Volvo Ocean Race: Upwind again

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bucks tradition and is back in the lead again

Saturday May 26th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Over the last 24 hours the VO70s have been upwind as they attempt to get through the winds to the south of the high that is descended from Newfoundland. While Camper led for most of yesterday, this morning Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is back in front again.

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

Positions at 0655

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 39 47.600n 050 36.570w 12.5 101 1906.8 0
2 Camper Chris Nicholson 39 10.650n 050 40.380w 10.6 18 1917.4 10.7
3 Puma Ken Read 39 42.580n 050 54.500w 12.1 103 1921.32 14.5
4 Telefonica Iker Martinez 39 20.920n 051 18.780w 10.8 27 1944.19 37.5
5 Groupama Franck Cammas 39 41.080n 051 27.670w 12 42 1946.6 39.8
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 39 15.180n 052 14.550w 9.8 99 1987.55 80.8

Ian Walker and his crew on Abu Dhabi Ocean Race seem to be bucking the trend they have for being regularly outpaced on the offshore legs of this Volvo Ocean Race. Yesterday morning they were leading. Shortly after 1200 they were overhauled by Camper but at the latest sched they have pulled back into the first place. See Ian Walker's blog here.

In this Volvo Ocean Race there has been more upwind sailing than in perhaps any edition of the race before and so yesterday morning the wind went through a massive shift from the west in the northeast as the boats started to feel the effects of the high to their north moving south and it was pounding upwind time yet again.

As the wind swung right yesterday morning, so just before noon UTC, the most northerly boats Groupama, Puma and Abu Dhabi, all tacked north. Since then the whole fleet has been tacking upwind with Camper and Telefonica retaining their southerly position, while the boats to the north have been tacking more - with Abu Dhabi leading Puma, then Groupama with Sanya bringing up the rear. 

At present the boats are attempting to get to the east of the high which will be marked by the wind backing into the north, but in reality the movement south of the high has accelerated and by this evening the GFS forecast has it parked right over the area when the boats currently are. This is likely to result in a rich getting substantially richer scenario as the frontrunners are first into the new breeze while those bringing up the rear fall into light wind close to the centre of the high. The new northwesterly breeze is approaching from the northeast so it is likely that we will see the boats continuing to head in this general direction over the course of today.

Overnight Camper had an unexpected encounter with a turtle, which became entangled in their foils, causing the boat to slow from 13 knots to nine knots fairly abruptly. The boat was backed down and the turtle quickly freed.

Ken Read reports from Puma:

This is strange. Not just the guys on board (pretty weird) or the route we take (sailing straight into a Tropical Storm after the start – not too bright). The strange part is the weather and the route and the fact that every time we leave the dock it seems like we say, “It is never like this out here.”

Wherever you sail in the world when you ask a local what the conditions will be like, it’s a fairly traditional response for them to give you an answer that has little to nothing to do with what the weather currently is. “It is never like this around here.”

You would think the law of averages would finally catch up with this fleet. No trade winds on a trade wind leg. Upwind on a downwind leg. Light air on a heavy air leg. And certainly plenty of heavy air on light wind legs. Really, the only legs so far that have panned out according to plan have been the leg to China (all upwind, so of course that would play out) and the Southern Ocean leg (windy as hell and cold, so for sure that would pan out!).

This could only be described as bizarroworld. Lead changes all over the place. Way behind to way ahead to way behind again. More weather features than you can shake a stick at. Typically this time of year you head north to a low, get in front of it and haul the mail to Europe. Not the case this time, it appears.

So what gives? Why isn’t it more straightforward? I wish I knew. This is the wind gods trying to make this regatta close in order to drive us all crazy and keep you on the edge of your seats. I think it is working.

Seems to me that everyone has lead at one stage or another on this leg except for maybe Sanya and us. We are the lurkers. For sure we have made a few positioning mistakes, but fortunately have been patient enough to let things just play out and hang around. Nothing great, nothing horrid to date. But the leg is still young!

Now we are going to go north in order to go east. Up the Gulf Stream, beating into a strong north-easterly with 3 knots of current under us (sounds like lots of fun) in order to drift through the center of a high and hopefully find a fast south-westerly flow that launches us towards Portugal. Let us hope that is how it pans out.

I have to say that last night it was pretty frustrating sailing. We had been emerging miles to the south and finally got a shift to jibe on and get back in touch with the fleet. I turned around during the jibe and there was the tiniest sliver of moon on the horizon behind us. As if someone was winking at me, kind of snickering maybe? I thought that may be the case and then turned around a second time to see the expression change a bit. I think the wink was to say, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right.”

At least that is my story and I am sticking to it!

- Kenny

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