Volvo Ocean Race: The southerly and short route

Volvo teams will be attempting to stay ahead of a front for the next few days

Wednesday May 23rd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

This morning Groupama is 116 miles to the northwest of Bermuda but in the early hours of this morning, lost to and regained her lead from Telefonica as the boats fan out across the race course.

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and GRIB (GFS model) from PredictWind

Positions at 0655

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Long Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Groupama Franck Cammas 33 58.980n 065 48.750w 18.4 91 2706.2 0
2 Telefonica Iker Martinez 34 39.300n 066 10.780w 21.6 92 2707.3 1.11
3 Puma Ken Read 34 01.700n 066 19.620w 16.3 85 2728.66 22.46
4 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 34 31.300n 066 35.970w 18.4 84 2729.52 23.32
5 Camper Chris Nicholson 33 24.720n 066 18.250w 17.5 90 2742.34 36.14
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 33 52.800n 066 44.300w 17.43 87 2750.98 44.78

Overnight the boats have seen the wind veer from the SSE into the southwest and, with this, all have gradually turned their bows to starboard so that they are now tracking the great circle albeit 50-100 miles to the north.

Since yesterday morning the boats have also become much more fanned out as the crews get to make the best of the 'sweet spot' in their sail inventories or choose a particularl side of the course for tactical reasons. So from there having been aroud 16-17 miles of lateral separation between the boats 24 hours ago at the latest sched it is around 75 with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Telefonica in the north, Camper in the south and the remainder in the middle, led (just) by Groupama.

Wind-wise the boats have 20-25 knots at present and so are making fast progress east and their fortunes for the next 48 hours depend on where the depression to their north heads and the area of high pressure to their east. Unfortunately the forecast shows the depression shooting off to the northeast over the next 24 hours, so that by tomorrow morning it is centred northeast of Newfoundland as it attempts to merge with another depression between Greenland and Iceland, however the American model doesn't show it achieving this and instead its eastward passage slows mid-Atlantic on Friday-Saturday. Fortunately there is an active front hanging off it and it will be the winds ahead of this that the Volvo boats will hope to remain in. A side benefit is that there is another depression to the northeast of the Azores and the two systems are coaxing the Azores high south.

So to stay ahead of the front the boats are going to have to duck south of the great circle and we could see them heading pretty much due to east for the next 48 hours, as the front is on a SW-NE axis and if they err north they will be caught by it and will end up in strong headwinds, which would not be fast. So the north-south spread between the boats at present is mainly down to how ballsey the navigators are feeling about their prospects of being fast enough to stay ahead of the front for as long as possible, but we can expect a crossing that is a lot further south than is the norm. In fact the boats could actually sail through or close to the Azores... You will note the chart above indicates an ice exclusion zone. On this occasion this seems set to be irrelevant.

From Camper skipper Chris Nicholson commented: “Will Oxley [navigator] is going bald, and I am going grey – that’s the Volvo Ocean Race for you.” Hamish Hooper says the pair are spending long hours in the nav station, patiently scouring weather maps, currents and just about anything that could give the team a chance of regaining the lost miles.


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