by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race would seem to have gone from being a tightly fought contest to being a procession to Cape Town.
Even though only 40% of the course has been sailed, the distance between the boats are significant (other than the two lead boats) and look set to increase.
The big change came as the boats entered the Doldrums and the two westernmost boats Abu Dhabi and Team Brunel sailed through the Convergence Zone without dropping too much boat speed.
Spread across a front of over 100 nm the easternmost boat, Team Vestas Wind looked to have run out of wind and lost 100nm to the leaders in the space of 12 hours or so. However she appears to have found the breeze again, and with a better angle and higher boat speed, she is eating into the lead of the front runners.
Team Vestas Wind has another 24 hours to sail before she is predicted to be back into steady double digit wind speeds. the danish flagged entry may be able to pull back more of her losses.
Behind Team Vestas Wind and in the centre of the course, speeds have improved, but the four boats are still not up to the speed of the leaders. They too lost significant ground in the last 24hours.
The reality of the situation is that the first boats to truly exit the Doldrums will have a significant advantage, and are unlikely to be run down by those who are currently astern.
Although the Predictwind routing function will run weather projections for up to 10 days, the boats are just outside this range for the finish at Cape Town.
On the basis of past races, strong winds are expected all the way to Cape Town, and the boats usually sail, on this sector of the course, at some of the fastest speeds in the 40,000nm race around the world.
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