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Volvo Ten Zulu report - Sunday, Day 9

by Mark Chisnell on 20 Oct 2008
Gustav Morin/Ericsson Racing Team/Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.volvooceanrace.com

We’ve had 24 hours in which the miles have been unwinding off PUMA’s lead faster than an odometer in the hands of Arthur Daley. But will this be the squeeze box effect – the fleet compresses and then extends again – or will we see real changes in the leaderboard?

At 10:00 ZULU the fleet were (almost) all headed south in a north-east to easterly breeze that has continued to soften over the last 24 hours. It was down as low as eight knots for the boats furthest south this morning – hence the dwindling lead as the front boats sail out of the trade winds and close on the Doldrums.

But PUMA are in front again after trading the lead with Ericsson 3 overnight. There’s not been much in it with these two, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the fleet.

The fastest way to see just how badly the lead has crumpled is to pull up a graph of Distance to Leader (DTL) from the Data Graphs section. If we look at Telefonica Blue they’ve more than halved their (albeit substantial) deficit in 24 hours.

(Technical content warning – I chose Telefonica Blue for the comparison because PUMA is positioned almost directly between her and the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha. The easiest way to check this is to look at the BRG_WPT or Bearing to Waypoint in the Data Tables. When two boats have the same bearing, a straight line can be drawn between them and the mark, and any mileage gains or losses are absolute, and not distorted by positioning to one side of the rhumb line or the other.)

No shortage of leverage

Even bigger gains have been made by Green Dragon, storming up from just over 80 miles behind to just over 20 (and through into third place) by the 10:00 ZULU. And that’s down to positioning. No shortage of leverage this morning, as the fleet have spread themselves all over the ocean as they make the final tweaks to their line up into the Doldrums.

So, enter the dragon, driving down the western highway all the way out at the historically favoured 30W. Going eastwards, next along are PUMA and Ericsson 3 at 28.5W, then we have Ericsson 4 and Telefonica Blue in agreement on the 28W lane. Team Russia and Telefonica Black are coming down 27.5, while Delta Lloyd over at 26.5W is betting the house on the east (more on that later, but have you seen the state of the Bulgarian housing market?).

That gives us more than two hundred miles between the western and eastern flanks of the fleet. That’s a whole lot of leverage, and there will be tears before bedtime (probably tomorrow or the day after’s bedtime) for someone.

So, back to the who, how, why and what it all means …

We left the fleet headed south in a diamond formation. Out in front, on point, were PUMA and Ericsson 3, with Ericsson 4 riding shotgun just behind them. The West Wing was already occupied by Green Dragon, with Delta Lloyd and Team Russia 120 miles east of them. Covering the exits to the north were Team Telefonica, Black and Blue.

There are occasions in this race when you can go to bed with half the story written, pretty confident that in the morning you’re going to be able to get up with nothing much having changed, add a few paragraphs, a headline and some links and send it. And in general, it would be kinda nice if those mornings were on the weekends …

So I’m pleased to report that today is such a day. It’s the calm before the storm, I’m sure, but nevertheless, I’m grateful.

A gybing frenzy

There has been some shuffling, PUMA and Ericsson 3 look to have had a bit of a gybing frenzy yesterday afternoon, and Team Russia have abandoned Delta Lloyd, leaving the race’s latecomers working the eastern wing alone. But, in general, the overall formation hasn’t changed much. It’s just flattened – as PUMA’s lead at the tip of the diamond proved to be anything but unbreakable.

The Data Graphs have pretty consistently showed more breeze for the boats to the west and the north. I’ve pulled up one for you to see this, which has PUMA (south), Green Dragon (west), Telefonica Blue (north) and DeltaLloyd (east).

Green Dragon have mostly had anything up to a couple of knots more wind than everyone else – and these boats just love more wind (that’s something that we’ll be able to show you, once we’ve collected enough data to launch the Form Guide in the Data Centre), which is why they’ve torn up the leaderboard.

Now, the alert reader will have noticed the exception in those graphs – Delta Lloyd from early this morning. We’re dealing mostly with the big picture in this column, the meta-strategy if you like.

But the navigators and skippers also have to deal with the micro- (and sometimes not so micro-) effects, the clouds and wind changes that can lose or win them miles. A more cheerful Simon Fisher, navigator aboard Telefonica Blue was tracking one on the radar this morning.

But Matt Gregory on Delta Lloyd was preoccupied with an altogether different scale of beast in an email yesterday (from here on we have the Technical Content warning sign up). And this explains his easterly positioning for Delta Lloyd – he’s working that cloud for all it’s worth. The question is where it will leave Delta Lloyd (and the rest of them) in relation to the Doldrums, once it’s gone through the fleet.

The other thing you might notice in that Data Graph image is the plot of True Wind Direction (TWD), which shows that Green Dragon have had the best of the right hand wind shift that we talked about yesterday. This is because they are getting the easterly, clockwise circulation round the bottom of the Azores High, rather than the north-easterly circulation in the bottom right corner.

The wind shift has narrowed their wind angle (TWA in the Data Tables), and as the breeze gets lighter, it will also enable them to go faster – another aspect of the performance of the Volvo Open 70 that will become clearer with the Form Guide.

The big picture

So … what of the big picture? We’ve run the forecast through the Deckman for Windows weather routing again this morning. It still thinks that the best line south is down 30W. They will hit the ITCZ later today, and then it’ll be cloud roulette in the Doldrums Casino for at least 36 hours.

The winners will exit first into the relief of the trade winds – and that’s where the fleet will extend again, as the squeeze box unwinds. The first boats out will rapidly put mileage on those they leave behind. So if anyone is going to lock away gains and actually get past someone (get between the man and the hoop), they need to do it in the next 36-48 hours.

I’m still backing the west – and the Dragon for a podium position at the scoring gate. Right now, the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) at Fernando de Noronha is early on the 23rd – and then we’ll see who picks up the points.

Volvo Ocean Race Positions - Leg One Sunday, Day 9: 13:00 GMT - (boat name/country/skipper/nationality/distance to leader)

PUMA Racing Team USA (Ken Read/USA) 4210 DTF
Ericsson 3 SWE (Anders Lewander/SWE) +4
Green Dragon IRL/CHN (Ian Walker/GBR) +8
Ericsson 4 SWE (Torben Grael/BRA) +33
Delta Lloyd IRL (Ger O'Rourke/IRL) +41
Telefónica Blue ESP (Bouwe Bekking/NED) +48
Team Russia RUS (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) +53
Telefónica Black ESP (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) +71

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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