Volvo Ocean Race – it’s a drag race to Auckland

Abu Dhabi pic by Rick Tomlinson/VOR
Abu Dhabi
pic by Rick Tomlinson/VOR

by Matt Knighton
OBR, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

The black silhouette on the horizon was blocking our view of the sunrise this morning – we’re not sure if they’ll ruin the rest of our day or not. Then again, the mood onboard Abu Dhabi this morning has been optimistic and energetic. The quiet gladiatorial competition developing between Dongfeng and us has finally broken out into the open and as we close in on the finish we’re pushing Azzam with a fresh pent-up energy we’ve stored somewhere during the past 18 days of racing.

This is not a match race. There’s no tactics involved – it’s a pure drag race. Sail as fast as you can in a straight line and show Farr just how quick you can push these boats.

As the sun rose and they sailed 1nm to windward, it was clear we were sailing the same speed with two very different modes in the gusty, easterly trades. Dongfeng had opted for a much larger sail plan – 160 sq. meters bigger than ours – and were powerful in the lulls. On the other hand, we had chosen to have a smaller amount of sail area up, still optimal for close reaching and that enabled us to throw the turbo boosters on during the gusts.

The spectating from our end was immeasurably more entertaining.

It took Dongfeng an hour to lessen their sail area and during that time Daryl, Wendy, and Juddy were cracking up as each new gust would overpower Dongfeng into a broach. They must have been on their side every five minutes trying to hang on during their capsizes.

The next 72 hours will keep rubber banding if the wind continues to change. They are slightly faster in reaching conditions under 14 knots, we know we’re faster in the heavier winds.

Only three more sunrises left. Hopefully, they aren’t blocking another one.

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