Ericsson 4 (rounding the top mark in the In-port race in Alicante, Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09) ©Oskar Kihlborg/Ericsson Racing Tea
The Ericsson Racing Team shore base is an odd mix of quietness and dismantling today. That's not surprising, given that the sailors have the day off and containers are being packed for loading tomorrow to Cape Town, South Africa.
Fewer than 24 hours remain to the start of the 10th Volvo Ocean Race. While the 20 sailors and media crewmembers are resting for their four-on, four-off watch systems over the course of about three weeks, there's one person planning an all-nighter tonight, team meteorologist Chris Bedford.
Bedford, 44, of Burlington, Mass., in the U.S. is a veteran meteorologist who founded Sailing Weather Services in 1998 to provide weather consulting and forecast services to sailors, adventurers and industry professionals. Bedford has worked the past two editions of the Volvo race, with overall winner Illbruck Challenge in 2001-'02 and the race office in 2005-'06.
Bedford has been updating Ericsson Racing Team skippers, navigators and crews throughout this week on the forecast for Leg 1. The leg is tricky, taking the competitors through the Straits of Gibraltar, into the North Atlantic trade winds, through the Doldrums just north of the Equator, and then around the South Atlantic high pressure before arriving in Cape Town. It's a unique challenge that Bedford relishes.
'I like working for a team,' Bedford said. 'The good thing about the Volvo is that they don't allow shore-based routing, which means I get to sleep beside my wife at night rather than on the floor of my office.'
Bedford pulls an all-nighter the night before the start to lessen the impact on the navigators the morning of the start. The crews are usually too busy with final preparations to sit down for a scheduled meeting of 30 or 45 minutes. Therefore, Bedford burns the midnight oil, preparing a package of information for each crew.
'I try to give them everything I think is important,' said Bedford. 'I'm running basic models and trying to figure out alternate scenarios. Everyone's looking for one answer, but there isn't one. Basically, I try to identify a pattern and then look for the uncertainty in the forecasts. I'm looking for the unknown.'
Bedford isn't the only one working on meteorology for Ericsson Racing Team. New Zealander Mike Quilter, a two-time, race-winning navigator, is also providing his knowledge for planning purposes.
'I refer to Mike as the navigator coach,' said Bedford. 'He links the weather forecasts with the practical aspect of navigating.'
Bedford has worked with the two crews all summer. During training in Lanzarote, he provided weekly briefings going over the big-picture information of weather forecasting, such as how to read clouds and the best way through the Doldrums. His briefings this week have focused as much on prediction as what they covered over the summer.
'I've been trying to remind and refresh them of what we went over during the summer,' Bedford said. 'I've also been giving them my preliminary thoughts on routing and options. It looks like we know what we'll do once were into the Atlantic, but getting there is still tricky.'
The past two days in Alicante have been windy from the east, and that pattern should last into tomorrow. Bedford believes the wind will back into the northeast tomorrow, and is predicting a quick ride to the Straits of Gibraltar, maybe as fast as 24 hours.
'It might still get light on the final approach to the straits,' he said, 'but they should have solid winds through tomorrow night and into Sunday.'
For Bedford, the Volvo Ocean Race has already begun.