Volvo Ocean Race fleet not out of the woods

The persistent trough/front continues to hound the fleet

Friday December 16th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and high res GRIB from PredictWind

No, the chart above isn't the same one as we used yesterday. Despite being some 350-375 miles further east than they were yesterday, this morning the six VO70s are still attempting to ease themselves away from the clutches of the dissolving front/trough which has been moving east with them.

While the order of the boats is the same as their north-south spread with northernmost Telefonica in first place and Groupama last, at present the race is about getting east and in this respect the winner over the course of yesterday and into today has been Camper. Even yesterday morning the Emirates Team NZ-crewed VO70, in her position as second most southerly boat, was a nose ahead to the east. Over the course of yesterday the five most northerly boats eased south slightly, as Groupama headed north, taking the transoms of both Camper and Puma yesterday evening before heading south again, resuming her position as the most southerly boat. One wonders what on earth they are up to. At least they are closer to the rest of the fleet than they were yesterday.

Regardless of the conditions - and the sea state is supposed to be horrendous - the boats have been making solid progress typically making 15-18 knots.

So what happens next? The reason the northerly boats eased south yesterday is that the front/trough is narrower to the south. There is also a little more pressure south (where the boats have been sailing around a knot faster). Over the course of the next 24 hours, the pace of the front/trough east slows and from its present more or less north-south axis it skews onto more of a NNW-SSE axis (ie the boats to the south will cross it later). So at some point the boats should break through into the northerlies on the west side of the high, and at this point it will pay to be north for the aim will be continue east far enough before the wind starts veering into the east at which point they will tack north. Aside from the boats in the north already being closer to the mark, their position is likely to be a double benefit as they will see shift sooner than the boats in the south.

This morning Camper skipper Chris Nicholson discussed what was going on: “We’re all fighting against the edge of the trough line. It’s certainly proving difficult to get through. It’s frustrating but it also keeps it interesting. It’s not easy at all – there have been a lot of sail changes and it’s extremely hard on the boat with the wave conditions. Everyone knows there’s a pot of gold on the other side of this line and if you can get into it you’ll get a good break.

"We almost got through two days ago. We had a northerly of about 18 knots for about five minutes or so. We had our fingers crossed that we were through but in the end it was not to be.

“We’ve been sailing along in a sou’wester but the problem is we’re so close to getting into the northerlies that we’re seeing the northerly swell along with the sou’west swell. It’s very hard on the boat and on the rig. I’m a little surprised there haven’t been any breakages on any of the boats, it’s been very hard landing."

According to Nicholson it won't be until tomorrow that they get through the trough.

See the latest blog from Puma MCM Amory Ross

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