Volvo Ocean Race: Abu Dhabi into the new breeze

After the high rolled over the fleet yesterday afternoon

Sunday May 27th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

As the high pressure rolled south over the Volvo Ocean Race boat yesterday, so speeds plummeted as Sanya attempted to escape to the north. This morning Abu Dhabi is the first to break out in to the strong winds to the east.

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 40 48.270n 047 38.150w 13.5 45 1762.2 0
2 Puma Ken Read 40 35.920n 048 20.750w 9.7 34 1796.02 31.1
3 Camper Chris Nicholson 40 52.370n 048 46.080w 4.5 24 1812.35 50.4
4 Groupama Franck Cammas 40 35.050n 048 55.350w 7.1 47 1822.09 60.1
5 Telefonica Iker Martinez 40 35.280n 048 59.630w 7.8 47 1825.25 63.2
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 42 03.570n 050 23.850w 8.5 17 1874.42 112.3

So much for the record-breaking blast reach across the North Atlantic. Yesterday lunchtime as the high moved south over the fleet, speeds dropped below 10 knots and then below 5 as the VO70s struggled upwind in a breeze dramatically shifting from the northeast to east. As the boats drifted throughout the afternoon so leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had set up to the southeast of the main group boats. It wasn't until late in the afternoon that the expected shift to the northwest slowly established itself. Late yesterday evening the boats furthest east were underway again up to 8-9 knots the wind further backed into the west. At the latest sched this morning Abu Dhabi has been first into the solid breeze, now up to 15 knots, enabling her to turn her bow east again back on course.

Meanwhile Sanya, since yesterday evening, has been attempting a different tactic and has speared off to the NNE. At the latest sched she is 63 miles from the ice exclusion zone around the Grand Banks. Other than going a different way to the rest of the fleet, it is hard to see how this will benefit her in the long term however skipper Mike Sanderson and navigator Aksel Magdahl claim to have a cunning long term plan. 

So Abu Dhabi is now into pressure in the westerlies between the high to her south and the depression just off Newfoundland. In the short to medium term this will allow her to make good progress east towards the finish line, capitalising as much as she can over the next few hours on gaining ground over the rest of the fleet.

Over the next 24 hours the GFS forecast has the depression edging east and its shape turning more oblong along a NNW-SSE axis and the boats will be attempting to stay in the southwesterly flow ahead of the front associated with this. If they achieve this, then all looks reasonably fine. If not, then they could well fall into a light patch around the Azores and this will very much be the calm before the storm. For on Wednesday a very nasty depression is forming in the mid-Atlantic just to the west of the Azores (974mB by lunchtime Wednesday) generating genuinely hurricane force wind strengths around its perimeter. Hopefully the boats will be out of its way to the east. Finally going to the other extreme once again, before reaching Lisbon, the boats will have to cross a ridge off the coast of Portugal...

"It's been a great 24 hours for Azzam," Walker said. "A big dilemma between sailing for the predicted right-hand shift and going left to get in the Gulf Stream created a big split in the fleet and lots of opportunity. This is exactly what we need as we can get away from the other boats and try to find something tactically. Jules did a nice job as we initially tried to play the current but on finding it wasn’t as forecasted we decided to take the shift instead."

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