For a race branded as Life at the Extreme, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet has had it relatively easy. “Compared to the last two legs,” notes SCA skipper Sam Davies, “this leg is much less hectic in many ways: manoeuvres (and therefore disturbed off-watches), conditions (less physical, less extreme), climate (warmer, drier).
But nothing lasts forever, and with the fleet now moving north of the Caribbean, they have crossed the transition from the tropical warm air to the colder climate of the northern hemisphere. Adjustments will be made, and more than just pulling out some warmer clothing. The fleet may be shuffled too.
Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier, now leading the field, describes the situation:
“One Design has totally changed the regatta on the water. The fact to have very similar speeds of course explains a big part of why the gaps are so small. But it’s also clear that everyone is looking to control the other. The uncertain weather outlook over the previous days has forced us to stay together.
“Last night I was bouncing around the chart table convinced that the whole fleet was too far south, and anyone daring to gybe to the north could make a big gain. No one moved. With a bit of audacity we finally decided to gybe. After 20 minutes on starboard gybe we couldn’t take it anymore and gybed back to our friends. This morning the gain was however quite significant, more than 5 miles on Brunel and 10 on Abu Dhabi.”
With the wind having swung from the ESE to the NE, reaching angles have been replaced with upwind settings, and Dongfeng’ move to the north put them in control. But the forecast ahead is far from steady.
“In front of us is a huge cold front that we must cross, along with a full 180 degree rotation of the wind,” notes Caudrelier. “A wall to climb over with very little wind and random squalls. Maybe the leg will be decided here. The first to cross and catch the new wind could really get away.”