The tough one

Leg seven of the Volvo Ocean Race (back to Europe) starts on Sunday

Friday May 15th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

At 2845 miles, leg seven of the Volvo Ocean Race between Newport, RI and Lisbon, may not be the longest of the Volvo Ocean Race, nor does it pass through the Southern Ocean or by impressive landmarks such the 'Great Capes', however traditionally this eastbound transatlantic leg has the highest attrition rate of any in the fully crewed round the world race.

In particular on this leg during the 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race probably the worst moment in the history of offshore racing occurred when movistar suffered keel problems, was sinking and had to be abandoned. The crew of the Spanish VO70 was succussefully transferring to ABN AMRO Two, where the crew had just recovered their friend and crewman Hans Horrevoets who had fallen overboard, but tragically had been unable to resuscitate him. In a state of shock, while mourning the lost of their friend, Seb Josse's crew continued on to Portsmouth with a complete extra VO70 crew on board and also a dead body. Next Monday marks the ninth anniversary of the sorry day when Hans died.

Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking, on that occasion skipper of movistar, remembers that incident well. “If you just look at history in this next leg, lots of rigs have been broken, a boat has sunk, a person has lost his life and we know we’re going to Europe so people will push so hard on this leg,” he said.

Fortunately since the 2005-6 race, the course has changed. The great circle from Newport, RI to the south coast of the UK takes the boats across the notorious Grand Banks with its shallows, thick fog, and fishing boats and then into the area to the southeast of Newfoundland where the Labrador Current tends to ship icebergs south. The route to Lisbon however it much safer. The great circle avoids the worst of the Grand Banks but in fact thanks to a huge amount of waypoints and exclusion zones, the course for leg seven takes the boats away from the Nantucket Shoals and has an ice exclusion zone, which takes the boats down to 41°30N, compared to the great circle which would take them up to 44°N. This takes the boats 80 miles south of the Grand Banks.

The start is on Sunday at 1400 local (or 1900 BST/1800 UTC)

Two days out, the forecast is looking less than ideal for the first part of this leg. The start should be okay but generally the weather is all confused with an area of high pressure due east of Newfoundland and a depression centred to the northeast of Bermuda (normally these should be the opposite way around). This will see the boats encountering a trough or the end of a trough on Monday, with the boats properly on the wind crunching into easterlies once they break through to the other side of it. Unfortunately the depression weakens creating a zone of little wind that encroaches towards the southern limit of ice box over Tuesday night-Wednesday morning. At least by this point, the high has headed in a southeasterly direction so by the time the boats have passed the bottom of the ice gate it will be centred to their east. However this will be mean southerly winds (ie beam reaching, which VO65s don't overly like) before the crews are obliged to spear off to the north to avoid the centre of the high that is currently forecast to be directly in their way.

At present this doesn't look like a leg where there's going to be much tactics involved. However it appears there will be a considerablle number of transitions so it will be more about crews changing gears as efficiently as they can.

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

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