Volvo Ocean Race. Waiting for the Slingshot!

Shooting out the back hatch to capture water passing by. Close sailing against Scallywag on board Turn the Tide on Plastic.
photo by Sam Greenfield/Volvo Ocean Race

By Richard Crockett

It’s been a fascinating weekend watching the tactics of the boats as they literally jockeyed for position in an attempt to position themselves in the perfect spot for the ‘slingshot’ which will take them to the finish at great speed.

There was quite a lot of gybing, with Brunel even pointing away from the finish as she tried to position herself.

For me though, I think MAPFRE have played their tactics the best, and as this is written with info from the 06h00 UTC report this morning (Monday), she leads the fleet by 35nm and will be into the stronger winds first. Her closest rival is Brunel.

On board Vestas 11th Hour Racing Roberto ‘Chuny’ Bermudez de Castro is jumping down below after the manoeuvre to enjoy his lastest minutes off watch.
photo by Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race

On Sunday morning, with most of the leading group having finally gybed and sailing an easterly track towards Cape Town, Team Brunel defied expectations and turned back to the southwest in an effort to get closer to the stronger winds of a weather system that is expected to deliver the leading group towards their destination.

Bouwe holds a brief meeting on deck at watch changeover.
photo by Rich Edwards/Volvo Ocean Race

Before the gybe, Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking explained the trade-offs in play.

“One more very important decision to make is to get the timing right for the most likely final gybe into Cape Town,” he wrote. “You go too early, you sail a shorter distance, but with a chance to have less breeze. You go too late and you sail too many miles. So this is a crucial one to set us up. But even after that it is far from over. If you look long term, there are some very tricky passages still to come on this leg.”

Bekking needn’t look far to see the stakes in play. On Saturday morning, Dongfeng Race Team, who had been leading for much of Leg 2, appeared to cut the corner too close, sailing too far to the east, and were punished immediately for getting too close to the light wind area.

“Of course it’s not a very good mood on board today; we lost so much in 24 hours,” wrote skipper Charles Caudrelier on Sunday morning. “We were in a perfect situation and we made a big mistake, playing too much with the high pressure and the light air… (But) six days to come back, and we never give up. We want a podium and we will fight until the end.”

Some have already been bold enough to declare that the Spanish boat (MAPFRE) to the south is going to be hard to beat.

Early morning on board Dongfeng.
photo by Jeremie Lecaudey/Volvo Ocean Race

MAPFRE has made a big play to the south and it looks like they’ve got more pressure down there so it will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next couple of days…?

Abby Ehler, boat captain on Team Brunel, who were first to gybe at approximately 2100 UTC on Saturday night thinks so. Her tweet from the crew communicator giving credit to navigator Andrew Cape read:

“We have just completed ‘THE’ gybe. This is us to Cape Town Port Gybe all the way! Capey on a roll playing chess like a master!”

The upbeat sentiment extends to Vestas 11th Hour Racing, next to gybe, and positioned just in behind Brunel as they have been for much of the last week.

“The mood on board has been particularly good this evening, no doubt as we have finally turned the boat and are pointing the bow roughly in the direction of Cape Town,” wrote navigator Simon Fisher.

“We have spent much of the day heading south west with the distance to the waypoint steadily growing albeit at a modest rate so it feels good to be finally getting closer to our destination.

Coffee time on board Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag.
photo by Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean Race.

“Tactically it has also been good to see the south start to pay-out after a series of scheds where the boats in the north continued to look strong despite being closer to the high. After what feels like an eternity of waiting it was good to see us finally make some gains against them. Never content however I can’t help kicking myself a little for not going more aggressively south with Brunel but sometimes it is hard to play the percentages with boats on both sides. That said it has been comforting to see Brunel pop up on the AIS this evening as we prepared to gybe meaning we are still very much in the hunt with them despite them putting on another strong showing in the last 24 hours.”

One team where the mood will be heavier is Dongfeng Racing. Just over 24 hours ago, the team was strongly positioned to the south of the fleet, alongside MAPFRE, but gave up that position by delaying a gybe to the southwest. As a result, the team found itself positioned further east, closer to the light winds of the high pressure system, and over the course of Saturday paid a steep price.

“We’re f$%*ked,” is how navigator Pascal Bidegorry put it to the crew after coming on deck with the afternoon position report on Saturday.

While that may be an exaggeration, it is certainly clear on the tracker that Dongfeng is in a much more difficult position now than they were just 30 hours ago. And after leading for most of the leg, they now appear to be fighting for third place.