Breaking from the coast

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing moves into first place, as Groupama leads the charge east in the Volvo Ocean Race

Wednesday December 14th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and PredictWind

Having continued to rock hop and play the coastal breezes off the bottom of South African through yesterday, so at around 0100 this morning all the boats had made it to the bay to the east of Port Elizabeth. Since then all but leg 1 winner, Telefonica, have bitten the bullet and headed out to sea. Franck Cammas and the crew of Groupama were first to make this move, followed by Camper, then Puma, Sanya and lastly Abu Dhabi.  Heading offshore on this coast is a little like crossing a road - for the Aguhlas Current, that can run up to 3-4 knots, is pushing the boats southwest. So the crews have taken the opportunity to use the favourable winds around the eastern flank of a localised shallow depression to their south to make a fast exit from the coast, the boats making 20+ knots at present. Andrew Cape and the tactical decision-makers on Telefonica meanwhile have opted to bide their time and continue to hug the coast out of the worst of the unfavourable current, but we suspect they will head offshore imminently.

In terms of the overall met scenario - at present there is a giant area of high pressure to their southeast (centred just north of the Crozet Islands) which is generating northeasterly headwinds to the east of the leaders. Meanwhile to the south of Cape Town there is a larger depression. Over the course of today this main depression absorbs the smaller system the boats are currently rounding. It looks like the tactic of the boats that have headed away from the coast is to attempt get ahead of the front associated with the main depression. Unfortunately the high to their southeast is looking quite resilient compared to the depression and has the effect of pushing the depression south rather than east over the next 24 hours. As a result the boats won't be able to 'ride the front' as you are normally able to in the Southern Ocean. However the depression will cause the winds to the west of the high to back into the north and it looks like the boats will be continuing on into these northerlies until they tack north sometime late on Friday when the forecast has the high starting to break up as it melds with another area of high pressure forming to the WSW.

Over the last 24 hours the leaderboard has been a bit topsy turvy with Camper leading from Puma at 1000 yesterday morning. The top four boats (ie excluding Abu Dhabi and Telefonica) were all on top of one another yesterday afternoon (ie within a mile) but both Groupama and Abu Dhabi did well late yesterday afternoon when they headed into the Bay to the west of Port Elizabeth, Groupama regaining the lead briefly. Early evening Groupama seems to have a problem and stopped temporarily allowing Puma and Camper to overtake her offshore and for Abu Dhabi to move up to third. But since exiting the bay to the east of Port Elizabeth, Abu Dhabi seems to have benefitted from sailing slightly further up the coast than Groupama, Puma and Camper and has pulled into first place. However the reality at the moment is that it is the drag race east that is most important and in this respect Groupama is winning.



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