Photo: Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE

Winning ticket

Teams Brunel and SCA make hay as Ian Walker comments on their route

Thursday February 12th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

So the Volvo Ocean Race now has a 'double Buffalo girls' routine taking place. Following Team SCA and Brunel's breakaway north on Tuesday, the two boats sailed a third of the way up the east coast of Taiwan, before spearing off to the east late yesterday afternoon (UTC).

To cover them, the remaining boats have been taking a northeasterly course since exiting the southern end of Luzon Strait in the early hours of yesterday morning (UTC). Not quite as an extreme a detour as SCA and Brunel have made, this still represents a dramatic 90° to the great circle course down to the course's next turning mark at the Solomon Islands.

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

For Brunel and SCA in the north, the wind backed into the north late yesterday evening (UTC) and by midnight had built to 25 knots from the north. At this point the two boats started to put some south into their otherwise easterly heading, eating up the miles at 20 knots. Since then the wind has dropped to around 20 knots, but they continue to make fast progress and are now further east than their rivals to the south.

In comparison the boats to the south have been struggling. Yesterday afternoon, the northeasterly they were experiencing dropped to below 10 knots and then down to 5 and then veered dramatically into the south. As the boats to the more were making hay at midnight (UTC), the southerly group were seeing the wind continuing to veer into the southwest but now back up to 10 knots. However the wind went through a hiatus at around 0300 backing into the southeast before eventually filling in from the north at around 0500. Now into the same breeze as SCA and Brunel, with this the southerly group have turned east, following a similar track but some 115 miles south.

At present both groups are on the perifery of an area of high pressure that the forecast has dissipating over the next 24 hours, with the prevailing winds - more ENE than the present NNE - filling in across the race track. With this the routing has the boats taking this shift on to more of a southeasterly heading.

The consensus is that Brunel and SCA are on to the winning ticket with their move with a faster point of sail down to the Solomons via a point where the two groups' tracks converge in the middle of the remote Caroline Islands currently some 2000 miles up the race track from Brunel at present. In the heart of Micronesia with thousands of tiny islands dotting the oceans we hope that the navigators have brought their large scale charts with them...

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker gave his take on SCA and Brunel's move: "If I am honest we never saw SCA and Brunel tack as we were the most southerly boat across to Luzon and they were out of sight. We were just trying to keep with Dongfeng and MAPFRE who were the only two boats we could see.

"The ‘Northerly option’ was appearing on some model runs and we did think some teams may go for it, but by the time we realised it was too late to consider going with them.

"Getting north is powerful, but involves making a big short term loss on the grounds something may play out in the future. It is sometimes hard to commit to that unless you are sure or unless your main rivals go with you. In this instance it was good sailing by SCA and Brunel, which they set up by being the most northerly boats across to Luzon.

"We were instantly concerned that it could pay off, this was exacerbated by the weather model updates and so it has proved. Our group was then also hugely slowed by less lifted and then hugely shifty winds in the Strait, coupled with very adverse current.

"We now have to sit and watch SCA and Brunel reach faster than us for the next five days!!"

Sam Greenfield reports from Dongfeng Race Team:

Funny thing, we’re probably the closest team to New Zealand but we’re likely in last –or second to last- place at the moment. Well, the guys don’t appreciate the irony as much as I do.

The morning got off to a grim start, albeit Israel was only telling me the facts as he looked over the positions at the chart desk. “The teams that went north will smash us, we should have done that.”

At that point we were in last place, or at least near the end of the pack. I never really know for certain. But smash is such a strong word.
“It was a mistake,” admitted Charles. “We wanted to go north but no one else was so we stayed with the group.”

I didn’t say anything, only gave him the look, which has become code for give me something better than that.

“It was a lack of courage,” he admitted. “Like lemmings!” I added maybe a bit too brightly. He gave me a blank stare.

So we sailed on towards the Pacific in search of the trade winds, the guys growing more and more frustrated as our pack-mates edged out to the favorable positions in front.

Eventually we hit a lull, Eric went up the mast to look for wind, I got to fly my drone, the trade winds hit hard with Eric still up the mast, and now we’ve stepping into the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, dogging it at the back of the fleet with my good friends from America.

Sidenote- we were within shouting distance last night and, my god, I wanted to yell something, but no one onboard was exactly in a joking mood. Lack of courage, in hindsight.

Long story short, after two flights today the drone is still alive, so I’m happy. Eric is alive too, if you care to know. But only 37 miles behind/north-ish of us Team Brunel and SCA are looking like they’ll be taking the Annie option: from rags to riches.

“They’re doing 18 knots and in 12 hours I think they’ll be ahead,” said Charles. “Ok, Charles,” I ask. “So we’re not out front. That sucks. I know you really like winning. But if you had to root for one of those two teams, who would it be?”

He wasn’t expecting the question but it didn’t take more than a heartbeat (sorry Alvimedica) for him to reply. “For sure, the girls.”

I asked Erwan the same question and he agreed. “I think they’ve been working hard for two years and from what I see in Sanya they sailed very well tactically, so I wish them to make a very good result on this leg.”

So to the girls onboard SCA from the guys onboard Dongfeng Race Team, take the money and run like you stole it. If it can’t be us winning this leg –and I promise there are five Frenchmen, two Chinese and a really tall Swede that’ll do everything to steal that lead away- we hope it’ll be you.

“They haven’t had the result that they deserve yet,” said Erwan.

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