Volvo Ocean Race- Too tight to call in late running Leg 4

Casey Smith testing a new line of sunglasses that need no cleaning. Puma Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

With around 3700nm to sail to Auckland, and nine days left to do it, not too many around the Auckland waterfront are picking a finish as scheduled on 8 March, in Auckland.

Projections run by Sail-World using Predictwind's routing function have the fleet currently finishing at 11.00am on the 15 March - three days before Leg 5 is due to start from Auckland.

Using a second set of standard wind feeds (but only accurate for a seven day period) the race would finish 21 hours earlier.

The route projected for Auckland is a near direct one, and does take into account the fact that the boats have to pass through the Doldrums. It is that factor plus the vagaries of the winds down the Northland coast of New Zealand, which will determine the race finish time.

On the water it is too close to call.

Using the same predictive route and projected time taken to finish, the lead varies almost from sked to sked - even using two independent weather feeds. Beyond the nine day window for accurate Predictwind weather data, the Predictwind system develops its own prognosis based on the weather situation covering the route, meaning there is a reasonable basis for the forecasted route.

At present just seven hours covers the fleet, with over 15 days left - meaning they will have to average over 10kts to finish on the 14/15 March. Currently they will have to average over 17kts to meet the 8 March finish time - and that includes passing through the Doldrums.

Meanwhile the latest report from Volvo Ocean Race says that the fleet is about to start a drag race towards the equator in solid north east trade winds.

'It’s still full throttle down charging along getting every ounce of speed out of Camper to claw back some ground mile by mile' Hamish Hooper - MCM, Camper

Groupama sailing team continue to hold the lead and the furthest east position and at 0800 UTC this morning were charging along at an average of 18 knots -- a speed only topped by their neighbours Puma Ocean Racing and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who have been powering south east at peak speeds above 25 knots.

For Puma the return to fast sailing comes as a blessed relief after their charge down the eastern flank had temporarily ground to a halt in a patch of light airs -- a warning to Ken Read’s team of their vulnerable position on the edge of the fleet.

'After two days of consecutive gains, it was a stinging reminder that we are very vulnerable out here on the corner, and that there is still a very, very long way to go to New Zealand.

'It was tough sailing for a few hours this morning with all sails flapping in the wind and nothing to push them (or us) anywhere.

'To a rising sun we moved the boat’s contents forward and could do nothing but watch the computer screen confirm that the rest of the fleet was still averaging 10+ knots. Not fun.

'Fortunately, we’ve stopped the bleeding and are back up to speed in a nice 15 knot northerly,' Ross signed off.

In less wind on the western fringe of the fleet the second placed Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand crew were having to work flat out to claw back precious miles on the leaders.

Camper Media Crew Member (MCM) Hamish Hooper described the scenario in his latest report from the boat.

'At the moment it’s a slight waiting game until all of the fleet are nose down and pointing at New Zealand when the 2,000 mile drag race starts to the Doldrums and a chain of Pacific Islands to penetrate before the last push to paradise,' Hooper said.

'It’s still full throttle down charging along getting every ounce of speed out of Camper to claw back some ground mile by mile.

'Groupama have had a tough few skeds being caught further out to the east in lighter wind, which we know all too well about the pain of after recent days,' Hooper wrote.

'However, we are short of sympathy for our French counterparts.

'Thanks to that we have managed to take a couple of chunks out of their lead, which gave everyone a momentary additional spring in their step.

'They are now back up to full speed again, in fact in the latest sked we had the least amount of wind.

'It sure is swings in roundabouts. But we push on hard,' Hooper concluded.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s sixth position in the standings belies a strong tactical position to the east making them one of the first to benefit from the developing trade winds.

'Finally!! Azzam has just poked into the solid northerly trades,' MCM Nick Dana reported this morning. 'The wind direction has now headed enough that we are headed southeast at pace.

'The latest skeds should show us doing around 60 miles, a massive departure from the majority of skeds for the entire race so far.

'Not to mention the sailing is sensational -- 18 - 20 knots of consistent north easterly wind while we rip along with a full main and fractional zero averaging around 20 knots of boat speed.

'Our ‘snow plough’ bow has been chucking up 10-foot solid walls of white water for the better part of day.'

'We are all just focusing on the sailing at hand and getting south. It’s now roughly 1600 miles to the equator and we are smashing the miles.

On leg leaders Groupama sailing team MCM Yann Riou said the French crew were preparing for some adrenaline fuelled sailing as they dig deeper into the genuine trade wind zone over the next 24 hours.

'We are now on a reach in around 15 knots on what are quite comfortable seas,' he said. 'There's a blue sky with some small cumulus. In short -- if this isn't the trade winds, it sure looks like it.

'From this evening, the wind is set to head a few degrees, increasing to up to 22 knots. As such we're preparing for a new episode of ‘Life at the extreme’ with some high speeds, torrents of water on deck and so on and so forth.

'To put it plainly, classic Volvo conditions!'
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