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Volvo OR - Scallywag predicted to win Leg 4

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 12 Jan 11:56 PST 13 January 2018
Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 12 sunrise with John Fisher having his morning cup of tea on the wheel on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. © by Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race. 12 January, .

SHK Scallywag, the Hong Kong entry which has topped the leaderboard for the last few skeds is predicted to win Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race in six and a half days time.

Skippered by top 18ft skiff sailor David Witt Scallywag is usually languishing at the tail of the seven boat fleet, however, a bold move made 12 hours ago to strike out for the finish line seems to have paid off.

Volvo Ocean Race organisers use a system of calculating who is closest to the finish line to determine places on the leaderboard and Witt has occupied the top spot for the past 12 hours.

However, races are won on time to finish rather than distance sailed, and using weather routing to calculate the leaderboard is a much more accurate method. Sail-World switched to using Predictwind for major offshore and trans-oceanic race analysis several Volvo Ocean Races ago.

Using a weather routing application (of which there are several on the market) a boat's course options are optimised based on their performance profile (Polar) and the forecast weather between them and a designated point - in this case, the finish line in Hong Kong.

Of course, using a common polar for each boat assumes that each is sailed with the same level of expertise and performance, which is usually not the case even in one-designs.

Effectively the boats are sailed in a computer model using weather feeds optimised by Predictwind to increase their accuracy and finish times calculated. On this basis, Scallywag is shown as winning by an hour.

More importantly, the wind is showing as holding up for her over the next few hours as she finally exits the Doldrums and enters the trade winds.

Currently the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is currently split into three groups.

Scallywag, the top boat on the VOR leaderboard, is the most south and most westerly of the seven-boat fleet. Two boats, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Dongfeng Race Team are the most northerly and look to have picked up the Tradewinds which are blowing at 14-18kts for the next few days - and are expected to continue until within about 18 hours of the finish on 18/19 June UTC.

Navigator on SHK Scallywag, the very experienced British Olympic team meteorologist Libby Greenhalgh reports:

"We finally really turned a corner and are heading to the finish, the miles are going down and the speed is going up and for us in a more than positive way as our westerly position is now paying off. We took our cloud of doom early and made a huge loss, having only just gained back on the fleet and now the tables have turned and we can feel their pain as after each sched they lose miles."

"There have been some absolute MONSTER clouds out here and we have been carefully monitoring the Sat pics to make sure we make the best job we can of weaving through them, but a lot of positioning was decided days before without you really realising."

"There are still more to come and the next 24 hours could still see some serious snakes and ladders."

The third group of four boats - Team AkzoNobel, Team Brunel, MAPFRE and Turn the Tide on Plastic appear to be still in the grip of the Doldrums.

Most of that group had made the break west after Scallywag, with Team Brunel being the last to make the move. All made an attempt to get north to escape the Doldrums without making any distance towards the finish. Witt took a calculated risk, saw a weather window and like all top 18fter sailors never backs away from making a break when the opportunity is offered. According to the Volvo OR skeds, Witt has sailed 30nm more in the last 24 hours - which adds further emphasis to Scallywag's performance over that period.

Scallywag's average speed is lower than the second and third placed boats - but he has clearly had the breeze for longer and in the latest sked has clocked up the miles.

The hanging question is the accuracy of the weather feeds in six-seven days time - with the final day being potentially fraught as lighter breezes are forecast.

Witt's clear strategy is to live for the moment and see if they can get away with it in the medium and long-term.

The current weather models show that will be the case, but can always be revised as weather systems change, and in this Leg probably will as the boats near the weather influence of the Asian continent.

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