Volvo Ocean Race. An Electrifying Time on Brunel

Sophie Ciszek giving instructions from the bow of MAPFRE.
Photo by Ugo Fonolla/Volvo Ocean Race

by Richard Crockett

Being a crew member on a VOR yacht is far from being glamorous. Yes, people around the world may look up to you in awe, but the dangers involved go far beyond the dangers of bad weather and big seas. Just ask Bouwe Bekking who is on his 7th race around the world!

“Yesterday we ran through a massive thunderstorm, with a huge amount of lightning. The stable breeze instantly changed and before we knew it we were becalmed. Then a huge lightning strike hit, so close the sparks were flying off the mast and runners” he said.

“Rome, who was driving, was laying flat on the deck, just from the shock of the massive sound as well.

“Luckily no electronics got blown out. Of course there was plenty of rain as well. It makes you wonder what happens with all the electricity going through the boat and you are standing there barefoot and some with bare chest… Carbon is very good at leading electricity through. But we all survived.”

The wind, as predicted, eased as the leaders approached the Solomon Islands, and that was good news for the trailing boats who made up miles as the leaders hit the lighter patch first.

And talking of hitting, early on Saturday, Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag doubled back on their track to avoid a reef.

“Boats don’t go too well going across reefs,” skipper David Witt explained. “So we’re gybing to get to the north of it. There’s a bit of difference between the electronic and paper charts so we’re being cautious.

Looking for the wind – and the opposition.
Photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race

These small, isolated reefs are a feature of the area where the teams are sailing now and will continue to be a hazard as they leave the Solomon Islands to port.

Extra vigilance and caution will be required over the coming days as weather and geography conspire to make life difficult for the navigators.

“It’s going to be slowish progress, but we’ve had a good run so far,” said Rob Greenhalgh from on board MAPFRE. “It’s going to be a bit of a drag race with a few clouds to contend with.”

The weather is very unpredictable. In the squalls, winds can be up to 25 knots. In the lulls, there can be as little as 5 knots.

“Today was all about cloud activity and making the best of the wind it delivered,” wrote Dee Caffari, the skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic, sitting in fifth place, and positioned nearly 30 miles to the east of the leading group.

“There is a lot more of this kind of activity ahead looking at the satellite pictures and some of the clouds are looking very active. Whichever boat comes out of the clouds ahead first will do very well, however the light airs area of the doldrums is looking large at the moment.”

At the 09h00 position report this morning MAPFRE has taken the lead from Vestas and Dongfeng, with just 1.2nm separating first and fourth.

Life is tough out there due to the weather vagaries mother nature is throwing at the fleet.