A race of all seasons

madforsailing looks at what's up on leg eight of the Volvo Ocean Race
The penultimate leg of the Volvo Ocean Race kicks off at 1500GMT today and will take the eight boats on a European tour from La Rochelle round Ushant on the northwestern tip of France, up the Channel, across the North Sea round a turning mark off Norway before descending to the Swedish port of Gothenburg, in the heartland of Volvo. After many thousand miles of ocean racing, this leg is rather different being probably the most arduous on the navigators. The course is very coastal and takes the boats close to or through many island groups such as the Channel Islands or the archipelago off the Norwegian coast at Arendal. At Dover the boats will negotiate the world's busiest shipping lane and because of this the race committee have been strict to ensure that the boats stay to the north of the westbound shipping lane. So keen have the race committee been to play it safe that they have put 30 waypoints into the sailing instructions for this leg, which has caused some whinging among the navigators. Also significant is that the course is heavily tidal and any boats that break from the pack could conceivably make a tidal gate and get away, a feature that anyone who has done the Fastnet Race is all too aware. But with only one leg to go the race is likely to become more tactical and therefore very close and the chances of anyone making the break are very low. Weather Weather wise the dominant feature today is a depression over Ireland that News Corp meteorologist Nick White says will give about 20 knots from the south west for the start. However the wind will clock around to the west or north west as a front passes through tonight making it a one tack beat