Long flight south

Abu Dhabi and Team Brunel continue to lead as they approach the latitude of Rio

Monday October 27th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Image above courtesy of Expedition and Predictwind

Since the leaders rounded the Fernando de Noronha turning mark on Friday morning, followed by the trailing group over the early hours of Saturday morning, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet has been making good progress down the coast of Brazil. Over the last 24 hours race leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has managed to cover around 409 miles as the crow flies (although she has sailed slightly more).

We're still very impressed by the performance of Team Vestas Wind. Chris Nicholson's comeback kids exited the Doldrums 100 miles behind the leaders on Thursday afternoon but 24 hours later, thanks largely to being on a faster point of sail, had managed to reduce their deficit to just 33 miles. In doing so they are now part of the 'front runners' with ADOR and its 'shadow', second placed Team Brunel, and at the latest sched remain just 40 miles behind, 52 miles ahead of fourth placed Dongfeng Race Team. However at this point there was a general compression in the fleet with the frontrunners falling into less pressure around the Brazilian island group, so for example while last placed Team SCA was 230 miles behind the leader in the early hours of Friday morning, this had dropped to just 100 miles 24 hours on.

This compression-expansion in the miles between first and last has frequently been compared to the boats being joined by elastic. So if the elastic was contracting over Friday, since then it was been back into an expansion phase with the leaders either sailing into better pressure or enjoying a faster point of sail as the wind has slowly veered from the southeast to the northeast.

At the latest sched the boats are approaching the latitude of Rio de Janiero and are approaching a slightly dodgey area weather wise thanks to a weak depression forming south of Rio. As a result of this the fleet 'elastic' is set to contract again as the back markers come in with pressure.

Our main man Campbell Field has run a nice animation of the routing (complete with Field household soundtrack!): 

This shows the boats gybing in the early hours of Thursday morning in order to get into the stronger winds to the south before finally gybing back to the east on Friday morning soon after entering the Roaring Forties. We're not sure what polars Campbell's using for this routing...

Obviously the routing runs well into the phase where the forecast becomes dubious but it looks like the boats will have a fast run east (famously the part of the course where 24 hour records are broken) before they get slowed as they have to cross the eastern extremity of the high to reach Cape Town.

As Cape Town is obviously a fair way off the boat's present course here are some more accurate figures for how far apart the fleet is at present (based on distance to their approximate turning mark). You will note that this shows substantially great separation between Vestas and Dongfeng.

At 09:40 UTC

Pos Team Dist to mark DTL
1 ADOR 1067  
2 Brunel 1081 14
3 Vestas 1092 25
4 Dongfeng 1197 130
5 Alvimedica 1236 169
6 Mapfre 1297 230
7 Team SCA 1316 249

From Matt Knighton on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing:

ADOR is preparing for what could be the most strategically challenging section of the first leg as it takes on an enormous and unpredictable weather system known as the ‘St.Helena High’.

A sprawling expanse of light winds ready to becalm a yacht for hours or even days, the St. Helena High is a swirling mass sitting directly between the fleet and the finish line in Cape Town, South Africa.

Navigator Simon Fisher has the unenviable job of working out the best way around the monster-sized weather system and for days has been plotting potential routes based on the latest forecasts. The electronic chart on his laptop computer screen resembles a plate of multi-coloured spaghetti, but Fisher says he still hasn’t chosen which one of the more than 15 possible courses to follow.

“I’m not going with any of them just yet,” he explains. “The weather forecast has been constantly changing, so for now we’re just heading south as fast as we can to buy time and see how the high pressure develops.”

In between watches, the other sailors periodically join Fisher at the navigation station to sit and stare for themselves at the swirling mass of light winds ahead. Although it is still over 1,000 miles away, they all know the high pressure could wipe out their hard-earned lead over the rest of the fleet in an instant.

Taking his turn on the carbon bench next to Fisher, skipper Ian Walker homes in on a patch of flat calm predicted to develop in Azzam’s path.

“We may be racing towards an inevitable compression of the fleet and in three days’ time there’s every possibility we could have a restart and all our gains would be for nothing,” he said with a sigh.






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