Ryan O’Grady, a veteran follower of the Volvo Ocean Race and a top amateur sailor, is providing regular insight and analysis on the 2011-’12 Volvo Ocean Race for SailingWorld.com. To get the full picture of this dynamic race, follow the racing in our Finish Line forum, track the fleet, and catch up on the race with O’Grady’s previous Volvo Voyeur blogs.
A full-strength Volvo Ocean Race fleet left Cape Town on Sunday, bound for Abu Dhabi on Leg 2. Leading up the start, forecasts were calling for 30-knot winds, which would’ve left little margin for error and denied crews the chance to settle into the routine at sea. Concerns that the fleet would suffer breakdowns in the early going, as happened in Leg 1, have subsided; all six teams are currently making their way up the African coast in light wind and adverse current. “All our weather strategy is in pieces now,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Ian Walker shortly after the start. “The fleet has failed to catch the low pressure as planned, and I suspect we will all sit waiting for a new westerly wind to pick us up in the next day or two.”
At one point, Team Telefonica even pulled out the anchor to avoid being swept onto rocks. “The wind has died, and we have found a lot of current on the approach to the headland,” said Neal McDonald, the team’s watch captain. “So it is better for us to anchor here rather than go backwards.”
Amory Ross/ Puma Ocean Racing/ Volvo Ocean Race
_Does the rainbow portend good fortunes for Puma Ocean Racing in Leg 2?
The driving strategic factor in this early part of Leg 2 is the Agulhas Current. Think of this current as a southward flowing Gulf Stream that races down Africa’s eastern coast. With flows of up to five knots meeting up with typically strong westerly winds and the running Southern Ocean swells, seas here tend to become big and confused. Rogue waves are all too common in these waters. Within the first 24 hours of the leg, boats reported wave heights topping out at over 25 feet, with many approaching 29 feet.
With unsettled weather predicted for the first few days, the option of leaving Cape Town, driving south, crossing the current early, and finding some Southern Ocean wind and back eddies in the current has evaporated. If you’ve sailed the Newport Bermuda Race, you might’ve used some variation of this theory while crossing the Gulf Stream. In this case, without enough reliable wind to power the boats across the current, all of the navigators have opted for the in-shore option. The boats are staying close to shore looking for current relief and the ability to capitalize on local thermal breezes. This is the same type of strategy that teams use in the Stamford YC’s Vineyard Race and in all sorts of races near San Francisco. Right now, navigators are looking at satellite data to find the narrowest point of the Agulhas Current, trying to identify the point at which they can bite the bullet and make the cross. Based on recent data, that point appears to be near Cape Elizabeth.
Volvo Ocean Race
_All six teams have chosen Option 1.
Once through the current, teams won’t find Leg 2 getting any easier. Winds are forecasted to be generally light once the fleet begins to head north. Big high-pressure areas, similar to the Atlantic highs seen on Leg 1, litter the course, and there are other currents flowing around the Indian Ocean just waiting to slow down the teams. I expect the navigators will arrive in Abu Dhabi with a few more grey hairs then they had before.
A Race to Nowhere?**
Ever since organizers unveiled the the race route, there has been concern for the welfare of the sailors as they transit near the coast of Somalia, with its threat of piracy. There’s also the dangerous situation of having the fleet sail through the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf, an area with limited sea room bordered by Iran, which has a history of stopping and seizing vessels it deems to have strayed into territorial waters. In 2009, Iranian forces captured and held hostage the British crew of the Volvo 60 Kingdom of Bahrain, which was en route to Dubai for the Muscat Race. Given the current political tensions between Iran and the West, it’s clear to see why race organizers will take extreme measures to safeguard the fleet.
In order to avoid these dangers, organizers have made plans for the fleet to detour to a secret location in the Indian Ocean, where the boats will be loaded onto an armed cargo ship and the sailors flown to Abu Dhabi. Once the cargo ship arrives in a safe location, the boats will be put back in the water for a short sprint into Abu Dhabi. For the organizers of the Abu Dhabi stopover, this guarantees that the fleet will arrive in time for the New Year’s Eve gala celebration scheduled to open the stopover. It also ensures the crews will make it safely to their seats to see the band Coldplay perform in the New Year’s Eve concert.
While the exact location of the pickup point is unknown, I’m guessing it’s in the Maldives, since one would assume the location would be near an airport to permit the removal of the sailing teams. It also makes sense that the secret location can move if the leg turns out to be a lengthy, light-air affair. It remains to be seen how race management will deal with a boat (or boats) that, through strategic error or breakdown, winds up well behind the rest of the fleet. One would hope that the ship would stay on station to get all the teams, but there are pressing commercial reasons to ensure a grand finish on time for New Year’s. As followers of the race, we won’t be able to track the fleet once they near the secret location. The race tracker will go offline and only show the leaderboard and distance between boats.
The scoring for Leg 2 will be different than it was for Leg 1. The first boat to reach the secret point receives 24 points; second gets 20, third gets 15, etc. The short sprint to the finish in Abu Dhabi will be scored like the in-port racing, with first place receiving 6 points, second getting 5, etc. This creates excellent opportunities for the trailing three boats to close the gap with the top three, as the sprint allows them to earn second-chance points.
Where Are We With Points? **
The jury has disallowed Groupama’s protest accusing CAMPER/ETNZ of having an illegal forestay, so CAMPER/ETNZ keeps all of its points for Leg 1. Team Telefonica won the Cape Town in-port race, with CAMPER/ETNZ snatching second from PUMA after a sail-handling issue slowed mar mostro for the second straight in-port competition. Abu Dhabi finished in fourth, followed by Groupama and Sanya. If you happened to miss the race, catch the replays on the VOR Livestream channel.
The current points tally is:
CAMPER/ ETNZ: 34
Abu Dhabi: 9
With all of the challenges of Leg 2, the bottom three teams have an opportunity to pounce and add much-needed points to their score. At the moment, Telefonica is the trailing boat on the course. Can the other teams keep Iker Martinez and crew at the back of the pack and gain the leverage they desperately need? Stay tuned: this leg is just getting interesting.