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Volvo Ocean Race: Scallywag makes another breakout on Leg 6

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 12 Feb 15:22 PST 13 February 2018
Caight in light airs - Leg 6 to Auckland, Day 6 on board Brunel. Drone. Dongfeng. MAPFRE. Rain cloud. New Start? 12 February, 2018 © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race

Yesterday's front four on Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race have been badly caught out by an area of light winds on Day 5 of Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Hong Kong to Auckland.

As predicted yesterday in Sail-World that opened up an opportunity for the two backmarkers SHK Scallywag and Team AkzoNobel - who in the first days of the leg had opted to head North chasing a stronger wind zone - a move that had paid off so handsomely for the Kenny Read skippered Puma on the 2011/12 edition of the race. Puma split from the fleet, heading up the coast of Taiwan and then almost to Japan before making a big right-hand turn and flying down the back straight to the Equator.

On Day 2 of the leg, navigator Libby Greenhalgh said they planned to head north to escape an area of light winds and then pick up a stronger northerly breeze. Their plan seemed to be to catch the northerly wind which would slingshot them to the Equator and Doldrums as happened with Puma two races ago.

The way Greenhalgh explained it, there was a frontal system coming through in four days time with an area of light winds.

On Day 3 the wind dropped for Scallywag. And on Day 4 Scallywag skipper David Witt said there had been an unexpected change in the weather files (the teams are limited to just two files supplied via Volvo Ocean race) - the change happened just after they had altered course to the north, and they had to swing back and follow the leaders. "Yes we regret it," said Witt. "The Grib file was a bit different than we thought. The Grib file said the other guys would fall into a big hole. And once we made the decision to go up there [North] then the Grib file changed.That's the way Grib files work. It's a fugazzi! It's not real."

Navigator Libby Greenhalgh was more positive when the hoped front turned up and got Scallywag and always in sight Team AkzoNobel back up to speed - it was too late, but they turned south anyway, but took a more southerly course than the lead group - once again trying to cut the corner.

Day 5, Greenhalgh could see the same light airs developing for the leaders that Sailworld commented on yesterday, saying"in 12 hours that northern group will get some lighter winds and that will allow us to close a bit of the distance. There are still opportunities to be had, and I think that by the time we get to the Doldrums, there will be 20 miles or so in it."

Yesterday the routing for the front group was recommending that they head north to circumvent the area of lights airs that had indeed developed just ahead. That prognosis came from the routing function of Predictwind using the two feeds (GFS and ECWMF) supplied by Volvo Ocean Race to the fleet.

In the intervening period either the Grib files changed unexpectedly once again, or going north became a stretch too far, and the lead group elected to head in a WSW direction which took them towards Scallywag and AkzoNobel, but was not getting them closer to Auckland, and the last placed Scallywag has again become the leg leader as a result of a very courageous navigation call at just the right time. At the 1900UTC position report, MAPFRE had dropped almost 50nm on Scallywag and had been averaging less than half her speed for the period covered by the schedule.

That situation was reinforced in the latter report at 2300hrs UTC showed that Scallywag was now almost 50nm ahead of the former lead group of four and had sailed 100nm than that group over the last 24 hours. The now trailing group is now on a similar heading to Scallywag and AzkoNobel and that move locks in the their 50nm lead.

As winning skipper in the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race, Ian Walker, was apt to say "there is plenty of golf left in the hole!" And that is certainly the case for Leg 6.

The Doldrums come into play in a couple of days time. The Predictwind routing has three of the feeds recommending a passage through the Solomons in an effort to dodge the worst of the Doldrums.

While that ploy might be successful the fleet has a very difficult week or so ahead as the SW Pacific threatens to become a massive area of light winds in the wake of Cyclone Gita which will cross the path of the Volvo Ocean Race in a day or two (but well clear of the fleet).

That will turn the last half of Leg 6 into a light air lottery - quite unlike anything seen to date in the six legs of the race.

The routing does show some very optimistic speeds given the light winds.

A fugazzi, indeed.

The break that Scallywag has achieved will probably not last the leg. But should get her into the lead position going into the initial belt of the Doldrums. There it will be down to star navigator, Libby Greenhalgh to weave some more of her magic to keep the Hong Kong team in front and the Kiwi media darlings at bay aboard MAPFRE and Team Brunel.

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