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Volvo OR: 35kt winds and big seas to beat-up fleet after start

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 16 Mar 2018 19:05 PDT 17 March 2018
Volvo Ocean Race Eve of Leg 7 start, Auckland © Richard Gladwell

The Volvo Ocean Race will get underway tomorrow from Auckland in fresh, but quite manageable winds for the lap of the Waitemata Harbour.

However, as the fleet enters and then exits the Hauraki Gulf, it will be quite a different story.

Predictwind.com is forecasting winds from the East gusting over 35kts which will affect the fleet within an hour or so of the 2.00pm start and once they have cleared the shelter of Rangitoto Channel making for a very difficult bash to windward to exit the Gulf and set course for Itajai, Brazil.

The wave height in Hauraki Gulf should not be too extreme, as the area is sheltered by outlying Great Barrier and Little Barrier Islands.

However, once they enter the Pacific Ocean to the east of Great Barrier Island wave heights will increase to 3metres with peak waves over 4.5metres.

There is no escape for the seven boat fleet, which is much more comfortable reaching and running in such conditions. The routing function of Predictwind.com recommends the boats to stay to the west, or inside of Great Barrier Island, delaying making their first tack until well out into the Pacific, and just short of the latitude of Whangarei, 70nm to the north of Auckland. They then head for East Cape which maybe the last land they will see until Cape Horn.

By East Cape, the winds should have eased to under 20kts for a 24 hour period before picking up again into the mid-20's, low 30's - making a memorable ride through the Southern Ocean

After reaching East Cape, the routing recommends a dive directly south to 56 degrees south before heading east for Cape Horn but taking a further dig south as they approach the notorious landmark and going down to 60 degrees south.

There is no need for an "Ice Gate" to be set for this leg - as the imaging shows no ice in the way of the race fleet.

That allows the fleet to sail much further south than they would normally be allowed, and they will drop below the latitude of the Horn to 60degrees South, before coming back up to Cape Horn which is at 55 degrees South.

The Great Circle Route between Auckland and Cape Horn drops down as far as 65degrees south, so there is scope for the Volvo 65's to sail even further south, to save distance.

The conditions forecast for the opening stanzas of Leg 7 are typical for the start of the Auckland to Brazil leg. In previous editions of the race, the start has been delayed to allow a strong wind/big sea system pass through. In other editions, boats have been broken and forced to return to Auckland for repairs before chasing the fleet.

Starting the race and toughing it out has not been a successful option in the past for organisers with entries being forced to pull out in the early days of sailing in the Southern Ocean when a return upwind to New Zealand is not an option, and the damaged race boats face a long, slow trip to Cape Horn or the western coast of South America before effecting repairs.

At this stage, the first boats are expected to round Cape Horn on April 1-2 (NZT).

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