Volvo Ocean Race: Major reroll of the dice

Volvo Ocean Race fleet 90 degrees off course as they head out into the Pacific

Thursday February 23rd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

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

Positions at 1003 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Sanya Mike Sanderson 22 24.120n 123 15.530e 9.8 94 4624.6  
2 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 22 35.330n 123 21.170e 13 82 4629.6 5
3 Groupama Franck Cammas 22 55.720n 123 38.400e 10 59 4634.6 10
4 Camper Chris Nicholson 23 15.880n 123 43.230e 12.1 70 4646.9 22.3
5 Telefonica Iker Martinez 22 50.270n 122 29.820e 6.3 59 4672.1 47.5
6 Puma Ken Read 23 17.220n 122 18.700e 11.2 15 4699 74.4

Ken Read's wish of leaving the South China Sea came true last yesterday evening (UTC) when the six VO70s short tacked along the south coast of Taiwan to ease themselves out into the Pacific Ocean. Camper was first to exit Luzon Strait at around 1900 UTC, followed an hour later by Groupama and then Telefonica, with Puma at around 2200 trailed by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and then Sanya. And so the 700 miles of pounding upwind, the crews have experienced between Sanya and the Luzon Strait, has at last come to an end.

However the fleet is by no means out of the woods yet and since leaving Luzon Strait the tactical options seem to have gone into disarray. Instead of hanging a right once they rounded the top of Luzon, onto a southeasterly course that would take them towards Auckland, the lead VO70s have been heading ENE on a course more in the direction of San Francisco. The only boat to try making headway on a more reasonable course towards the finish was Telefonica, but after two hours heading ESE yesterday evening, a move that caused them to temporarily take first place (by virtue of being closest to the finish line) they bailed from this option and turned their bow almost due north to reconverge with the fleet. However this move, causing them to sail 120deg to the desired course, has proved costly and the Spanish overall Volvo Ocean Race leader pulled back in among the northeasterly bound boats just ahead of Puma.

Meanwhile the Farr designs, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Sanya were, in the early hours of this morning, following a similar route to Puma and Telefonica but at 0400 split south, a move that has caused them to remain in the breeze as the boat to their north have wallowed. As a result in the last six hours Telefonica has held both first and last place, showing some uncharacteristic chinks in the Spanish VO70 armour. Meanwhile Sanya at the latest sched is technically holding the lead, again because she is furthest south, while just to the north of her Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is the fastest in the fleet making 13 knots.

The reason for these shenanigans is due to the present met situation which has a giant area of high pressure centred to the east of Japan. This has created an area of light headwinds to the south (as Telefonica experienced yesterday evening). So the only option left is to go east, however at present a depression is developing over Japan, to the south of which is a trough (remember when the boats left Cape Town?). So the boats are having to make headway through this and into the stronger southwesterlies on the opposite side of the trough before they can then make headway southeast. At present it looks like Camper and Groupama will be the first through.

“Heading north towards Japan doesn’t seem quite right, but apparently this is the quickest way to get to New Zealand,” explained Camper navigator Will Oxley. “It is somewhat comforting that the entire fleet has followed suit.”

There must have been a holy heart failure moment on board the Kiwi crewed boat when Telefonica attempted the southerly option.

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