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Volvo Ten Zulu Report - Leg 1, Friday Day 7

by Mark Chisnell on 18 Oct 2008
PUMA Ocean Racing sail into the night on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.volvooceanrace.com

Day 7 dawns with the Volvo Ocean Race fleet more fearful of the west than American pioneers venturing into Apache territory. And with good reason – everyone that has headed that way has returned with arrows in their hat and their wagons burning.

PUMA are the most recent victim, by 10:00 Zulu this morning they had seen the 40-mile lead they had 24 hours ago melt away. Ericsson 4 had grabbed back pole position, thanks to a move to the south – and now the only boat with any meaningful leverage on PUMA. And still on the PUMA’s tail was Ericsson 3, sailing in her wake with target lock on the radar (but probably too close for missiles).

So, the attentive reader will now be asking themselves … what are Ericsson 4 doing to the south of PUMA, when yesterday’s TEN ZULU was all about Torben Grael buying leverage to the west of the fleet? Grael and his navigator, Jules Salter, have done a serious swerve, swopping sides after getting their fingers badly burned by their speculative adventure yesterday morning.

It’s proved to be an investment that was about as solid as securitized sub-prime mortgage debt. By the 19:00 Position Report last night PUMA had crossed in front of Ericsson 4, and closed out the leverage. PUMA had banked a 23 mile gain on the boat they had been right beside just 30 hours previously.

OK, so I know that I said in yesterday’s TEN ZULU that the DTL (Distance to Leader) doesn’t matter as much as the positioning right now. Well, DTL still counts when one boat is directly between the man (Ericsson 4) and the hoop (the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha). The 19:00 Position Report revealed that PUMA was in exactly that position, and with Ericsson 4 still going south, Ken Read gybed and banked the gain. All good for PUMA, right?

The chasing pack

Wrong. The other reason Read chose to gybe and go back south, was that he was losing miles to the rest of the fleet (the best way of tracking this is a Data Graph of DTL and Leg Position). Led by Ericsson 3, the chasing pack had edged just that little bit further south before they left Africa. They came hurtling off the coast in great breeze – check out how those DTL’s were plunging through yesterday afternoon.

The exception here was Telefonica Blue, who apart from having busted their front-line sail again, just can’t get in sync with the conditions. Their consolation might be that sailing conditions remain blissful - 20 knots, one metre waves, warm water, sunshine …

Technical Content Warning for this next bit … If you check the True Wind Direction (TWD) graph through yesterday afternoon and compare say, Ericsson 3 and Delta Lloyd with PUMA, you’ll see how the former pair were sailing in much more northerly breeze. And as they were on port gybe, that’s what sailing types call a header. When you’re sailing downwind, that’s a gain.

But, although that shift helped Ericsson 3 close the gap, PUMA’s gybe back to the south at 19:00 last night allowed Read to get his boat between the fleet and Fernando de Noronha. It’s nice tactical positioning with everyone headed for the west, and the beach bonus provided by the wind on the African coast (apparently) finally over – although as I write this, Delta Lloyd had taken one more dig south.

So, what next?

It’s all about the Doldrums. There’s too much good material that’s come off the boats in the last 24 hours to do much more than point you in the right direction. Matt Gregory on Delta Lloyd talked it through with Guy Swindells on audio, as did Ken Read, who summed it up when he told Guy yesterday morning, ‘Everything we do from now on is to set ourselves up for the Doldrums.’

And for the sailing nerds - and this one definitely needs a Technical Content Warning – we have Wouter Verbraak, navigator aboard Team Russia, who’s very concerned about the effect of that low forming off Sierra Leone (which we mentioned in the final paragraph of TEN ZULU a couple of days ago) and it’s impact on the oil price and the Doldrums.

'Quite horrible'

'A first look at the Doldrums just makes my heart stop though, as they are shaping up to be quite horrible. Still a couple of days away, we will have to make our entry choice as early as tomorrow evening. Try and cross in the east and have a good wind angle to Fernando de Noronha, or take a safer route further west? It all comes down to satellite pictures, wind observations and steel balls . . .’

I couldn’t have put it better myself, Wouter, although I did try, in the Leg 1 Preview.

And how is it shaping it up?

Today’s look at the weather routing with Deckman for Windows has the fleet going hard west through to this afternoon. But the wind will start to shift further to the east (from 050 to 070) and that means that a gybe back to port, to go south will follow. And if the weather routing is right, this gybe could take them all the way to their Doldrums transit point.

So this is a big moment – they have to balance four different factors: the wind shift to the east; getting a clean path through the Cape Verde Islands (benefitting from any local effects and not getting stuck in the lee of any islands, or hitting any rocks); their position relative to the rest of the fleet; and, last but not least, getting the right line through the Doldrums, which they could hit as little as 48 hours after the gybe …

Phew, plenty on in those nav stations then . . .

There’s a couple more things I’d like to point you in the direction of – Ian Walker explained the Green Dragon’s StealthPlay (in summary, they made a mistake with the move west, wanted to cover it up, hoping that Telfonica wouldn’t come back with them. They didn’t – so maybe we can chalk one up to the StealthPlay after all) and talked about the Doldrums in his audio with Guy.

And finally, it’s Day 7 in the Big Brother house, and the housemates are getting philosophical . . .

At 13:00 GMT Friday, PUMA had regained her lead from Ericsson 4, Telefónica Blue had the highest 24-hour run of 426 nm and Green Dragon had averaged the highest boat speed of 20.8 in the hour preceding.

PUMA and Ericsson 4 are on a southerly course, while the rest of the fleet continues heading to west. Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke) is sailing a storming race, proving that generation 1 Volvo Open 70s are still on the pace. Bouwe Bekking sums it up:

'How good is it to see how well Delta Lloyd is going. Not only have they been sailing very smart, but they are not slow either. That will open doors for the next race, and hopefully more teams will use older generation boats, and still be competitive,' he said.

You can watch some cool video from the boat here: http://www.volvooceanrace.tv/page/NewsDetail/0,,12573~1423362,00.html

Leg One, Friday Day 7: 13:00 GMT Volvo Ocean Race Positions
(boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)

1 PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 4730 DTF
2 Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +21nm
3 Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +35nm
4 Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) +58nm
5 Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +82nm
6 Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +97nm
7 Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +163nm
8 Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +227nm

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