Volvo Ocean Race: Setting off to exploit Alberto
The seventh leg of the Volvo Ocean Race set sail from Miami today, the six boats (following the return of Team Sanya) heading eastwards across the Atlantic bound for Lisbon. Although two offshore legs remain after this, this is the race’s last properly trans-oceanic bout.
In contrast to what lies in store for them over the course of this 3,590nm leg, the start was in benign conditions with the wind barely getting above 5-6 knots and occasionally disappearing altogether.
Still no doubt charged from winning yesterday’s In-Port race, Ian Walker’s crew on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were the least slow of the six VO70s across the line. As usual the boats had to sail a round the cans course before they could head out to sea.
Ian Walker’s team – their Farr design seems to like light conditions – edged into the lead and while Telefonica came into them approaching the first mark, unlike yesterday the Spanish team on this occasion couldn't get the inside overlap. By the second mark Groupama had got up to second, with the UAE now holding a considerable advantage.
Upwind under their Code 0s again, Abu Dhabi headed offshore aiming to get the maximum benefit from the Gulf Stream and were followed by Cammas’ team, with Telefonica and Camper engaging mid-fleet and Puma and Sanya bringing up the rear. As the wind disappeared approaching mark four Groupama managed to catch Abu Dhabi, but Ian Walker’s defended well to stay ahead around the six mile long ghost-athon, and led the boats out to sea. To give some idea of just how slow it was - the six mile course before the boats headed out to sea took Abu Dhabi 1 hour and 14 minutes to complete...
This leg across the Atlantic is capable of bringing the whole gamut of conditions and while the legs in the Southern Ocean may be traditionally the most fearsome, it was during the North Atlantic crossing six years ago that popular ABN AMRO Two crewman Hans Horrevoets was lost overboard.
For the navigators this leg will be interesting. Tropical Storm Alberto is currently lying off the Carolinas and is forecast to track slowly northeast over the next few days. At present winds are said to be 45 knots to the south of this, but the National Hurricane Centre has the Tropical Storm abating and becoming sub-tropical by Wednesday. Nonetheless the boats will be hightailing it north to first make use of the Gulf Stream, but also to key into the optimum pressure and Alberto’s favourable southwesterlies to propel down the race track.
Puma navigator Tom Addis said the race to pick up the winds generated by Alberto could prove critical in the bid to get an early advantage: “The storm is the source of pressure for us to get north and east on so it’s important to try to feed into that pressure first. You don’t want to be the wrong side of that low because the current against wind in the Gulf Stream would give quite a heinous sea state. It looks like there will be plenty of good downwind in the next leg, a reasonably fast leg, which we always enjoy.”
Abu Dhabi navigator Jules Salter also hoped to use the weather system to fire them into the Atlantic Ocean. “In some ways it’s quite good – it’s giving us some downwind conditions once we get up past Cape Canaveral and up towards Cape Hatteras so we’re kind of cutting the corner and probably sailing a more direct route that we would have done if the storm wasn’t there. It’s quite light for the first part of the forecast so it will be about finding wind in the first 48 hours. The closer we can get to it the better – it will give us a bit of a catapult out of the way.”
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said: “The transatlantic this way (eastbound) is not the normal way for French sailors, but it is very interesting. We have to go north to catch the low pressure and we can go some days very fast with some heavy wind in the north.” Between the crew on Groupama (including the likes of Thomas Coville, Damian Foxall and Charles Caudrelier) there are probably more transatlantic crossings than in the rest of the fleet put together and we suspect this may count for something...
Something else to watch out for on this leg is a possible 24 hour record. With strong following winds plus 2-3 knots assistance from the Gulf Stream, this is a real possibility.