Camper leads into Luzon Strait

Volvo Ocean Race boats set to shave the south coast of Taiwan

Wednesday February 22nd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

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

Positions at 1004 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Camper Chris Nicholson 21 34.130n 119 36.880e 11.3 72 4723.7  
2 Sanya Mike Sanderson 21 22.330n 119 14.720e 11.7 79 4729.3 5.6
3 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 21 27.470n 119 18.320e 11.8 79 4730.8 7.1
4 Groupama Franck Cammas 21 41.300n 119 31.600e 11.8 76 4732.3 8.6
5 Telefonica Iker Martinez 21 46.980n 119 21.130e 13.7 78 4743.1 19.4
6 Puma Ken Read 21 37.670n 119 04.530e 13.6 75 4747 23.3

To avoid an area of high pressure lurking around the north of the Philippine Island of Luzon, so the Volvo Ocean Race boats have been erring north and are about to pass through the Luzon Strait on its north side, shaving the south side of Taiwan.

The boats are still on the wind, as they have been pretty much since they departed Sanya, but while the fleet as a group tacked southwest yesterday evening (UTC) for three to four hours, they have since returned to starboard tack.

Camper has done a good job hanging on to the lead. They were the first to tack back just after 2100 UTC and at the latest sched have extended their lead to 5.6 miles. However the stats above indicate that slightly to the north Telefonica and Puma are slightly freed up, sailing two knots faster than the opposition. However the noteworthy performance has been that of Sanya, the Mike Sanderson-skippered older generation VO70 that is up to second, although it is by virtue of her being the boat furthest south.

The crews are still suffering in wind against tide conditions as Camper MCM Hamish Hooper illustrated: "Going to the toilet for the first time in 54 hours in the bow of a Volvo Open 70 in 20 knots and dropping off 3 metre waves -- both terrifying and exhilarating at the prospect of how badly things could go. We are sailing with a current of about two knots with us (which is good), but it’s going against the swell (not so good), which creates such confused seas. Every now and then a set of large steep waves with no backs to them come along and the helmsman have to spin the boat on the crest of the wave so as not to crash directly off the back of it.

"We are continuing to sail a course, which regrettably is taking us further away from Auckland. It is something that has to be done if we are to minimize our time in the painful light air forecast for the next wee while and to navigate our way as best we can across the three knot Kuroshio, or ‘Black Tide’ current which runs north past the Luzon Strait to the east of Taiwan and then north east to Japan -- again the wrong way to Auckland… torture!"

Looking ahead, the forecast indicates the wind veering from the southeast into the south or SSW this evening and the boats will take this big lift to turn themselves to the southeast. Unfortunately there is a giant area of high pressure at present centred to the east of Japan, so the boats look set to remain hard on the wind until they are half way down the east coast of Luzon when the wind is due to back into the east allows the VO70s to fetch south.

From Puma, Ken Read writes:

We are approaching Taiwan and it is unanimous on board, and I am sure across the fleet. GET US OUT OF THE CHINA SEA!!!!

We are so sick of going upwind and slamming on waves, and the hollow sound of living inside of a bass drum. It wears on you.

As most know by now, this leg did not start with a bang for the fine yacht Mar Mostro. After the delay was announced and the plan put in place to sail the 'Buddha course' in order to create the order of starting the next morning for Leg 4, we put together a strategy for the inshore part of the leg. To be honest, I think we had it pretty sorted as shown by the fact that about two-thirds of the way through the course we had a big lead on the fleet. But, to no avail. As we sailed into a transitional light air zone, the fleet all gybed toward the shore and around us to absolutely clobber us as we sat in literally no wind. To say that was frustrating is the understatement of the century. But, we had to remind ourselves that we have 5,500 miles to make up for that gap, and off we went at 7:39 am Sanya time the next day. Didn't sleep much that night, I have to say.

Thinking about every moment of our own little drifting party. I still haven't exactly figured it out.

The leg started the way we thought: crummy left over seas and up-and-down winds; a race to the east towards the Philippines for a right-hand shift. As the last boat out, the shift came through and we tacked to leeward of the fleet to start a drag race north. Unfortunately, the drag race really benefited the boats to the right and we really got creamed by all to the right of us.

This set up some of the harder decisions we have to make in these races. We all have to do it at times when the weather just doesn't go your way. The decision to take your medicine and go get in line. Which always means take a huge loss in order to prevent a catastrophic loss. Essentially, when you have given up all hope that your side is going to come good.

We actually got a 40° left shift that we were expecting, but fell out of it about 10 minutes after we got it. It turns out that left shift was very much geographical and it wasn't our salvation, so we had to suck it up and take the transoms of the fleet by lots of miles and start again. Not ideal and like I said, one of the toughest calls you have to make tactically. The fact is we should have made the call to suck it up about 10 hours earlier, but we didn't know that the left-hand shift was going to turn out to be a loser. Oh well, we have actually gotten a few nice lanes and closed back into the group and are a part of the race again. Believe it or not, the mood on board is quite optimistic right now.

The Kiwis on board are surely looking forward to going home. Auckland has always been such a traditional stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race that it will be great to go back. Personally, I have great memories of living there during the 2000 and 2003 America's Cups. An amazing city and an even better country. My entire family is coming back, including my dad, wife and daughter, to share in this experience. A host of friends is also making the trek and doing some sightseeing once we are gone. Rumour has it that Tony Mutter has a surprise waiting for the team. A part-time farmer, Tony has been talking for a couple years about a steak dinner 'Mutter style'. Which I am guessing may be bad news for one of his cows.

In the meantime, we have a lot of crappy weather to get through. Big waves. Lots of wind, and very little wind. Did I say big waves? Not real pleasurable, but in about a week’s time we should have some great trade winds sailing through the Pacific. It can't come soon enough.

- Kenny

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