nautical miles separating all six boats. All of them were chasing ‘the right sort of cloud’ as they approached a huge area of Doldrums in the mid-Pacific with some 2,500nm still to sail to reach New Zealand.

A cloud in the process of gathering moisture will suck away the gusts, which are powering the Volvo Ocean 65 boats forward. In contrast, one about to rain will offer extra wind pressure to vessels correctly positioned beneath it.

Spotting the most favourable clouds is a skilled job and all six navigators will be earning their wages twice over in the next few days trying to get it right.

Few are more experienced in the art than five-times Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Andrew Cape, navigator on board current Leg 4 leaders Team Brunel. The Dutch team were protecting a sliver-thin 22.1nm advantage over Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at 1240 UTC on Thursday.

Team Alvimedica, MAPFRE, Team SCA, and Dongfeng Race Team were banked up behind them, with no more than 31.5nm separating the chasing pack.

Brunel’s skipper Bekking was counting down every mile until he reaches Auckland, according to his latest blog from the boat. “So close, but still so far. If you look on the map you’d think we’ve nearly reached New Zealand, but then you look at the mileage and know the reality is different,” he wrote. “We are getting close to the Equator and we are facing numerous big clouds in each watch, which makes it interesting from a short term strategy perspective. “We are giving the sailors on watch total freedom on how to attack a cloud formation. That’s why you can see on the tracker back home some very big changes in our course.”

Bekking described how a sudden shift of wind caught the fabric of a Code Zero sail in the spreaders on the mast, causing two huge holes. “We had to drop the entire sail without furling it on the foredeck, otherwise we could not reach the holes,” he wrote. “This all went remarkably easily, but the foredeck is covered in 300 square metres of sail, and now, during first daylight, Laurent and Johnny (Gerd-Jan Poortman) are on the repair job.”

Meanwhile, Will Oxley, navigator on third-placed Team Alvimedica, was busy trying to read the elusive clouds. “For the first nine days, we raced in very close company with Azzam, Dongfeng and MAPFRE,” he said. “Then, when we reached the area of massive clouds, suddenly the fleet scattered as we found ourselves taking different options in the squalls.

“By design, we found ourselves south and west of our immediate competitors. This means we are closer to the finish line, but it remains to be seen whether this is a strong position we can defend. One bad cloud and those behind could be past us again.”

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Dongfeng close gap on SCA and MAPFRE, despite handicaps

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Dongfeng Race Team] A series of breakages, and a few regrets on the tactical front – and Dongfeng find themselves for the first time in this Volvo Ocean Race well and truly at the back of the fleet. Fortunately, there are still nearly 3,000 miles to go and maybe up to 2 weeks racing, and lots of things can and will still happen on this leg probably.

On 18th Feb the crew has discovered damage to the mast track – for the third time now for the Dongfeng Volvo Ocean 65. The mast track, via which the mainsail is attached to the mast, has once again come unglued from the mast itself over a small area. And not in the same place as last time which makes it more worrying for the crew. Skipper Charles Caudrelier says that they will now wait until the expected calms of the Doldrums not far away now before attempting to repair it. Temporarily secured, the team should be able to race at close to normal in terms of the mainsail setting, but have added temporary lashings to try to avoid it getting worse. This means they cannot reef the mainsail when they want anymore – something hopefully they can avoid the need to do. Coupled with that, the broken halyard lock for the J1, along with the halyard inside the mast, are still not repaired – and Caudrelier’s last communication on this was that it was probably not repairable before Auckland. This continues to hinder their ability to easily change from J1 large genoa to the fractional gennaker (code FR0), and also compromising the setting of the J1. Still on 19th Feb the crew reports that no fixing is possible.

February 18, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Happy Chinese New Year! Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

February 18, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Happy Chinese New Year! Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team / Volvo Ocean Race

The extensive area of Doldrums ahead has everyone talking these days – the way through is not particular obvious, and just about anything could happen. One thing most the navigators seem to agree on is that being further east is better, so every time a wind shift allows it, they are taking due east – when they do it they are making zero gain on Auckland – so its clearly important!

On 19th Feb daybreak the team has entered visual contact with Team SCA and MAPFRE. Referring the last positions report the trio sails in 10 miles from each other with girls still to the east.

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MAPFRE ‘sailing blind’

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: MAPFRE Sailing Team] Spanish boat “MAPFRE” is ‘sailing blind’ in Leg 4 after a communications problem on board prevented them receiving key weather and other data. Race Control was alerted to the problem over the weekend and has since worked with their suppliers and the boat to find a solution. It is not clear exactly what has caused of the issue, which involves two antennae not functioning.

The boat can send and receive plain text but cannot receive weather data. This has impacted their ability to make strategic decisions. They are sailing blind.

In a message from the boat, “MAPFRE”’s OBR Francisco Vignale, wrote: “We only have an email account which works. Jean Luc, our navigator, is very limited in his work and can not forecast or work out future routes.” Additionally, the crew is unable to send out images or videos. Vignale added: “The main thing is that we’d like to say that we are all well, despite not being able to talk with our families. Each one of us wants to send a big ‘hi’ to our nearest and dearest. We hope to solve this problem as quickly as possible – there’s still a long way to go in this leg.”

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Team Brunel’s bold move starts to pay off

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Team Brunel] Team Brunel has been in the lead in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, since yesterday morning. Six days ago, the crew of the Dutch boat, and the ladies of Team SCA, were alone in opting for the northern route. In spite of the many miles that the two boats now had to cover, skipper Bouwe Bekking’s team could reap the fruits of this well-considered tactical decision within a week. Team Brunel now has a lead of 80 miles over the number two boat Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

The reason why Team Brunel has been able to compensate for more than 100 miles’ difference with the fleet in the south has to do with more wind and a better wind angle. This sailing term possibly needs some further explanation. The Dutch boat can sail a lower course than the four teams in the south. Lower means that the wind hitting the sail more from behind. Because of this, the speed of the boat is somewhat higher. This is why Team Brunel has been sailing more than three knots faster than the others for the last few days.

February 15, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Team Brunel. Day 7. A huge wave crashes over the deck. Stefan Copper / Team Brunel / Volvo Ocean Race

February 15, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Team Brunel. Day 7. A huge wave crashes over the deck. Stefan Copper / Team Brunel / Volvo Ocean Race

However, the strong wind and big waves on which Team Brunel has been thriving have claimed their first victim. “I’m rounding Cape Horn even if they have to chop my arm off,” said Gerd-Jan Poortman. The Dutch sailor has had quite a scare. During a sail change in the dead of the night, the bowman was caught by a wave and thrown against one of the raised dagger boards. The result is a burst eardrum and a bruised arm. Poortman was immediately packed off to his bunk with a heavy dose of painkillers. “That’s when you think, shit, the next stage of the leg is rounding Cape Horn,” says Poortman.

Poortman is something of a specialist in hitting the dagger boards. In 2006, the same thing happened on the ABN AMRO 2, and he broke his back. Because he later missed out on the legendary Cape Horn stage again, now with Team Delta Lloyd, rounding the Horn has become a goal in itself for Poortman.

February 12, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Team Brunel. Day 4. The team battle with the seemingly never ending strong wind and waves. Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race

February 12, 2015. Leg 4 to Auckland onboard Team Brunel. Day 4. The team battle with the seemingly never ending strong wind and waves. Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race

This morning, Poortman reported for duty in the battle against the elements in spite of the fact that he was hardly able to move his arm. Skipper Bouwe Bekking had a different view, however, and the bowman was sent back to his bunk. The same remedy also did the trick earlier this week when Pablo Arrarte was struck down with ‘flu’.

Despite a full sick-bay, the mood on board Team Brunel is excellent. “The water is warm, our speed is good and the waves are perfect,” said Rokas Milevičius from the boat. “For me, these are ideal sailing conditions.” But the masterminds behind this brilliant tactical manoeuvre are keeping a cool head. “I’m only going to party if we sail into Auckland in first place,” says Andrew Cape. The Australian navigator and skipper Bouwe Bekking had one hundred per cent confidence in the northern route. “It wasn’t a gamble at all,” says Bouwe Bekking. “I was amazed that the other teams didn’t go north with us.” “It was still a risky decision though,” adds Jens Dolmer. “If it had gone wrong, we would have been in a fine mess.”

Andrew Cape is less than impressed with the strategy of the other teams. “The other boats are sailing very defensively. It’s like a procession and nobody dares to make a decision like ours.” The young sailors like Louis Balcaen and Rokas Milevičius are very happy that their skipper and navigator have had the guts to do something different to the rest. “We have to keep barrelling on and build up a lead of more than 100 miles,” shouts Laurent Pagès euphorically. Bouwe Bekking makes light of the French sailor’s enthusiasm. “The further ahead we are, the easier it will be for them to sail round us at the Equator. I want a big lead after the Equator.”

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Catch us if you can

Posted on 12 February 2015 by Reporter

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] A brave strategy to strike out north from the rest of the fleet looked like it was paying big dividends for Team SCA and Team Brunel on Thursday as Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race stood intriguingly poised.

MAPFRE held the lead at 0640 UTC, narrowly ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, overall race leaders, Dongfeng Race Team and Team Alvimedica. But all four of them would gladly swap places with Team Brunel and Team SCA, who were surfing along in two to three knots more breeze, at around 14-16 knots, to the north of the main pack. The route the breakaway pair is taking is roughly 300 nautical miles (nm) further than their rivals, but the extra pressure should catapult them ahead nevertheless.

They have just under 4,700nm of the 5,264nm fourth stage from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand, to sail, and, in around a week’s time, the boats will converge again near an area of Doldrums in the north Pacific.

However, the all-women’s crew of Team SCA headed by Briton, Sam Davies, and the Dutch team of Team Brunel led by Bouwe Bekking, were already looking very handily positioned to secure a jump on their rivals following their bold tactic taken some 48 hours ago. For Team SCA, in particular, the next few days will be among the most crucial for them in the race since the boats left the shores of Alicante on October 11 last year. They have largely been playing catch-up on the rest of the more-experienced teams in the fleet in the first three legs and this is an apparently golden chance to make their mark on an offshore leg.

Davies and her crew will not know for at least a week whether the gamble to sail towards Taiwan – in apparently totally the opposite direction from their destination in New Zealand – will have paid off in full.

But already, some of their rivals have accepted that, for once, it will be their turn to be chasing the women sailors for long parts of the race through the Pacific.

Sam Greenfield, the Onboard Reporter on Dongfeng, summed up in his daily blog from the boat with this message to Team SCA: “Take the money, and run like you stole it. If it can’t be us winning this leg – and I promise that there are five Frenchmen, two Chinese and a really tall Swede that’ll do everything to steal that lead away – we hope it’ll be you.”

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