Volvo Ocean Race Leg 9. Skipper Bouwe Bekking and his Team Brunel lead a southerly group of four boats who are taking advantage of stronger winds to open up an advantage as a split develops in the fleet.
To the north, wallowing in lighter conditions sit the overall race leaders, MAPFRE, as well as second-placed Dongfeng Race Team, and Turn the Tide on Plastic. Average speeds for these three have been in the 7 to 10 knot range for much of Tuesday morning UTC.
Meanwhile, the southerly quartet has been roaring along at over 15 knots, and at one point had opened up a 30-mile advantage over the northerners.
Bekking explains what is at stake:
“As expected there is a big split in the fleet, so it will be interesting to see who comes out ahead in five days time,” he wrote in a blog to race headquarters. “We are taking the southerly route and have managed to stay ahead of the front, basically we have always more breeze than the forecast…”
“The boats in the north follow the great circle, the shorter route and will face lighter winds over the next 24 hours, but should have a little better current from the Gulf Stream. In the last report they had 6 knots compared to the 25 knots of wind we have, nervous times for them. But I think they will be alright in the long run. We’ve seen that before in trans-atlantics. We will also have to face the lighter winds and even have to tack tomorrow.”
And already, the gap is narrowing. As of 1230 UTC on Tuesday, speeds were up on Dongfeng, MAPFRE and Turn the Tide on Plastic, all of whom were sailing a more direct route to the finish than those to the south and therefore been narrowing the deficit on the ranking. With over 200 miles north/south separation, the leverage between the groups is enormous.
“It’s a massive split,” said MAPFRE’s Blair Tuke. “It’s a little bit of a worry that Brunel has so much separation from us. It could work out well for us but it might not… It’s one of those things where you have to sail the wind you’ve got. We’ve done that and we’ll have to see how it plays out through this transition as the new breeze comes in over the next day or so.”
For all the fleet, the conditions of Volvo Ocean Race Leg 9 have been more pleasant than anticipated, with the Gulf Stream providing warm temperatures to make life on board more comfortable.
“We have enjoyed flat water, warm conditions and we have managed to keep moving,” Turn the Tide on Plastic skipper Dee Caffari wrote. “We have light winds ahead and by this evening we will be in new breeze on the other gybe that will increase. This low pressure we will ride for a few days so we need to push hard while we have it and hang on in there.”