Amory Ross / Team Alvimedica

Back into the North

Equator - tick; Doldrums - tick as Volvo Ocean Race boats set up for the long haul north

Tuesday April 28th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Overnight the Volvo Ocean Race boats have crossed the Equator passing back into the Northern hemisphere. In most round the world races this would coincide with the welcome psychological message of being on the home straight but in the Volvo Ocean Race there is still more than one third of the race to go and three and a half legs before the event concludes in Gothenburg with the in-port race on 27 June.

Having converged as they 'turned the corner' at Brazil yesterday so the boats now have a clear run north to Newport with the nearest land en route being Bermuda which the great circle route has the boats leaving to port. With this the boats have been fanning out across the race track with Team SCA furthest east and Team Alvimedica continuing to hold the berth furthest west, some 42 miles away from Team SCA on the water.

Image below (click to enlarge) and above courtesy of Expedition and Predictwind

For reasons that we have yet to hear, Dongfeng Race Team has lost its lead. Yesterday morning Charles Caudrelier's team held a handy 10 mile lead over second placed Team Brunel. Over the middle of yesterday the boats enjoyed some fast sailing with the wind building to more than 20 knots from just south of east and boat speeds also moving into the early 20s. As the boats fanned out so there has been some considerably repositioning with Dongfeng and MAPFRE taking up residence on the left side of the course with Team Brunel and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing setting up to their east. While making this moving Dongfeng dropped back so that her advantage over Team Brunel was down to 0.4 miles by the final sched yesterday with Bouwe Bekking's team edging ahead at the first sched this morning and Dongfeng dropping to third overhauled by MAPFRE at the latest sched. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has been the biggest riser over the last 24 hours - 20.6 miles miles off the lead yesterday morning, 6.6 miles off the pace and up to fourth at the latest sched (see OBR Matt Knighton's blog below for some explanation).  

As significant as moving into the northern hemisphere is that boats appear to have crossed the Doldrums - if they were there at all at this point so far west in the ITCZ - and have seen the wind swing north of east with Team Brunel for example seeing 14 knots from 74° at the latest sched. Possibly the reason for MAPFRE and Dongfeng edging west is that there appears to be slightly more pressure on this side of the race track, or there is at present until the boats get into the trades fully. The forecast indicates that the wind will remain in the northeast for the next 1400 miles so the crews will be setting up for a long stint on starboard tack, hanging on for what will be a lumpy beam reach that will be causing the boats to spin out from time to time.   

Matt Knighton reports from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing:

Despite the fact that all eyes are on the nav screen not a single person is sitting in the seat in front of the computer. SiFi is craning his neck over the side of his bunk while Parko is trying to squeeze past the bulkhead. Chuny is looking down from his perch up above and Ian is half crouched on the floor leaning over the seatback – sitting down takes too much effort in situations like this.

“On the one hand, with the wind increasing we should peel sails because the apparent wind keeps going too far back”, says Ian moving the cursor ahead on the screen to check the forecast. “On the other, for some reason with this sail up right now we’re smoking them.”
Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’re doing right but you definitely don’t want to change the mix.

Less than an hour ago we finally passed Alvimedica to leeward after hunting them all afternoon. Their mast light is still marching on less than 2 nm away as the horizon has started to glow behind them.

It’s the Brazilian coastline.

There’s a narrow but crazy strong band of current running along the continental shelf not more than 20 nm from the mainland and we’ve tapped it. Like a supercharged conveyor belt, we’re threading the needle between Alvimedica to our left and SCA on our right averaging more than a knot faster than both.

Puff on – we just hit another good cloud. There’s 31 knots of wind outside and we’re charging northwards at 26 knots, tearing through the warm water. The forecast lies shredded on the floor, we need this.

Less than 2 hours and we’ll be making the turn around the shoulder of Brazil where the real highway starts. All of the water from the South Atlantic gets squeezed around this bend as it shoots along the northern coast of South America. If you could see the satellite imagery, it’s nothing but red.

We can only imagine what our little green triangle looks like on their nav screen as it accelerates north. Watching it – they’re probably sitting down.

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