Volvo Ocean Race: Convergence

Uncertain forecast ahead for the fleet

Monday March 5th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Volvo Ocean Race charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and high res GRIB (European model) from PredictWind

Positions at 0701 UTC:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 16 20.550s 162 09.020e 8.6 195 1415.6  
2 Puma Ken Read 15 07.220s 162 14.000e 11.1 192 1478.6 63
3 Telefonica Iker Martinez 15 36.170s 159 40.900e 11.2 180 1525.1 109.5
4 Camper Chris Nicholson 15 06.730s 159 06.930e 11.8 184 1567.3 151.7
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 13 22.120s 162 12.300e 10.2 197 1573.9 158.3
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 13 46.770s 158 21.400e 8.8 190 1658.6 243

With the fleet divided into two groups - those in the west, led by Telefonica, that passed through the Solomon Islands on Saturday and the easterly trio, led as ever by Groupama,  that left the Solomons to starboard - so there has been a surprising convergence between the two groups over the last 24 hours. The crews clearly want to get back in contention with each other but the westerly group have been assisted in this by being headed by 10-20° compared to their rivals in the east. At present for example leader Groupama is registering the wind direction as 134° while 150 miles to the French boat's WNW, Telefonica has the wind from 117°.

What is more consistent across the fleet is that the wind has dropped to around 10-12 knots and as a result boat speeds with this.

The leaders are now at the latitude of Vanuatu and Groupama has the French territory of New Caledonia some 250 miles to her SSE. Her current course indicates that she will now pass well to the west of the main island.

As Ken Read writes below, there is some question marks over the forecast ahead. The European GRIB (shown above) indicates that the leaders will be sailing into more breeze. The wind satellite radar image shows that at present there is less breeze to the south. So we shall wait and see what pans out...

Ken Read writes from Puma: 

I know I haven't blogged for a while because quite honestly, I have been pretty busy. In a strange way…dodging squall after squall…trying to sort out our positioning…watching half the fleet take off and sail through the Solomon Islands. Sleep comes every once and a while in sweltering heat. And, in the case of tonight, we finally enjoy a beautiful star-filled, moonlit night that has us sailing fast yet not getting pummeled by water in the chest every 10 seconds. And, we are actually heading south still, in the general direction of our final destination.

But, at the same time I can't remember a race that I have been so unsure of the outcome. The huge east-west split opens up room for the three boats to leeward to sweep around the high possibly better than us. But, we do have a lot of leverage in a port tack race south. I don't know what is going to happen. It is strange because usually we have a pretty good idea how things are going to work out in the big game of chess long before it actually does happen. Or at least I hope we usually know.

As for now, we are past the "doldrums" which were pretty uneventful. We just passed the Solomons with a set of final solid squalls just to wish us goodbye. Only about 20 minutes of drifting right at the southern tip of the Islands and then we were off. Whew. Don't need to give the rest of the group more of a head start. We did that already off the starting line in Sanya.

Life on board has been pretty relaxed I must say. Win a sched, lose a sched. A classic drag race south. Our position has been solid except for race leaders Groupama, and our pace has seemed pretty good. And then came the big split. In essence, the group of three to the west realized that they weren't going to get around the Solomons and did the next best thing – they found a gap and went through the middle of the island chain. There was certainly a chance for big wind shadows in there, but Telefónica took off for the gap when they were bearing 260 degrees from us with a little over 200 miles separation east to west. After the islands were dealt with, they now are at 259 degrees a little further away than they were before they made their move. All in all, about as net even as two radically different approaches could be.

Now comes the tough part. How much of our gauge do we give up in order to gain bearing? Will they always have a better angle than us on the outside of the high? Who will have the better pressure, as the two GRIB files are contradicting themselves right now.

So, we keep pushing and wait and see. It looks like it will be a complete fight at the end anyway as all the models have us hitting a wall a couple hundred miles from New Zealand and drifting in at this stage. But these forecasts are changing every time they come in. Some complex weather stuff happening down there and it is too far out to really have a firm grasp on the situation.

As for life on board, after our jib tack line exploded several days ago and our primary J-2 came down in pieces. I thought we were in big trouble. We suffered with the wrong jib up for the better part of a day before the wind lightened and we could go with bigger sails. Ryno, as always, took the lead on putting the jib back together, and 24 hours after it came down in tatters it went back on deck to be used when necessary. We haven't needed it since, but we will eventually. Fingers crossed it stays in once piece. [Watch the video HERE.]

It was a big bang. The sail took off up the headstay when the tack line broke at mach speed. Looked like a large Fourth of July flag flying from the top of the mast until it tore in half and the bottom two thirds came roaring back down the headstay and into the water. Oh joy. Deal with it, right? What choice do we have? Can't sit around and feel sorry for ourselves when stuff like that happens. That is what this race is all about. Deal with adversity as best you can. Every boat has the same situations but in differing magnitudes. It’s what ocean racing is all about.

So into the rack I will go, my eyes closing as I finish this. Curious as to how this is all going to pan out.

- Kenny


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