Volvo Ocean Race. Rolling the Dice in the South Atlantic

The first team to start their ‘easting’. Time will tell if it was a good move or not.
pic by Thierry Martinez/team AkzoNobel

by Richard Crockett

Yesterday afternoon the first boat to make a move eastwards was AkzoNobel. Their move immediately had them hit the top of the leaderboard. For the big question is whether this was a ‘media move’ to get attention for a campaign which has received media coverage for the wrong reasons, or a genuine attempt at breaking from the fleet to get a jump on them and win the leg into Cape Town.

Time will tell.

While they are technically in pole position in terms of distance to finish, the move is a tactical roll of the dice from Tienpont and his wiley navigator Jules Salter.

By positioning themselves to the east they have reduced the amount of miles they need to sail, but the compromise comes in lighter winds.

By comparison, those teams closer to the Brazilian coast – Dongfeng Race Team, MAPFRE, Team Brunel and the most westerly boat Vestas 11th Hour Racing – are likely to pick up stronger winds brewing 500 miles to the south first, potentially catapulting them towards their goal.

Tienpont said AkzoNobel were hoping to make gains over the coming days from a swing in wind direction that will allow them to point their bows closer to Cape Town.

“There’s a bit of a lift coming in the next few days so everyone will come up,” he said.

“We’ve been a bit more on the inside and we’ve made a few miles back. It’s given us a more competitive position on the front guys. We’re trying to keep on the inside of them and shoot a bit further forward when we can.”

Although the position report doesn’t show it, Dongfeng likely remain the true leg leaders with MAPFRE nipping at their heels in second.

Onboard MAPFRE there’s been no let-up as they do all they can to hold on to Dongfeng’s coat tails while warding off the attack from Brunel and Vestas.

“When you have boats close by, you have to keep more active because if you relax a little bit the boats behind will catch you and the boats in front will gain in distance,” said MAPFRE bowman and boat captain Antonio ‘Neti’ Cuervas-Mons.

“It’s very important you keep focussed. That’s why we have the position report every six hours – it keeps us working hard. We don’t want to lose anything.”

While still caught in a drag race, MAPFRE helmsman Rob Greenhalgh said they must be mindful of what is still to come much further on down the track.

“We’re always pushing hard, but it’s not over the top at the moment – it’s not going to decide the race right now,” he said. “It’s all going to be decided further south when it gets windy and the fronts come rolling through.”

Splitting the difference between west and east, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag were continuing their battle after the latter reduced the distance to their rivals to just two miles.

“We’ve had clouds from hell, and out of the cloud came Scallywag,” Turn the Tide skipper Dee Caffari reported. “They’re two miles behind now. Not what we wanted. It’s like having a whole other Doldrums.”