The B&G Report: Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 1’s Pitfalls and Challenges

The crew look on at Fernando de Noronha Island onboard Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. pic by Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race

The crew look on at Fernando de Noronha Island onboard Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. pic by Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race

Onboard Dongfeng Race Team during the start of the Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 1, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa. pic by Volvo Ocean Race

Onboard Dongfeng Race Team during the start of the Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 1, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.
pic by Volvo Ocean Race

Top Volvo Ocean race correspondent and analyst, Mark Chisnell writes a regular report for B&G on the current race and trends he sees developing. Here’s his first report.

The Volvo Ocean Race is, after all, a round the world race and that part starts on Saturday – Leg 1; Alicante to Cape Town. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s nearly here.

In the coming months we’ll be following the weather, the moves and counter-moves, the big plays and the little flyers right here on the B&G website, with a weekly report posted every Tuesday. And at the end of each leg, B&G will be awarding a prize to the best performing navigator, according to the following criteria:

‘The B&G Volvo Ocean Race Navigator’s Prize will be awarded to the navigator who, in the opinion of the judging panel, has made the most effective use of meteorological, oceanographic and geographical information to gain distance on the majority of the fleet.’

The prize and kudos will go to the navigators who best use their craft to make gains for their team mates. Yours truly will be heading up the judging panel, and each week I’ll bring you an analysis of the strategies that have unfolded – or are in play – that might just win big

I’ll be writing for sailors, people who know their port from starboard, and a tack from a gybe. It will also help if you know a low-pressure system from a high pressure one, but if you don’t… these days, there’s always Wikipedia.

So, looking forward to Leg One – where do some of the challenges and the opportunities lie for our seven navigators?

High Pressure Hot House
We’re into the autumn equinox and a time of unsettled weather, but it looks like the first few days will be dominated by high pressure over Spain. So that means the Med will keep its reputation as light and tricky, with potential for someone to get stuck and take a big loss. Or get it right and make a big gain. The route follows the coast, so understanding land effects will be crucial.

Dire Straits
If there’s not much wind, then getting through the Straits of Gibraltar will be tough, as there’s plenty of current running. The channel is only about eight nautical miles wide, so the fleet will still be forced to contend with local land effects, perhaps picking a shore that could see a split and more opportunities for finding a snake or a ladder.

Horsing Around
Once the fleet get out into the North Atlantic, the next big hurdle should be the Azores High – a large high-pressure area named after the island chain. It determines the position of the trade winds, the moderate to strong north-easterly breeze that usually runs from Portugal down the west coast of Africa. If the weather gods are favouring the fleet, they will roll straight out of the Med to find the trade winds blowing strong and hard, and step onto the conveyor belt that will take them to the Doldrums. If not they will find themselves struggling in what used to be called the Horse Latitudes – more light air.

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