“We’ve had the fastest and wettest downwind conditions yet on this leg (or the last) during this morning’s romp through the Doldrums, hitting 20-24 knots SOG” said Charles Caudrelier skipper of Dongfeng. “Anyone can win this leg, its now so close again.”
It is incredible how fast things can change in ocean racing – the Volvo Ocean Race just had an almost complete reset this weekend. And it wasn’t just the leaderboard that got ‘re-installed’, the weather got a full hard disk wipe and reboot, with instead of the calms of the doldrums, strong north westerly winds propelling the fleet south at over 20 knots.
Without doubt the fastest 24 hours of this leg, and for some time in the race in fact.
But the question that has occupied the navigators for most of this leg so far came back to the fore – east or westerly positioning on what is now a race to the south? Pretty well the whole time now, east has been best – and the star navigator of this leg to date, old Capey on Brunel clearly wanted more of it. Having sprinted away again to a small lead last night after getting the strong downwind conditions first, he opted to throw the lead away and swap it for getting back to the east – they had become the further west boat.
When the boats do cross one further ‘wall’ of light winds about 200 miles down track, they will sail in to moderate easterly Trade Winds. The boat the furthest east, will be able to sail the most open, and therefore fastest, angle south towards Auckland.
Equally general wisdom says more wind in the light band to the east. Maybe it was another reason, but the big gybe that took them away from the direction of New Zealand, was a big statement from a confident navigator who has led the way on this leg.
Onboard Dongfeng there are some small frustrations as they’ve seen MAPFRE stretch out by just a few miles on them – it is the first time we’ve really lined up like this in these conditions. So the guys will be searching for those extra percentages of performance in this particular set of wind and sea state. They already feel confident in their speed in light downwind, and strong upwind (like out of Sanya to Philippines on this leg) – and each time a boat gets to line up in AIS or visual range of another, its an opportunity to check if the trim is right / faster or slower than the competition. The choice and shape of the sails, the position of the daggerboards, the trim of the boat with the weight distribution, the way the helmsman is driving, the position of the keel – lots of variables to play with, and every team is learning all the team.
The winner of the race, after the strategic calls are made by the navigator, is the one that gets better at managing these performance variables leg by leg. Everyone is getting better – but who can get better faster and by more than the others. We’ll know in Gothenburg!
Here’s a nice little video to remind us that nothing winds down at night on Dongfeng or the other boats – night time action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3QD2FqMVug