Volvo Ocean Race: Puma on a flier

Snakes and ladders on the leaderboard as the boats line up to get around the Vietnamese coast

Wednesday February 1st 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

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

Positions at 0701 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon SoG CoG Dtf DTL
1 Telefonica Iker Martinez 06 16.180n 106 37.550e 9.4 359 735.9 0
2 Groupama Franck Cammas 06 12.130n 106 26.630e 9.4 44 742.32 6.42
3 Camper Chris Nicholson 05 34.450n 106 54.630e 9.3 5 773.22 37.32
4 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 04 55.020n 107 17.420e 9.1 1 808.13 72.23
5 Puma Ken Read 04 19.380n 108 48.970e 9 86 834.43 98.53
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 02 19.020n 107 14.930e 8.4 29 962.86 226.96

With the boats upwind, so more tactical options have become available to the teams and one boat to take the plunge and split from the fleet has been the Ken Read-skippered Puma. At 1900 UTC last night, the US team tacked on to port...and kept going, apart from a brief hitch back to the north to avoid the island of Natuna. In his latest blog Puma's MCM Amory Ross explains their reasoning (see here) - essentially they prefer how the routing looks heading east early and this will involve less tacks. However this risky move has dropped them back to fifth place.

However the leaderboard isn't a particularly accurate picture of what is going on. The route to the Sanya finish line involves avoiding the coast of Vietnam, but is principally north and with the wind in the northwest, starboard tack is by the more favoured in terms of distance to finish. However at present the boats aren't far enough east to get around Vietnam and so must at some point go on to a painful losing port tack, 90 degrees to the desired course. Hence why Puma's moved has caused them to plummet down the leaderboard and why when Telefonica took a hitch east between 0100 and 0200 this morning, Groupama briefly pulled into the lead. So over the next day and a bit, as Telefonica claws her way over the 387 miles between her present position and the mark off the coast of Vietnam (that the boats must leave to port) we can expect to see much more in the way of snakes and ladders on the leaderboard.

Weather-wise there is still talk of gales and monsoon-generated storm surges, which still aren't appearing on the GRIB files. This is possibly one reason the tactical brains trust aboard Puma have chosen their easterly option - it appears they are sailing into less pressure, but their routing takes them on a course around the worst of the sea state that appears to be directly where Groupama and Telefonica are heading. Whether this proves to be a race winning move remains to be seen, but given the carnage that occurred in the last race on this stage of the race, erring on the side of caution is probably a smart move at this stage. Saying this, at present GRIBs from the European model (which is showing stronger conditions than the American GFS model) are not indicating more than 20-25 knots ahead for the northerly boats, the wind remaining resolutely in the northwest, although there seems to be a permanent shift to be used as the boats approach the next mark of the course, with the wind bending around the Vietnamese coast.

Puma naviator Tom Addis explains himself here:


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