Volvo Ocean Race: Brick wall ahead

Abu Dhabi still hanging on to her lead as the VO70s face one significant hurdle before reaching Lisbon

Wednesday May 30th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

As much as the first few days of leg seven were slow and tricky for a summer time crossing of the North Atlantic, so the last two days have been dramatically fast for the VO70s, as they blast past the Azores and start eyeing the Lisbon finish line.

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 42 05.850n 018 26.980w 18.3 93 467.97 0
2 Puma Ken Read 42 01.030n 019 01.620w 19.4 95 490.06 22.1
3 Groupama Franck Cammas 41 39.430n 019 16.750w 20.3 94 493.57 25.61
4 Telefonica Iker Martinez 41 51.470n 019 33.420w 19.4 96 509.14 41.17
5 Camper Chris Nicholson 41 47.730n 019 38.150w 18.7 98 511.32 43.36
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 41 53.050n 019 59.180w 19.6 96 527.87 59.9

Can Ian Walker and the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing hang on? After failing to perform in the offshores so far in this Volvo Ocean Race, so Azzam on this leg between Miami and Lisbon has demonstrated that the Farr design does have legs and this combined with some wily tactics by navigator Jules Salter and the crew pushing to 110% has enabled her to hang on to her lead. However the boats behind are closing. 48 hours ago second placed Puma was trailing the UAE team by 88 miles, which they reduced (or rather Abu Dhabi lost) to 30 yesterday morning and currently stands at 22 miles at the latest sched.

There is a theory that the latest generation VO70s aren't as fast as the older boats and the last 48 hours have lent some weight to this - over this period in near optimum conditions, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has covered 966 miles or less than 500 miles a day. Some of the boats will have managed a little more, but this is still some way short of Ericsson 4's world record 24 hour run of 596.6nm set during the last Volvo Ocean Race.

The large mileages the boats have been achieving over the last two days has meant that they are now well out of the way of the violent depression currently to the northwest of the Azores, that the Global Ocean Race boats are attempting to avoid.

Unfortunately for Walker and the Abu Dhabi crew, the race is not over and while 467 miles to go to the finish might have meant a day's sailing at present speeds, sadly conditions are set to drop dramatically as the fleet has to tackle a ridge lying immediately off the Portugese coast. At present the ridge runs between the bubble of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay to the main body of high pressure straddling the breadth of the Atlantic, but it is changing shape continually. It is orientated over a NE-SW axis, but the forecast has the width of the ridge increasing over the course of today and diminishing once again in the early hours of tomorrow morning. All the boats are heading north of the direct course to Lisbon at present as their nav teams are presumably seeing forecasts that indicates that the ridge will be at its narrowest in the direction they're heading. However Groupama is setting up some 30 miles south of Abu Dhabi's track (on the inside of the turn) so this lateral separation could prove vital to how the game plays out over the next 24 hours.

Hamish Hooper reports from Camper:

The name of the game right now is speed. And where there is speed there is water and lots of it.

Walls of water over the deck, pools of water in boots, rivers of water in the bilge, there is no end to it. The good part is the amount of water we are covering at these speeds.

We are in 24-hour speed record territory for this race so the guys are pushing the boat as hard as possible. The fact there is 1.5 knots of current assisting equates to an extra 36 odd miles over 24 hours. I am sure all of the teams will be eager to hear what the winning distance covered was especially with the amazing IWC Schaffhausen watches on the line.

Groupama and Telefónica are enjoying it a lot more than we are, having had both relatively easily slid past us. These hard reaching conditions are right in their sweet spot, they are like rockets in this stuff, unfortunately for us we are quite the opposite- it’s our Achilles’ heel and as a result we are bleeding miles, unable to stop them.

The other boats are about one knot faster than us on average at the moment, so each sked they gain another three - four miles on us, it soon mounts up which is the painful part. It just doesn’t seem right that we are all of a sudden back down to 5th place. It feels like we don’t belong here, not that that means anything in yacht racing. There is only one thing to do - hopefully we can just stay in touch enough that once the park up starts we will be running fashionably late to join the party, and then hopefully ruin it for all of the others by somehow sliding on past them.

We definitely want to be the party poopers on this leg if there is a slight opportunity to be.

There is no shortage of wildlife out here again today we have had a few pods of spinner dolphins come flying in from the sides toward the boat like dogs chasing car tires, then disappearing as quickly as they arrived. It has given a few of the guys a bit of a fright at times - especially after our near miss with the whale yesterday…

I hope I’ts warm in Lisbon, it’s got quite chilly onboard; time to layer up for a day or so. I have taken to the full head inside cocoon technique to keep warm in the sleeping bag, it’s working - just.

I can’t wait to sleep in a bed again.

Only a couple more days, Lisbon is getting closer by the minute - but plenty of miles and a bit of trickery to make up in that time to cross the finish line in a respectable position.

GOLDEN QUOTE: “About 700 odd miles to go, and there is the light air ridge on the approach to Lisbon, maybe the last 100 miles. So what we have got to work out there is if it is a park up where all the boats go into and effectively stop. If that’s the case we will probably try and stick with everyone and follow them in there. If there is a bit more breeze and you can chip on through then we will have to look at going to the north or south of them to try to give ourselves a better chance of getting around them. So we have got a lot of work to do. It feels wrong for us to still end up in 5th spot so we need to pull something out of the bag.” CHRIS NICHOLSON

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