As temperatures rise and strong winds give way to localised storm activity on the approach to the Doldrums, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is picking its way through the cloud systems, attempting to connect the dots, joining the wind pressure cells.
It’s exhausting work for navigators and skippers in terms of decision-making, and for the crew moving the stack of sails on each gybe. At least some if not all of the teams have elected to ‘split the stack’, piling half the weight on each side of the boat, sacrificing righting moment for the ability to quickly gybe on each wind shift.
In what has become a familiar refrain from several teams, gains and losses are coming quickly, with spirits rising and falling just as fast.
“Yesterday, we had AkzoNobel 12 miles behind us, and we saw them catch a cloud and in two hours we lost like 20 miles, it’s crazy,” said Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier.
His team has gybed more than any other, in an effort to stay on the shifts and retain their grip on the lead.
Blair Tuke on MAPFRE, sailing neck and neck with team AkzoNobel for much of the morning gives his perspective on the changing fortunes: “The last 24 hours have been pretty bad for us, we’ve lost to Dongfeng and Vestas 11th Hour Racing. But then this morning we gained on them quickly and suddenly they’re right here in sight.”
Five-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran Tony Mutter, on Vestas 11th Hour Racing, describes the dilemma facing his team as they try to position themselves best for the weather and tactically around the other teams challenging for the lead: “At the moment we are trying to get around this light air patch that is coming out off the coast of Africa. There’s two ways… we can go west, or we can race south as fast as possible.
Currently we’re heading south. We have Dongfeng directly ahead of us and then we have MAPFRE and AkzoNobel going west right now. It’s a bit of a split, so it’s a hard one. With the wind direction, we can‘t really go west, so we have to let it play out… It’s really hard…”
While the clouds are creating a nightmare scenario for the navigators, they are also making for some incredible photo opportunities. The view from on board Dongfeng last night was especially poignant (see featured image) photo).
The boats are given position reports only four times per day, at 0100, 0700, 1300 and 1900 (all times UTC). But once per leg, each team has the option to go into ‘Stealth Mode’ whereby its position report is withheld from the rest of the fleet (and us) for three consecutive position reports.
This can be used to tactical advantage to make a break for what is perceived as better wind, or to hit a layline, or choose what side to pass an island, etc. The only restriction is that teams are not allowed to go into Stealth Mode when they are within 200 miles of the finish. The approach to the doldrums is a classic opportunity to utilise this tactic. Watch for it over the coming days.
New ‘Ranking Waypoint’
Race management has added a ‘Ranking Waypoint’ into the tracker so that the rankings better reflect the tactical positions of the teams during the early part of Leg 2. Please note, this is NOT a new mark of the course that the teams need to pass. Instead, it is a virtual waypoint that has been added to the software that is positioned near the mid-point of the expected doldrums crossing point. This intention is to give a more realistic ranking through the approach to the doldrums as well as an updated distance to finish that is closer to what the teams will actually sail.