Volvo Ocean Race Leg 3 – The big casino

Course geometry of Malacca Strait. pic by Volvo Ocean Race ©

Course geometry of Malacca Strait.
pic by Volvo Ocean Race ©

by Gonzalo Infante

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 3 – The Malacca and Singapore Straits are a big talking point of this leg – and not without reason. These narrow and busy passages have all the ingredients to make them extremely difficult places to race sail boats.

If we look at the big picture, we can see that is the only piece of water that connects the north Pacific and north Indian Oceans – and this has some interesting implications, not only related to the ocean and weather but also human activities.

For instance, here are some facts to consider:
• This is a tropical area, close to the Equator with big Intertropical Convergence Zone influence.
• A narrow passage between the Malaysian Peninsula and the island of Sumatra.
• The current is generally set to NW. Close to the shore the tide will change the intensity of the current but in the middle it’s fairly consistent.
• Both land masses are flat at the extremes and with big mountains in the middle.
• In the north, the weather is dominated by Gulf of Thailand – in the south by the South China Sea, and in the middle land/sea interaction drives the wind.
• Squall lines, thunderstorms and waterspouts are very frequent.

A typical situation during daytime. Streamlines show the general direction of the wind and wind speed is coded into colors. Windless area in the middle and sea breezes in both coastlines. pic by Volvo Ocean Race ©

A typical situation during daytime. Streamlines show the general direction of the wind and wind speed is coded into colors. Windless area in the middle and sea breezes in both coastlines.
pic by Volvo Ocean Race ©

The course
Right after crossing the north western tip of Sumatra and leaving Pulau Weh island to starboard, the Malacca Strait begins. Its width is relatively high at the beginning, decreasing gradually as you head south east. As it becomes more narrow, a Traffic Separation Zone is put into place so the thousands of merchant vessels that transit the area can do so in an organized way and out of trouble.

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