Leaving New Zealand to port or starboard
To go east or west – that is the question facing the Velux 5 Oceans skippers as they approach the south of New Zealand, less than 1,000 nautical miles from the finish line in Wellington. After four gruelling weeks at sea sailing through one of the most inhospitable oceans in the world, the end might be in sight for the tired ocean racers but the race is by no means over.
At the front of the fleet Brad Van Liew, Zbigniew Gutkowski and Derek Hatfield are separated by just under 400 nautical miles. Despite being exhausted from extreme sleep deprivation and the sheer physicality of the Southern Ocean, all three must now make the toughest tactical decision of the leg so far: whether to get to Wellington by sailing on the shortest route up the west coast of New Zealand via the Tasman Sea and then the Cook Strait, or via the longer route round the tip of the South Island and up the east coast, where the forecast indicates much more favourable wind conditions.
“When setting the course we purposely left it up to the sailors to decide their own route into Wellington as a final test for them,” Velux 5 Oceans Race Director David Adams explained. “Each route has its benefits and its drawbacks. The Tasman Sea can be pretty fickle and the Cook Strait is notorious for its funnel effect, channelling strong winds down in between the North and South islands. The easterly route however is also pretty tricky – it would see the skippers sailing due north into the strong, seasonal Wellington northerlies.”
As the Velux 5 Oceans race tracker shows, race leader Brad Van Liew in Le Pingouin and Derek Hatfield in Active House appear to have opted for the westerly route through the Tasman while Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski on Operon Racing has split to the east in a gutsy tactical move.
“West of New Zealand looks quite confused right now,” added Adams. “A high pressure is coming through the Tasman which will bring some pretty light winds of five to ten knots. However, once through it, they will be able to make the right turn into the Cook Strait and blast into Wellington with strong winds behind them.
“The easterly route looks very constant, with winds of about 15 to 20 knots from the south west – perfect sailing conditions. But by Sunday things will have changed totally and Gutek will have 40 knots of breeze on the nose. It’s a bold move by Gutek to choose the easterly route – he’s throwing all his cards on the table. It’s a gamble that could pay off for him but equally he could lose it all. These guys have been at sea for 28 days, they are really tired and this decision-making process will be really difficult for them. Coming into Wellington in 40 knots of breeze will not be pleasant but Gutek is hoping he can sneak in just in front of Brad and Derek. It is all gearing up to be a very exciting finish to ocean sprint two.”
Leg two positions at 00h00 GMT:
Skipper / distance to finish (nm) / distance to leader (nm) / distance covered in last 24 hours (nm) / average speed in last 24 hours (kts)
Brad Van Liew, Le Pingouin: 817.3/ 0 / 286.8/ 11.9
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 1103.5/ 286.2 / 236.7/ 9.9
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 1200.9/ 383.6/ 210.9/ 8.8
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 2032.3/ 1215/ 110.6/ 4.6