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The Ten Zulu Report, Leg 1, Day 10 - The Doldrums

by Mark Chisnell on 21 Oct 2008
Photo credit: Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race. Andrew McLean trimming the spinnaker on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.volvooceanrace.com

The Ten Zulu Report, Leg 1, Day 10, Volvo Ocean Race - The Doldrums.

Is it a restart? Is it a reshuffle? Or is it just history repeating?

How does it go? ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Only four days ago, Ken Read was telling us that ‘there is nothing ‘traditional’ about this leg so far at all. All the historical routing data? Throw it in the bin. 'You will never sail inside the Canaries'. Been there. 'You will never have to deal with the Cape Verde Islands'. About to be there.’

But then, in a heartbeat, it turned out just like it always does – ‘never let anyone get west of you into the Doldrums.’ Green Dragon went west, all the way west, three days ago. And now they’ve flown off with PUMA’s lead.

At 10:00 Zulu, the Dragon was holding around a 35 mile advantage over second placed Telefonica Black, with the fleet spread in a rough line across the race track, from west to east. The leader for much of the past five days, PUMA, was back in third. And conditions were, shall we say, trying…? The breeze was down to five or six knots or less, and blowing from anywhere from the north to south-east.

We’ve been talking about it for days, and now it’s finally here – the Doldrums.

This is the biggest reshuffle we’ve seen so far, and barely were the electronic dipoles aligned on yesterday’s TEN ZULU than it all kicked off. A bitter Aksel Magdahl, navigator aboard Ericsson 3, reported yesterday morning, ‘We are being hunted by clouds! It does not feel fair that once again it pays off to be behind. It should not be like that in sailing. The rich should always get richer.’ They had already seen their lead out of Gibraltar turned over (definition six), and now it was happening again. And it was about to get a whole lot worse.

The Weekend Shuffle

Over the last three days we have watched Green Dragon spend heavily to get to the west of the fleet. By Saturday morning they had got themselves 50 miles of leverage - lateral separation - but were well over a hundred miles behind the leader, PUMA.

By Sunday morning, they were hauling in the fast lane, with significantly more wind than the others. And it was a quietly confident navigator, Ian Moore, that talked through the decision with Amanda Blackley yesterday morning.

And with good reason, at yesterday’s 10:00 Position Report, they had cut PUMA’s lead to just 24 miles. With the tail on fire, the ailerons screaming, and the joystick in his lap, Kenny Read punched the canopy and bailed out. Almost as soon as he had received news of the Dragon’s gains in the west at 10:00 Zulu, PUMA gybed to go that way. It remains to be seen whether or not the parachute opens. But I think it was a courageous call, and my money is still on PUMA for a podium position at the scoring gate.

An hour and a half later, Ericsson 4 swallowed the same bitter pill and followed her to the west. Guy Salter has the media job aboard, and he said on yesterday’s audio interview with Amanda Blackley that the detour to Cape Verde meant they didn’t get as far west as they wanted. They were certainly making up for it yesterday afternoon, but the penalty was much greater than the 30 miles they initially lost on the pit-stop to drop off Tony Mutter.

The short-term effect on the leaderboard was dramatic. Remember – Bearing to Waypoint (BRG_WPT in the Data Tables) tells you where they are going, and yesterday it was around 190 – 200. Green Dragon was steering straight at the mark on port gybe yesterday afternoon, barreling down the rhumb line, while PUMA and Ericsson 4 were going almost at right angles to the direction of Fernando de Noronha, on starboard gybe.

Bottoms Up

Inevitably, PUMA’s advantage started to strip away even faster, and by 16:00 Green Dragon were into the lead. I love it when a plan comes together. By early evening, both PUMA and Ericsson 4 had gybed back to port to head south again, and the 22:00 Position Report gave us the first indications of the damage done – PUMA were down to third, 16 miles behind Green Dragon, while Ericsson 4 had gone all the way to seventh, 47 miles behind.
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PUMA and Ericsson 4’s gybe to the west has allowed Green Dragon to consolidate her lead over them. They all have a similar Bearing to the Waypoint – so Green Dragon has got herself between a couple of men and the hoop.

But there’s another five boats with plenty of leverage out there – 250 miles from the western to eastern flank of the fleet. None of the others made a really concerted effort to get west in the last 24 hours – which is why most of them have also gained on the PUMA and Ericsson 4.

Overnight, the fleet settled into its new line-up, with everyone heading south. The Dragon was unmoved from her position as the most westerly boat at almost 31W. Along the line, going east, PUMA then led Ericsson 4 down the longitude 30W. Next across was Telefonica Black, the only other boat to have spent any significant time on starboard in the last 24 hours, and now at 28.5W. We then have a group hovering around 27W – Telefonica Black, Ericsson 3 and Team Russia – before we get to Delta Lloyd, running a lonely vigil on the eastern flank.

So, is there a dragon slayer in the fleet? Not if this morning’s run on the Deckman for Windows weather routing is anything to go by... We’ve done the route for both the western (Green Dragon) and eastern (Delta Lloyd) flanks. And the difference is dramatic.

A big bubble of light air is spreading from the east and about to swallow the fleet. Aboard Delta Lloyd, Matt Gregory was talking about trying to dodge a weather system a couple of days ago, hence their eastern route. But if this is it (and I think it is), things haven’t gone according to plan, the system has stalled and they are going to be trapped battling light air for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, the Green Dragon’s route shows her blithely sailing a clean passage south down the longitude 30-31W. They will still hit some ugly stuff - no one is going to get into the south-east trades until the 22nd - but the Dragon should skirt the worst of it. I’m still backing the three western boats to pick up the flowers and chocolates at the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha – and the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) has now gone back to the early afternoon of the 23rd.

And if they do, the old rule will win out again – so I’ll make another prediction. If a group of boats round Fernando de Noronha in a tight bunch, then the one that makes the biggest effort to get south will be first to Cape Town.



www.volvooceanrace.org

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