Volvo Ocean Race: Solomon Islands - tick

Telefonica moves up to third as the boats edge into the trades again

Sunday March 4th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: Solomon Islands

Charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and high res GRIB (European model) from PredictWind

Positions at 1003 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 11 54.270s 162 46.720e 13.2 187 1640.7  
2 Puma Ken Read 10 33.520s 162 31.230e 12.2 178 1721.2 80.5
3 Telefonica Iker Martinez 11 16.080s 158 42.680e 12.5 167 1778.6 137.9
4 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 09 13.720s 162 07.120e 12.7 173 1804.1 163.4
5 Camper Chris Nicholson 10 39.130s 158 12.520e 13.7 173 1825.2 184.5
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 09 14.670s 158 07.470e 11.8 190 1902.1 261.4

The westerly group of boats on this lengthy leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race have now successfully woven their way through the Solomon Islands and have exited out the other side. While this move should have hampered the westerly boats, in fact over the last 24 hours Telefonica has managed to pull up to third place (although they have dropped back from 98 miles to 138 miles astern of leader Groupama) although this is more due to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing having had a disastrous 24 hours, losing almost 70 miles on Groupama as they felt the last of the Doldrums (see MCM Nick Dana's report below). However the rich have got richer and by virtue of getting into the building trade winds first, Groupama has in the last 24 hours managed to put 17 miles on Puma (although this is particularly due to them breaking their J2) and the latest sched confirms that the French VO70 continues to sail a knot faster than her American rival.

The island life is not over for the Volvo boats. Just over 500 miles down the race track for Groupama lies the French island of New Caledonia and at present it looks as through the French team is lining up to leave this to port (ie sail to the west of it). However of more concern for the teams is that the zone of high pressure currently over the Tasman Sea, to the west of New Zealand's North Island, is receeding south over the next few days. The southeasterlies they are currently sailing into are associated with this high and as it shrinks south, so the Doldrums-like area to its north also moves south with it. The leaders look like they may stay in the pressure but the back markers - Abu Dhabi to the east and Sanya in the west may be caught in light winds again.

With the wind somewhere between easterly and southeasterly for the foreseeable future, generally the next 1000 miles will be on port tack and having spent so long miles and miles to the east of the rhumb line to Auckland, it could well be that at some point mid-week the boats will find themselves, for the first time on this leg, being to the west of the rhumb line. The big question navigators will be contemplating even now is 'how/when to get east?' For at the moment the wind isn't forecast to back into the northeast until Thursday...

Hamish Hooper reports from Camper: 

A tense morning onboard Camper today as we began the cautious passage through the middle of the Solomon Islands a couple of hours prior to sunrise.

Will Oxley was up and down from the nav station like a jack in the box giving new headings seemingly every few minutes to avoid the various coral reefs and shallow points. But perhaps our greatest fear was the very high potential for a large thunderstorm intercepting us in the tight waters and throwing way too much wind or sucking all of the wind from our sails.

For the couple of hours pre-dawn there was what Nico described as ‘a very sinister’ looking monster storm cloud ominously hanging a matter of miles away which we tip toed under then luckily it propelled us out of the narrows and into the relatively more open water with a handy 15-knot push.

It’s an intriguing feeling sailing through these waters, to think of what it would have been like in the height of the battle between the allied forces and the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII. They certainly would have been a lot less tranquil than they are now. There must be some treasure, or junk, depending on what way you look at it on the sea floor below us.

I gave the guys on deck a bit of education this morning on how before the arrival of Europeans; the Solomon Islanders were notorious for headhunting and cannibalism. We weren’t sure how the stench of a few of us would have been for their appetite, no different to some stinky blue cheese probably- something for the more distinguished palate maybe.

These islands are the most stunning picture perfect tropical islands I have ever seen.

Quiz Question: “How many Islands make up the Solomon Islands collectively?”

We just passed through a narrow passage between two small islands and got a close up look at everything you imagine a tropical island to be. I am pretty sure it might have crossed a few minds to just jump off and take up residence on one of the islands. Alas all stayed aboard the stinking hot Volvo 70 bound for another paradise - Auckland.

Ahh- which reminds me of my favourite place of all in Auckland - our own tropical Isle - Waiheke Island, another paradise island but just 35 minutes from downtown Auckland. It is a must do while in the great city.

Speaking of happy places, After passing the tropical island Chuny was inspired to have a nude bath on the bow of the boat sprayed and cleansed by the warm emerald waters. I have never seen a smile so big on his face.

Now comes the hard part of negotiating the wind shadow of Guadalcanal, if we can slip past there and onto the final push for New Zealand in good pace Chuny won’t be the only one smiling.

“Good prior planning and research of the initial islands made for a relatively straight forward passage. However apprehension is building as we approach the daunting wind shadow cast by Guadalcanal. This is verified by the lighter winds Telefónica showed in the last sked.

Yet again I race through an area of the world that looks like a fantastic cruising ground and I make a mental note to return here one day.” WILL OXLEY

Yann Riou on Groupama reports: 

"There are a few hours since I postponed writing this small blog, hoping that we are told that we are getting out of the Doldrums. And this may be the case just now. The problem is that we never are completely sure. That said, there is a fairly big change between the conditions that we have been encountered in the last 24 hours, and what we have at the moment.

The evening and night were punctuated with more or less strong gusts meaning quite a few manoeuvres on board. Until this afternoon, we had seen only a few very light winds. Then we were virtually stopped for two hours in a dying wind of five to six knots ... but on the horizon a clearer sky dotted with small cumulus clouds, often synonymous of trade winds ...

We now seemed to have a wind set to the ESE of 12 knots. At the moment, the guys are setting the J1. We have to quite stay cautious, but it smells good.

Geographically, we just passed by the Santa Anna Island, the southernmost island of the Solomon Islands, but we were too far to see it.

On the race side, we looked forward to the next positions, which will give us an idea of how the rest of the fleet managed to get out from the inter-tropical convergence zone.

Ahead of us, there is still a big piece ... ‘Just’ 1700 miles more to go, for which all the weather models still do not match.

Game is far from over!

Andres Soriano reports from Sanya:

You can always count on Team Sanya to pounce on a golden opportunity when it presents itself. This morning there was such an opportunity and after a sleepless night of preparation, Aksel was ready to lead us through a very narrow gap through a reef in the Solomon Islands. “It is always a bit of ‘heart in the mouth’ during times like this, when it comes good its great but if it goes bad, well it can go bad very quickly.”

Aksel seemed almost too calm as he read out a new heading to Mike on the helm every few minutes or seconds and brought us through a gap with an island on one side and a reef break on the other. The widest portion of the gap was 100m and thus everyone had a bit of the goose bumps going on.

Not Aksel though as he calmly continued to direct us through the channel and added, “The chart is pretty detailed and we had the luck of coming through in the day which CAMPER and Telefónica did not, so they had to make quite a big detour around the a big island. I’m very confident that this will bring us some good gains, but we have Beach up the rig as a spotter just in case something unexpected comes up.”

We zigzagged through just fine and popped out the other side with about 12 knots of pressure and boat speed. Mike added with a smile of relief on his face, “We have a few more islands to get around but it won’t be anything that exciting, then… Next stop New Zealand!”

Right now the weather routing has us closer to seven days out, and knowing this is the ‘final stretch’ has put new energy back into the boys who continue to push for every inch, and every mile.

Nick Dana reports from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing:

The mashead zero is deployed, iPod’s are out, and food is being smashed left and right - all signs of light air sailing on a Volvo 70. It’s two weeks at sea today and Auckland still seems pretty far away. Our router now has us arriving even later now that we have hit a light patch in the doldrums. The optimism for a good rest in NZ before the southern ocean is dwindling fast, leaving a nasty taste in everyone’s mouth at the end of each watch. There is one last thin shade of hope that we will be running down wind the last couple hundred miles into Auckland, but no one is holding their breath.

Nevertheless we’ve appreciated a bit of the more mellow variety of sailing the last few days. Especially those battling salt rashes from the four days the firehose was blasting. The bowmen seemed to have copped it the worst, and have made it humorously evident by body painting themselves with ‘pseudo crème’. “Juddy and I share a bunk, so I cannot tell if he is making me more itchy or vica versa. Either way - we are both struggling and are forced to look like body painted idiots just to get to sleep” explains Wade Morgan.

The other on-going battle that we are facing aboard Azzam is our lack of water bottles and just recently food bowls. During the four days of high speed reaching it seems that a few our water bottle holders weren’t up to snuff, thus we lost about three bottles during the sailing. However the main reason of our shortage of bottles and bowls stems from the ‘butter fingers’ of the Pacific watch (comprised of Wade Morgan and Craig Satterthwaite).

The ‘Pac-watch’ as we call them has now lost a total of four water bottles, one helmet, a serving spoon, and one stainless steel food bowl. All were lost by fumbles of the hand I might add. The rest of the team has yet to decided their punishment.

Lastly it’s Bub’s birthday tomorrow and the ideas are flying around about what to do if we are still stuck in light air. Perhaps Rob and I will get the time to finally make our piñata that we have been threatening for a few legs now.


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