Volvo Ocean Race – A Ballsy Move

vor dongfeng_140912_DFG_RIOU_622-3So what do you know about Cape Verde and Pascal Bidégorry?

Cape Verde: A country that is a horseshoe-shaped cluster of ten volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean spanning 4033 km².

Pascal Bidégorry: A man that is a force of nature and considered by his peers to be one of the most talented sailors of his generation, feisty at times and won’t suffer fools. Navigator for Dongfeng.

Replace broken rudder?

Check.

Win back first position?

Check.

If only it were that easy. Amazingly we did manage to replace the rudder and regain first position amongst the fleet however just hours afterwards, navigator Pascal Bidégorry was faced with an important strategic decision. Should the team follow the fleet and sail around the top of Cape Verde or break away and sail through the Island cluster knowing full well they could run flat out of wind.

Conventional wisdom, and what some might consider the more conservative route, is to go around the islands passing the western most islands to the north as the height of these volcanic islands (up to 2,500m) will cast what is called a wind shadow, which can extend to several tens of miles on the downwind side of each island, cancelling out any wind that might reach the boat. For the non-sailors that would be a bit like sheltering behind a building from the wind, which is exactly the opposite of what our boys are trying to do!

However, once you get to know Pascal Bidégorry it becomes apparent that ‘conservative options’ aren’t really his thing. Like any good navigator, he knows when to call it a day but Pascal has balls and when he sees an opportunity he is likely to go for it. Backed by Skipper Charles Caudrelier, together they have made for an exciting show as they opted last to sail straight through the islands of Cape Verde and break away from the fleet.

Yesterday it was clear that Abu Dhabi was leading the pack to go around to the west as Skipper Ian Walker expressed his surprise at Bidégorry’s choice; “I’m surprised at the teams who have chosen to go through the islands where there are massive wind shadows and unpredictable gusting winds. These teams also face the risk of setting themselves up too far east to cross the Doldrums.”

But looking back at the tracker it was clear that our team had already decided to sail as low as possible to try and find the least damaging way directly through the islands. Even though now we can see they have been sucked into the first island they have passed and have had to gybe south for clean air, will they manage to find a way through?

This brings us to Mapfre and Vestas, who (albeit a bit late) decided to bail out from the Abu Dhabi plan (perhaps after seeing Dongfeng’s decision) and took an initial hit. They have now sailed through the two most western islands, a risky but perhaps good move?

It’s been a navigators race so far and as it stands the boys seem to be hanging on to the wind quite well but the question is, has Pascal Bidégorry pulled off a great chess move? Or will the wind shadows of Cape Verde islands trap them?

Only time will tell.