Who will be last?

It's slow going for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet

Friday March 15th 2002, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: Transoceanic
Positions at 1000 15 March 2002
PS Yacht Latitude Longitude DTF DTL DTL-C CMG SMG PO
1 Tyco 05 30.28S 035 01.04W 3266 0 0 336 11 26
2 illbruck 05 36.36S 034 58.08W 3273 7 2 338 11 36
3 Assa Abloy 05 35.84S 034 55.32W 3274 8 2 341 11 26
4 News Corp 06 03.92S 034 40.80W 3305 39 6 346 11 24
5 djuice 06 25.88S 034 35.76W 3327 61 8 345 10 21
6 SEB 06 27.25S 034 36.32W 3328 62 9 348 10 15
7 Amer One 06 25.88S 034 31.28W 3329 63 9 347 10 24
8 Amer Too 06 27.68S 034 24.80W 3334 68 10 348 10 8

Despite a lack of wind, the battle for miles and places continues to rage intensely at both the front and back of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet.

At the front, Tyco, Assa Abloy and illbruck continue to swap positions, each in turn making the best of individual clouds to push ahead. "We are still locked in serious battle with illbruck, who is about 150 meters abeam and to weather of us, and Assa Abloy who managed to make a small break away last night and are now about one mile directly in front of us," reported Tyco's Jonathan Swain on Thursday evening. "It has been a seesaw battle so far with the lead changing three times last night within the space of five hours. Clouds have been the biggest factor so far as one minute you are the peacock and the next minute you're looking like the feather duster."

Unsurprisingly, it's a similar story from Chris Larson. "Here on Assa Abloy we have been locked into a great battle with Tyco and illbruck for the past two days shuffling each other back and forth for the lead. We are being served the standard plate of Easterly trades, which are blowing around 10-15 knots, but it seems as if every couple of hours we have to navigate our way through sometimes-dreadful rain showers. There are good ones with wind and very BAD ones with no wind leaving you sometimes breathless watching the other two boats sail past. But, somehow over time the law of averages seem to take affect and we end up in the same place and position as two days before."

At the back of the fleet the battle is no less intense. SEB, and the two Amer Sports boats have all taken their turn in last place and none of them wants to stay there for long.

For Grant Dalton it was pretty much a new experience to be last in a round the world race and he was not pleased. It was Bouwe Bekking's turn to write the daily news when things were looking bad. "Currently there are eleven very black clouds onboard the fine vessel Amer Sports One and not to forget the one severe thunderstorm in the person of Dalts," he reported. "This is a red page in Grant Dalton's round the world-racing career. A very painful twenty-four hours, first getting dumped by the leaders and then getting overtaken by the boats behind us."

The Fleet is now staying closer inshore, no doubt hoping to pick up a branch of the South Equatorial Current which is currently setting north at a rate of half a knot. Once passed Recife the fleet will be able to take advantage of the Guiana Current which sets north west along the coast at a rate of 1 - 1.5 knots.

The big question remains how close to go inshore to round the most north-eastern point of South America, Punta Padras. Conventional theory suggests keeping well aware from the shore and the inevitable sea- and land-breeze cycle but with unsettled winds offshore, closing the coast is looking like an increasingly sound option. Assa Abloy's Magnus Olsson reported by satellite phone, "We have just made our move more towards the shore. We expect some gain there from more sea breeze, instead of scrambling around here for some fluky trade winds."

While the leading group of three continue to play leap-frog with one another, the four boats at the back are spread out across a slightly wider line with SEB some ten miles closer inshore than the outside boat, Amer Sports Too. News Corp lies almost exactly half way between the two groups.

With little prospect of serious breeze until they enter the north east trades after passing through the Doldrums, leg five is beginning to look like a slow trip. Despite early forecast showing wind almost all the way across the doldrums, the actual weather has turned out to be very different. Light winds occasionally disturbed by squall clouds are now dominant. And things don't look too good for the near future either. "The doldrums look frighteningly large this time on the weather info we see," says Olsson. "That does not look good. We have two to three days before we are really in it. The wind is already dropping." With barely an isobar on the weather forecast charts between now and Monday, the next few days look like a battle for every mile.

Did anyone seriously expect Dalton to be bringing up the back of the fleet?

Page two.... Doldrums Already, Asks djuice's Knut Frostad
Page three.... SEB's Gareth Cooke tells of a sticky mess
Page four.... Bouwe Bekking reports from Amer Spots One

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