Archive | Volvo Ocean Race

Close contact challenges

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source:Volvo Ocean Race] It’s been 19 days and well over 3,500 nautical miles (nm) since the Volvo Ocean Race fleet set sail for Cape Town from Alicante, but the three leading boats are still within sight of each other with the fourth chasing them down just 18nm adrift. It could hardly be closer. The changing wind patterns are testing the navigators to the limit every day and there are issues from lurking icebergs ahead to electrical problems to keep each of the seven crews on their toes 24/7. No wonder the race is regarded as offshore sailing’s toughest professional test. Such a close packing of the crews so long into the opening leg is unheard of in the 41-year history of the event with the sprint to be the first to sight Cape Town’s Table Mountain, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, still anyone’s to win.

Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing narrowly have their noses in front (Ian Walker/GBR), 2nm clear of Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) with Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) just 4.2nm further adrift. China’s Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) are by no means out of it either in fourth place on the tracker, nor even Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) in fifth. At the back of the fleet, it is not such a happy picture. Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) are more than 300nm behind after suffering miserably through lack of wind, while MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) had huge problems with a broken water pipe on board and electrical problems. The Spanish crew had to bail out in a hurry to avoid serious misfortune and Martínez was close to appealing for help from land to help them sort issues with the charging of their engine, which performs a number of key functions including water desalination.

October 28, 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. Xabi Fernandez, Michel Desjoyeaux, Nicolas Lunven working in the broken alternator. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

October 28, 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. Xabi Fernandez, Michel Desjoyeaux, Nicolas Lunven working in the broken alternator. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

To add to the other factors to contend with, there’s a possibility of food shortages in the fleet with the estimated time of arrival to Cape Town now pushed a couple of days back to November 6 and an ice gate to skirt in the Southern Ocean to keep the fleet clear of growlers (bergy bits). Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter Matt Knighton (USA) explained, however, that the leading crews have learned to accept the close-quarter racing at the head of the fleet, a result of the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65. This is inshore-style racing played out hundreds of miles from the coast. “One might think that after 19 days of racing and being a long way from land we’re surprised to see another boat so close. To be honest, we’re not,” he said. “The shock of how close this one-design racing is has worn off. After the earlier battle down the African coast, it’s not surprising to see one or even two sails keeping pace with you for a very, very long time.”

October 28, 2014.  Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. What sailing hands look like after 18 days at sea. Abby Ehler.Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

October 28, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. What sailing hands look like after 18 days at sea. Abby Ehler.Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

Ahead still lie the Roaring 40s, four or five-metre waves, steady 25-knot winds and the likely drag race towards South Africa next week. Cape Town’s magnificent port and setting will never be a more welcome sight for these 66 sailors.

October 28,2014. Leg 1 onboard Team Vestas Wind. A little bit of water on the decks today. Day 17 at Sea. Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race

October 28,2014. Leg 1 onboard Team Vestas Wind. A little bit of water on the decks today. Day 17 at Sea. Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race

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Ice gates and getting South

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source:Dongfeng Race Team] The big news of yesterday was the introduction of an ice gate by Race Director Jack Lloyd. Designed to take away the temptation for the teams to dive deep south in the search for better pressure and a better angle to Cape Town. The Ice Gate is placed at 42 deg South between 20W and 10W, seen on the screenshot below.

Ice gate and cape town

Over the past few days the weather models are now in better agreement, giving a more reliable forecast and therefore more reliable routing options for the teams. This allows them to commit to a certain path to dive South, although how far South is still unclear. In the screenshot below is an ensemble routing of GFS 1.0 deg, at 0600UT this morning. The top of the red box depicts the ice gate, to be left to Starboard. I made it into a box so it is easier to see.

ice_gate_and_cape_town2

The addition of the ice gate reduces the options for the teams, which is good news for the front runners and bad news for the teams behind. What we will likely see is the fleet sailing along this ice gate in order to be as far south as possible, in order to make the most of the left shift on Saturday afternoon.

Ice gate ensemble

Ensemble routings, GFS 1.0 deg, 0600 UT 29th October 2014. Almost all the routings are still taking the boats south of the ice gate to be left to Starboard. (Top line of the red box shown here):

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An ensemble GRIB is a really useful tool for gaining confidence in a weather model and its reliability. Ensemble GRIBs are currently only available through the American GFS weather model, and gives the end user (i.e. the navigators on board) the breakdown of the 20 different forecasts that make up the end GFS forecast we all normally see, downloadable via Squid or uGRIB etc.

Once we have all 20 breakdowns we can then do routings on each one, as you can see in the screenshot above. If the routings are scattered, you have little confidence in the forecast, and therefore the best option is to stay middle of the road. To be conservative and with the rest of the fleet until the model becomes more aligned.

If the forecast is debating between two options, split with 10 routings going South and 10 North for example, then you know one of two scenarios are going to play out. Or like now when every single one says to get South within the next 100nm, you can be confident that this is the way to go. Over the last week Dongfeng and Alvimedica seem to have played this conservative, middle of the road game well, and in doing so have made gains on the front trio.

Getting south

Fleet gybing South over the next 100nm

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It is interesting to note how DFRT and Alvimedica made these gains. In the last blog I spoke about trying to cut the corner to Cape Town, sailing closer to the Saint Helena high, in lighter winds, but sailing less distance. Over the last few days we saw Abu Dhabi and Brunel make big gybes out to the West, accepting the loss and that they had gone too close to the High Pressure. This allowed the others to eat into their lead. It must have been a painful call for the navigators on board, sailing almost exactly 180 degrees the wrong way to Cape Town! Mapfre and SCA appear to have gone too far West, and paid the price for sailing too far. Who would be a navigator?!

Capture

 

We are now perhaps into the final plays of Leg 1 and its good news for us fans that we have 5 boats back in contention. Dongfeng and Alvimedica need the others to make mistakes and for them to time their gybes over the next few days perfectly to take the lead, but a podium is on now if they get these next decisions right. Alvimedica seem to have found some great pace over the last few days it is worth noting.

So keep an eye on the boats gybing South over today, and then crucially when they time their gybes back to the East to not infringe the ice gate, that is the major decision over the next few days. The boats out West are coming in hot, with Brunel currently leading the way to the East. If Brunel can make their shortcut stick (not gybing West as much as Abu Dhabi did) then they could hold the lead for the next few days. What is exciting for us is that with 6-8 days to go, the race is now a 5 boat contest!

 

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Team Brunel snatch lead – for now

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have finally given ground to Team Brunel after almost exactly a week at the head of the fleet but the new leaders’ thin advantage may well be very short-lived as the Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 turned into a game of hunt-the-breeze. Ian Walker’s (skipper-GBR) men edged ahead of the fleet on October 21 after leapfrogging past Dongfeng Race Team, having navigated the Cape Verde Islands.

They kept their noses in front until Tuesday morning when Bouwe Bekking (skipper-NED) and his crew moved into a 59-nautical mile advantage. But before Dutch race fans get too excited, their position only reflects their placing in the most easterly point of the fleet, closer to the opening leg finish in Cape Town.

October 27,2014. Leg 1 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Ian Walker and Simon Fisher . Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

October 27,2014. Leg 1 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Ian Walker and Simon Fisher . Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Team Vestas Wind have gambled by following a course to the west of the two leaders but it was paying slim dividends with markedly less breeze where they were. Spain’s MAPFRE went even more for broke, heading 230nm west of Team Brunel but in the best gusts of the fleet.

Could that be the ploy to propel them first to the westerlies which could give them the crucial advantage in the Southern Ocean sprint to the finish?

“Right now it’s almost as if we’re in a three-way tie for the lead with each boat making bets as to where the breeze is going to be strongest as we make our way around the western edge of the St Helena High,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter, Matt Knighton (USA).

“Vestas is way out west. We gybed westward a couple of times during the day to try and find more wind. Brunel opted to continue on our original southerly route and not gybe west.

“Three boats, spanning 100 miles of ocean, each with a chance of working around the other two to get around the high fastest. We’ve been routing all of our positions and if you were to trust the computer, we’d all be finishing within an hour of each other with Abu Dhabi in the lead.”

Meanwhile, the temperatures are dropping as the tension rises with the thermals being donned for the first time onboard Abu Dhabi while the women of Team SCA were putting on their fleece-layered hats.

The boats are expected to complete the 6,487nm first leg from Alicante to Cape Town around November 5 after setting out on October 11.

 

October 26, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Kevin Escoffier getting wet in the foredeck. Yann Riou/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race

October 26, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Dongfeng Race Team. Kevin Escoffier getting wet in the foredeck. Yann Riou/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race

October 27, 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. The Teacher and the student! Michel Desjoyeaux takes on the fathering role of the crew, Anthony Marchand on helm. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

October 27, 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. The Teacher and the student! Michel Desjoyeaux takes on the fathering role of the crew, Anthony Marchand on helm. Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

October 26, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. Sara Hasreiter and Stacey Jackson grind during twilight. Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

October 26, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. Sara Hasreiter and Stacey Jackson grind during twilight. Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

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The South Atlantic explained

Posted on 25 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Every strategy from Fernando de Noronha to Cape Town implies the management of this High Pressure that is the counterpart of the Azores High in North Atlantic. In October, is still in a very high latitude, and as we cannot cross the windless center neither beat upwind, only option is to go south as fast as possible and get into the westerly’s to make east towards Cape Town.

Unfortunately for the chasing boats, there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities to catch up by choosing different strategies, as rounding Saint Helen is mainly a Horse Power issue.

Screen_Shot_2014-10-25_at_10.49.21_res

 

Screen_Shot_2014-10-25_at_10.49.30_test

However, subtle changes can make a difference enough to put pressure on the leaders.

From Fernando de Noronha to 20 S

This area is purely dominated by South Atlantic Trade Winds, and the main factors are 1. Management of the wind shift from SE to East. This is where the routing programm is a great tool, as it will help you to keep always the fastest angle that comepnsates the extra sailed distance. Normally, if you expect 10 degreees of wind shift you change your course half of the wind shift change.

Screen_Shot_2014-10-25_at_10.50.32_gonzalo

Equatorial currents

They head west with a set of about 1-2 kts which should be taken into account for course adjustment..

Management of Trade winds oscillations

Trade winds oscillation are short term wind variations that are expected during the day as a response to heat and some interesting thermodynamic effects at those latitudes. If a boat is headed and you expect the reverse shift over the near future sail low and fast..this is call CMG optimization.

Information and text provided by Gonzalo Infante, Race Control & Meteorology Manager for the Volvo Ocean Race.

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Equator takes its first scalp

Posted on 24 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing won the race to the Equator late on Thursday and were in good shape to make the turning mark of Fernando de Noronha at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as their six rivals were still playing catch-up despite finally escaping the Doldrums.

Navigator Simon Fisher (GBR/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing) has been his fellow Briton Ian Walker’s (skipper) key man for the past week as, first, he steered Azzam cleverly through the Cape Verde Islands ahead of the competition, and then guided them through the windless Doldrums in first place.

They now need to sail to Fernando, which is 200 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast, before turning at a 40-degree angle for the Roaring 40s, which will propel them headlong to Cape Town, the Leg 1 destination port, in the first week of November. Fisher and Walker certainly cannot rest on their laurels yet. In the last edition in 2011-12, PUMA had similarly navigated this stage of the race in second place, before they were dismasted and forced to motor miserably to Tristan de Cunha, an archipeligo in the South Atlantic, before finally being shipped to South Africa.

Additionally, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have the added concern of second-placed Team Brunel (skipper Bouwe Bekking/NED) hot on their heels. By Friday at 0900 UTC, the Dutch crew were just 14nm behind and Team Vestas Wind (skipper Chris Nicholson/AUS) who were the quickest in the fleet in third spot thanks to stronger winds in their position further to the east.

All seven boats will have crossed the Equator by around 1300 UTC on Friday. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel did so before midnight (2200 and 2300 UTC respectively) and Team Vestas Wind at 0120 UTC. It is traditionally a key staging post in the race and an experience the members of the crews who have never done it before will always remember.

Each will have to perform a special ‘ceremony’ set up by their crewmates to appease both them and the sea god, Neptune. The initiation has been conducted by seamen the world over for generations.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter Matt Knighton (USA) says he enjoyed it – in a special kind of way – even though he suffered a ‘reverse mohican’ hairstyle to mark the occasion. “With the Equator trudging towards us with relentless persistence, the threat of my impending punishment and purification inched all the more closer with every sked (position report),” he writes.

“Since I was the only one on board who had not crossed the Equator before and was also American, I had a lot to atone for. But suffice to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to be inducted by and I’m proud to be counted among their ranks. And I’m pretty sure my new haircut improves our aerodynamic performance.”

With another 10 days or so before their estimated arrival in Cape Town, the race is still wide open with just under half of the 6,487nm completed in the opening leg from Alicante.

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Things are looking up for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Posted on 23 October 2014 by Ivan Bidzilya

[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] First in the fleet, and out of the Doldrums, they’re heading fast towards the Equator, trade winds blowing gusts of encouragement around their ears. “Normally you can be sitting stationery for hours on end, relying on clouds to puff you through – but we managed to keep moving,” smiles Ian Walker, driving his Azzam boat forwards. In these generous conditions, he holds his head high – and the horizon looks good. “The sky is changing over the last few hours,” he adds. “We can see all the big clouds behind us, and it looks a lot fairer in front. We should have a lot less disturbed wind now.”

October 22, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A fleeting rainbow. Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

October 22, 2014. Leg 1 onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. A fleeting rainbow. Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

His team opted to take the most western passage of any of the fleet – a move that Team Vestas Wind’s Wouter Verbraak called ‘risky’ – and Ian doesn’t deny it was a bold decision. “We semi-regretted it at one stage,” he admits. “We were looking at a 50 to 100 mile deficit, but a few things went in our favour.” “In the 2008-9 race on Green Dragon, we did exactly the same thing, and made similar gains on the fleet – we were first around Fernando de Noronha then, too.” That’s the next waypoint on this 3 week voyage to Cape Town, a tiny archipelago just off the coast of eastern Brazil. But before rounding the tropical surfing paradise, the Emiratis must cross the Equator, smashing their way into the Southern Hemisphere – a symbolic passing which is expected to happen at around 2200 UTC this evening. Around 200nm behind the leaders, MAPFRE and Team SCA are also looking up – but for a different reason. They’re the ones left behind, stuck with no light at the end of the tunnel, and they desperately need to find a way out to keep this race alive. “There’s really not a lot of wind around!” shouts Sophie Ciszek, from the top of the mast.

October 22. 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. Andre Fonseca wondering when the wind is going to come back.Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

October 22. 2014. Leg 1 onboard MAPFRE. Andre Fonseca wondering when the wind is going to come back.Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race

Frustration is bubbling on the magenta boat, but after days of almost aimlessly floating around, it appears to be gradually turning to reluctant resignation. Abby Ehler, eyeing skyward, explains. “There’s no wind – and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can see where the wind is, but there’s no way of getting to it.” “It’s like trying to sit on a bicycle without a chain,” adds Carolijn Brouwer. “You keep turning the pedals really hard, but you’re not getting anywhere.” On the Spanish boat, it’s Frenchman Anthony Marchand sums up the feeling of helplessness best.“Will we ever get out of here?” he asks, dramatically. After this long in the dreaded Doldrums, part of him must be beginning to believe it might never happen. And it’s the thought of leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing increasing their superiority with every minute, every mile, every hour that will hurt the most.

Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

But Ian isn’t worried about that. With his boat in pole position and having successfully jumped a massive hurdle, he has reason to be cheerful – but what sticks in his memory from the last few days? “My memory of the Doldrums is that it teases you,” he says. “You think you’re out, and you fall back in. It’s frustrating.” “But then suddenly, everything changes – and you’re off.” Encouragement for those still battling the clouds, then. But for the Emiratis, that’s the Doldrums, done. Chapter closed.

October 22,2014.The third day in the clutches of the Doldrums brings no breaks for Team Alvimedica, still searching for consistent winds and a way south with the fleet. MAPFRE gets absorbed by a growing rain cloud in the doldrums as Alvimedica navigator Will Oxley tries to avoid the same fate. Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race

October 22,2014.The third day in the clutches of the Doldrums brings no breaks for Team Alvimedica, still searching for consistent winds and a way south with the fleet. MAPFRE gets absorbed by a growing rain cloud in the doldrums as Alvimedica navigator Will Oxley tries to avoid the same fate. Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race

October 22,2014. Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. Justine Mettraux watches the numbers on the mast during the doldrums. Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

October 22,2014. Leg 1 onboard Team SCA. Justine Mettraux watches the numbers on the mast during the doldrums. Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race

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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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