One day to go and six miles separates the leaders

Final day at sea on leg one for the Volvo Ocean Race front runners

Tuesday November 4th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Images courtesy of Expedition and Predictwind

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is now on the home straight to Cape Town and the finish line of leg 1 with, impressively, still just six miles separating first from second - never has the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race's opening leg been so close, a clear testament to the success of the new one design.

At the 0640 sched, leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had 386 miles to go, which at her present speed of 17 knots would have her making port in the early hours of tomorrow morning, although the wind is forecast to drop between now and then making her ETA much later. 

Over the weekend the boats passed north of the imposed ice gate at 42°S between 20 and 10°W. Just to the north of the eastern end of this there was the potential for a slight reshuffling as the the leaders were forced to cross a ridge. In fact this did little to change the relative positions for the front four, but did allow fifth placed Team Alvimedica in the north to regain some ground momentarily, back from 160 mile to 120 off the lead.

With some 'proper' Southern Ocean 25-30 knot northwesterlies, the subsequent run for the leaders was one of the fastest we have seen in the race so far with, for example, Dongfeng Race Team covering 509 miles over the 24 hours leading up to 06:40 UTC Monday. As ever, Charles Caudrelier's team has been 'mixing it up' in an exciting way tactically and over this period took up position some 28 miles to the south of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing as the boats sped east. This allowed the Franco-Chinese crew to nose ahead of Ian Walker's team in terms of the race east.

And this was despite a small incident that occurred at around 1800 on Sunday night, when a padeye broke at the time holding the block for the masthead genniker sheet. This has the effect of 'clearing the deck', destroying the starboard wheel, part of the pushpit and aft stanchions and taking out of the two Inmarsat C antennae. Fortunately none of the crew was injured.

Charles Caudrelier reported: “A padeye broke, not a mistake from us. Very strange, not seen that before. It has caused a lot of problems – no more wheel, no more lifelines, no more aft block. We will deal with it and try to stay focused on the job at the moment, but for sure it doesn’t help! [our race].

Martin Strömberg added: “This is one of the strongest points on the boat - it's where we sheet all the big sails. Its gone. Straight off. A bit disappointing. Bit scary actually."

The team lost about 5 miles during the half an hour or so it took to get things under control. Since then, on board technician Kevin Escoffier and the crew have had to find another way to rig up the gennaker sheet.

Over the last 24 hours the front runners have been a significant shift with the wind slowly backing from the west into the south as a cold front passed over. They initially took this shift, but shortly before midnight the lead four all gybed. However Dongfeng gybed a little later than Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and have since moved north of them. But is most impressive is that with less than a day's racing to go to Cape Town, Dongfeng Race Team is still only 6 miles off the lead, so there will be no cruising in to the finish line.

Behind the front a lobe of the St Helena high is now extending out to the southeast astern of the leaders, which has been responsible for capturing Team Alvimedica to the north (she only has 7 knots of wind at present, compared to 15 for the leaders).

Unfortunately for the frontrunners the race is by no means over as high pressure fills in astern of them, dropping the wind speed over the next 24 hours - still enough for them to get to the finish line at some point tomorrow.

Behind them MAPFRE and Team SCA (currently 527 and 598 miles off the lead) are in a wholly different weather scenario and are likely to put on some good miles over the next 48 hours as they ride the eastern side of a front. However they look set to have a final headbang as the wind continues to back into the east providing them with a starboard tack fetch into the finish in 35 knots...

From Matt Knighton on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing:

As the Leg 1 finish in Cape Town inches closer by the second, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the guys have exchanged the high winds and wet waves of the previous night for a night of anxiousness as they continue to do battle with Dongfeng for first place.

In many races by this point, there might be a de facto victor that has worn down the opposition by attrition throughout the many weeks.  For Ian, it’s been that war of attrition – countless tactical decisions and several restarts through which ADOR has emerged victorious – yet still; the routings show a difference of mere minutes between the top 2 teams.

Wearing his stress and nervousness onboard, Ian hasn’t been able to sleep.  His eyes are bloodshot, he’s jumpy for each perceived decrease in boat speed, and his familiar humor is subdued under a quieter exterior.

Granted, we’re all at the point where everyone is pulling longer hours because we know a full nights rest is less than 48 hours away.  SiFi is sleeping in the Nav Station while Daryl is resting in the stern; his head on a pillow drenched in saltwater.

The 0100 position report provided the only respite in the tense ambiance.  We had put pace on the rest of the fleet and most importantly, Dongfeng had not gybed before us towards Cape Town.  We had crossed them in the night and are now pointing at the finish only 12 nm ahead.

Exhausted, and with the saltwater continuing to flood the cockpit, the bearded faces up on deck continue to steadily take the race one mile at a time.  The war of attrition wages on.


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