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Southern Spars

Volvo Ten Zulu Report - What about the rest?

by Mark Chisnell on 3 Nov 2008
Ericsson 4 Skipper Torben Grael drinking champagne on stage after Leg 1 VOR © David Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race http://www.volvooceanrace.com/

Skipper Torben Grael and his team aboard Ericsson 4 are sipping cold beers and downing some burgers in the Race Village in Cape Town – hot showers, dry clothes and warm embraces all round after a great performance.

The phones will be lighting up, the emails pouring in, they’ll have just discovered the flames of global financial apocalypse are licking at stock portfolios and pensions alike – it’s the retox zone, welcome back to the world. Meanwhile, the boat’s headed for rehab, as the shore crew try to get their heads around the job list, and put her back together for the next performance.

But what counts this morning is that Ericsson 4 take maximum points for Leg 1 and the overall lead in the Volvo Ocean Race. In the end, the difference came down to their performance in the big breeze, out-gunning the cold front, out-running their opposition and establishing an advantage they held all the way to the line, with little of the usual go-slow in Table Bay.

At 10:00 ZULU this morning, there were less than 90 miles between PUMA, the finish, and a second place for the leg and in the overall standings. Ken Read and his team were sailing in a pleasant 12 knot southwesterly, and pointing straight at the Race Village. They should join the queue at the bar this afternoon. The breeze has softened as expected, but even if it gets lighter, PUMA’s angle to the line is perfect for the big Code Zero sail, and their Boat Speed (BS in the Data Centre) was matching the True Wind Speed (TWS) at the time of writing. Perfect Sunday sailing conditions …

Behind them, six boats were more worried about the chill on deck than the temperature of their beer. All six had taken the low road, most of them still sailing south-east on starboard gybe at 10:00 ZULU yesterday, tracking the movement of the low pressure system that they have followed all the way from the coast of Brazil.

A stealthy covering gybe

The first boats to peel out of the south had just started to gybe yesterday morning. First to go was Ian Walker and the Green Dragon, after a torrid night. They held onto port gybe until just before 10:00 ZULU, sailing in a fresh 20 knot west-southwesterly. Ahead of them, Ericsson 3 crossed their bow yesterday morning, and also gybed to port, right on the line the Dragon was sailing – about an hour and a half in front. Then, at the 13:00 Position Report yesterday, Ericsson 3 called in a StealthPlay, disappeared from our screens, and …

…when they reappeared in the early hours of this morning, they had taken another hitch to the south-east – a stealthy covering gybe. They spent about two hours on starboard to position themselves even more firmly between Green Dragon and the finish line. It’s hard to see how the Dragon can pull off a pass from there, especially as they are still struggling with the keel, after their altercation with the sea monster.

But Ian Walker is never more dangerous than when he’s the underdog, as those at the Sydney Olympics can verify. This pair should finish Monday morning.

Chasing them, but more defender than attacker, Telefonica Blue gybed out of the south to follow Green Dragon yesterday morning. Bouwe Bekking and his team sailed in the contrails of the Dragon through yesterday afternoon. But they’ve subsequently found themselves ‘lifted’ (the True Wind Direction (TWD) has shifted anticlockwise, forcing them to steer away from the finish) and Telefonica Blue was being dragged west of Green Dragon – for which, Bouwe Bekking can thank the movement of the high pressure.

Yesterday’s weather update from Race Forecaster, Jennifer Lilly, described the Brazilian low pressure system drifting away to the south-east, with the South Atlantic High building to the north-west, behind the fleet.

The high is now being pushed eastwards by the next low pressure on the storm track conveyor belt. It’s hunting down the fleet, trying to throw a blanket of light air over them – which would put out the fire like rain on a parade. The high will eventually run up against the Cape Peninsula, and resist the further advance of the low pressure system, (which will be forced south) leaving a big area of light wind centred about 400nm west-southwest of the Cape by tomorrow lunchtime. Anyone who isn’t still east of it by then is going to have to take a detour (three night buses and a long walk) to get home …

Weather could impact on Team Russia’s chase

This weather prognosis could have an impact on Team Russia’s chase for Telefonica Blue’s fifth place. But we’re going to have to wait to judge the outcome of this one, as Team Russia threw their Stealth card on the baize at 01:00 this morning. Bouwe Bekking responded with his own SteathPlay at 07:00 – we have to wait until they both decloak to find out what hands they’re holding.

There are two choices here – and this part does need a little technical content warning. The high pressure is approaching from the west, and even when it stops short of the Cape Peninsula, a band of good south-westerly breeze will still flow from south-west of Cape Town all the way into the finish. So the safest approach is still from the south-west, but … (and it’s quite a big but) that means sailing north-east, in a south-westerly – and that involves a lot of gybing, because where you want to go is dead downwind of where you are.

The wind flows anti-clockwise around a high pressure in the Southern Hemisphere, and if you imagine the centre of the high as the centre of a clock face, then this approach (which is the one Team Russia appeared to be taking when they went into Stealth) is from five o’clock.

Plan B is to stay further north, at about three o’clock relative to the centre of the high, where the wind is blowing from the south. That gives you a fast sailing angle, on a broad reach, directly towards the finish. The risk is that you get caught by the centre of the high pressure and dumped in light air.

And it’s the wounded, trailing members of the pack that appear to be taking this chance – and I think it’s a risk worth taking. Delta Lloyd with her damaged spreader used her StealthPlay last night to reposition to the north. Telefonica Black, with the emergency rudder deployed and no bowsprit, was set up 60nm south of them. Both were flying towards the finish at the time of writing and will continue to do so as long as they can out-run the high pressure …

How’s it going to play out? The Predicted Routes think they will make it, with their Arrival (ARRIVAL in the Data Centre) time in Cape Town anticipated as tomorrow evening for Delta Lloyd, and early Tuesday morning for Telefonica Black. Whether that will be any consolation for propping up the fleet remains to be seen …

The TEN ZULU REPORT (so called because it follows the 10:00 GMT fleet position report, and Zulu is the meteorologist's name for GMT).

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