Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race leg 4 preview

Hard upwind conditions to get around the top of the Philippines will mark the first few days of the race

Friday February 6th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race sets sail from Sanya, bound for Auckland New Zealand on Sunday.

The leg is around 5,450 miles long, and, as last time, sees the boats initially heading away from Sanya on a due east course to take them around the top of the Philippines, some 730 miles from Sanya. This part of the leg will see the boats returning into the strong northeasterlies - ie fetching on port in 20-35 knots, with the wind backing and heading them as they approach the Philippines - nice.

After the Philippines, in theory the boats can crack sheets as they bear away to the southeast. Unfortunately the forecast is showing that right on their path, and directly east of the Philippines, as area of high pressure is developing. This is likely to be the first major tactical moment of the race as the navigator pour over the last GRIB files to see if it is worth erring from the great circle and, if so, by how much.

Above - GRIB for 2000 Sunday night (ie Monday 0400 local)

It is then out into open water - we say open, however there are numerous Cargados Carajos Shoals-type hazards to avoid as they pass to the west the bulk of the Micronesian islands. From the top of the Philippines, the next turning mark is Dai Island, the most northeasterly of the Solomon Islands some 2,775 miles further down the race track, with a Doldrums and Equator crossing in between, the great circle taking the boats within 75 miles of Papua New Guinea.

It is then a case of leaving the Solomon Islands to starboard, and back into open water, passing between New Caledonia and Vanuatu (the direct route goes through some of the former's off-lying islands to the east. Then after another 800+ miles of open water, the next stop is New Zealand with the boats sailing down the east coast of North Island before entering the Hauraki Gulf with the finish line off Auckland's Viaduct Basin.


Crew changes

Overall leaders Dongfeng Race Team is making the most dramatic line-up change for this leg. Skipper Charles Caudrelier explained that they have a firm game plan to give as much experience as possible to the four Chinese rookies in their sailing team squad.

Liu Xue (English name ‘Black’) and Cheng Ying Kit (‘Kit’) will stand down for leg four to make way for Chen Jin Hao (‘Horace’) and Yang Jiru (‘Wolf’). The newcomers have already raced earlier legs,  even though ‘Black’ has won rave reviews from his skipper and, at 21, is being singled out as a future race skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race if he continues his current rate of progress.

A bigger call has been to confirm the pre-race plan of giving navigator Pascal Bidégorry a break. He is being replaced with Erwan Israel, who Caudrelier sailed with on Groupama when the French team under Franck Cammas won the last Volvo Ocean Race. Additionally, Swede Martin Strömberg returns as a senior member of the crew (pit and trimmer) with Jack Bouttell off for this leg.

“In an ideal world, we would not make all these changes, for sure, but this is part of a project," said Caudrelier. "We could easily take the best Chinese sailors and keep them on the boat, but that’s not in the deal. I have six sailors in my team (from China) and I want to keep them improving. I’m thinking about the future, about the Chinese guys in the next Volvo Ocean Race. By the end of the race, I want all of them to have sailed two or three legs in the race – that’s my goal.”

Team Brunel's Bouwe Bekking described the result of finishing fifth in the previous leg to China as ‘bloody hopeless’, but said that re-motivating his crew having won Leg 2 was not an issue: “The crew did a bloody good job, but the result just wasn’t there. Sometimes it’s hard to explain that to the public. There’s no need for extra motivation, it just goes that way sometimes in sailing.”

Team SCA skipper Sam Davies has always known that she and her all-women crew have a mighty task on their hands to make up a knowledge gap of essentially 13 years, since a last female team competed in the race. So far, they have been last to arrive in port in all but the first leg when they edged out MAPFRE to finish sixth, but their results in the in-port race series have been far more encouraging with two podium places including top spot in Abu Dhabi.

The legs, fought out over three or more weeks, are a different matter and Davies summed up her crew’s challenge succinctly, when she commented: “The hardest thing is that nobody makes mistakes in this race.”

The 'Team Vestas Wind In-Port Race' on Saturday, and the Leg 4 departure on Sunday, will begin at 1400 local time (UTC+8).

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