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Gladwell's Line: A look at the Volvo OR finish - the best way?

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 2 Jul 17:27 PDT 3 July 2018
Dongfeng - Leg 11, from Gothenburg to The Hague, day 03. Heli LIVE as the fleet blast south, eyes set on The Hague. 23 June, . © Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

Adapted from the editorial of Sail-World.com's New Zealand June 28 newsletter with the Kiwi-specific pieces removed - to read the full newsletter click here and to subscribe or see the newsletter archive sail-world.com/NZ/newsletter

The Volvo Ocean Race ended in a way as no other Volvo OR or Whitbread WTWR has done before.

The tight finish of Leg 11 was set up on the latter stages of Leg 10, when Team Brunel powered through to win Leg 10, from second to last - albeit only 8nm behind MAPFRE who was the Leg leader. The Spanish entry was clearly the boat to beat, making the podium on nine from 11 award ceremonies.

On the same Leg 10 Dongfeng hit a slow patch after picking up a plastic bag or similar on her keel or similar - which dropped her back into fifth place - albeit only 5.6nm off the lead. The Chinese/French entry recovered to 4th for Leg 10.

With the playing out of a unique set of events and taking into account some bonus points, the three at the top of the leaderboard started Leg 11 all square.

That situation was unprecedented in the Volvo and Whitbread WTW races. But since the introduction of the one design VO65 there have been several close leg finishes. In fact, it is usual for at least some of the boats to finish in a heap at the end of every leg.

So why finish the race in an area that was badly affected by Exclusion Zones and Traffic Separation Schemes?

Why have a course that requires the boats to have to make an irreversible choice of a course through the Exclusion Zones 18 hours before the leg finish?

It may have made great media, and provided a thrilling finish for fans, rather than the usual expected procession, where the Race is often all but won a Leg or two earlier. But it is a piece of sailing gimmickry that a boat can win a race in one designs, when she is 50nm behind with 68nm left to sail - and in the absence of a park-up triggered by a tidal gate, lack of wind or both.

While it is not possible to avoid the European Traffic Separation Schemes, it does make for better racing for the boats to be located in the same patch of water and tested under similar conditions.

It would have been a simple enough matter to have specified in the Sailing Instructions as to which path through the Exclusion Zones was required to be followed by simply specifying it. The same as is done with the so-called Ice Gates in the Southern Ocean.

If the organisers preferred the more direct offshore route then that could have been stated. Or if the organisers wanted the boats to pass close to the shore as elected by Dongfeng, SHK Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic, then that route should have been specified. After all, the course was changed at least five times in the Sailing Instructions. The crews were placed in a situation where they had to make an irreversible course decision with around 25% of the race left to run (in elapsed time). In short, the race should not be decided on the basis of loading the Leg and Overall Race Result outcome on the crews' interpretation of just two on board weather feeds, augmenting whatever they could compile ashore in the days leading up to the start.

Given that the course was manipulated to provide the spectacle of a mid-afternoon finish, would it have made for a better race visually to have all the leading boats in the same patch of water? If so, fans could see the live helicopter video of the race unfolding, rather than watching a computer screen the tracker counted down the result, as the leaders raced down either side of an Exclusion Zone?

As it was the race turned into a crapshoot - determined on how a weather gamble played out, with little opportunity to respond in the normal way to any change in conditions that occurred in the last 18hrs of the 75hr race.

With 68 miles left to sail, Dongfeng was 50nm behind the leader. At one point MAPFRE, Brunel, AkzoNobel and Vestas were within a mile of each other and sailing at 13kts. Brunel was making a negative VMG and none of the four were making more than 1kt of VMG.

Meanwhile Dongfeng was sailing at over 19kts and making +ve 19kts VMG to the finish. In other words, despite sailing at a very respectable 13kts Brunel (and the other three) were increasing the distance between them and the finish line. Again that situation is not that unusual on a long offshore leg through the Doldrums or in a tidal gate in light airs.

But this leg was just set up to be like a contest of two snails crawling up opposite sides of a wall. It would have been a much better spectacle and sailing test for the snails to be on the same side of the wall where fans could see who was gaining, who was in front and see the tactics employed and played out rather than just being staring at tracker data on a computer screen.

Those who took the offshore option through the Exclusion Zones had to gybe six times to work their way through the last 35nm. Dongfeng didn't gybe once in the final 17 hours and was able to build a good apparent windspeed. She had the bonus that for the last eight hours of the leg they had significantly stronger windspeed.

Maybe Pascal Bidégorry,the navigator on Dongfeng had been clever enough to work the potential of an increased breeze on the final 300nm of what proved to be a 1070nm sailing course. And that the extra gybes were an unseen hazard on the offshore course - and good on him for doing so.

However the point remains, once the boats had made a choice of passage 18 hours out - they were at the vagaries of the weather and no real opportunity to respond to a change that was not in the forecast - or one that was in the forecast and didn't eventuate. With all due respect to navigators, that makes the Leg a test of interpretation of technology not of sailing.

Whatever the outcome of the Leg and the Race there was always going to be a good story angle and one that would have extended well beyond the immediate result.

The simple point is that while there is a temptation to tinker with outcomes in the hope of making a better event, usually the best result comes from letting the sailors play the game out and producing a genuine result on the water.

The Leg 11 and Volvo Ocean Race win is a huge positive for China and the Asian region generally. In sailing terms, Asia is still categorised as an Emerging nation. In the long-term Sailing narrative, the win by Dongfeng transcends any of the other outcomes. It is a turning point in Sailing - not just for Asia, but for the world.

Congratulations, of course, to the Race winner, and indeed to all crew on all competitors for their achievement in completing the course. Daryl Wislang's was a consecutive win having achieved the feat aboard Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi in the 2014/15 race. For Doyle Sails' Stu Bannatyne this was his eighth Whitbread WTWR/Volvo OR, and fourth win - an amazing record and an unprecedented achievement.

The kudos for Asian sailing arising from Dongfeng's win must also include the Hong Kong backed SHK Scallywag with her Leg 4 win and second place on Leg 6 into Auckland. SHK Scallywag was the second Asian backed entry in the event. The helming performance of her owner on the Leg 11 start line was very impressive. The inside word is that he has been reading a lot of America's Cup books lately.

A win for Zhik

The Dongfeng win was a great result for Zhik - who provided the apparel for the winning boat. This was Zhik's first ever foray into a Round the World Race. Zhik put a huge effort into the design of clothing for the two boats they had in the Volvo Ocean Race. AkzoNobel (4th overall) was the other. There will be a lot of trickle down into Zhik's extensive clothing range, which will benefit recreational, club and serious racing sailors.

Don't forget too that it was the other Zhik clad entry Team AkzoNobel that set the 24hr sailing record for a VOR65 of 602nm, and indeed became only the second monohull to go over 600nm for a 24 hour run.

(For the screen shots that go with the comments above - see the bottom of this story)

America's Cup - missing the action

June 27 NZT, is the first anniversary of Emirates Team New Zealand's recapture of the America's Cup and the removal of a monkey off the back of New Zealand sailing following the events of 2000-2003.

Sadly 12 months after the 35th America's Cup, there is still no full-length racing video available of the event. That coverage along with the Media Conferences, which were an integral part of the event coverage, were all taken down a month after the event. Also taken offline was the America's Cup website, Facebook page and other media including the image galleries that were available for the 2017 and 2013 America's Cups. That move was preceded by a concerted effort to arbitrarily remove the "pirate" video copies from the web.

Sail-World's "Replay" series is a response to this action. We believe the video take-down is contrary to the provisions of the Protocol for the 35th America's Cup (Article 54). We will keep adding to Sail-World's repository as information comes to hand.

The media take-down was not an action by Emirates Team New Zealand, but by some entity that still calls themselves "americas cup" to Youtube, along with what is believed to be a Swedish TV channel. All websites that used the official America's Cup video content (Sail-World was probably the most affected) now have big holes in their reports where those clips had been inserted - effectively corrupting our coverage.

Sail-World NZ has started a formal complaint process running on this takedown and we urge others to do the same.

Annals Murphy (IRL) - start of Laser Radial - Day 5 - photo © Richard Gladwell <a target=www.photosport.co.nz" />
Analise Murphy (IRL) - turned Olympic Qualification logic inside out when she went from 44th in the 2018 Worlds to winning the Olympic Silver medal five months later - photo © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
Olympic portents?

Kieler Woche 2018 experienced a mix of conditions, and was probably a good shake-down for the upcoming Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, that start at the end of this month. The Aarhus regatta is the first Olympic Qualifier for Tokyo 2020.

While no countries will disclose their selection criteria, generally for the so-called Developed sailing nations -with State/National Olympic funding - a sailor/crew has to qualify their class in Aarhus 2018 to stay on the serious funding ladder for Tokyo 2020.

Whether they admit it or not, the Developed nations look to qualify as many of their classes in the first round, two years out from the main event. "We've already qualified for the next Olympics" is a great line to report back to Funders when stating your case for increased investment - and particularly so when other sports are working to a more delayed qualification time frame.

The fallacy of judging pre-Olympic form on the build-up regattas is that countries all work within their own program. Many of the drive-up competitors clearly elected to give Kiel Week a miss, or maybe used it as a development regatta (to test new gear) rather than a pinnacle event. For Kiwis, Australians and others who have to fly-in and use boats already in Europe, Kiel has a more pressing level of compulsion.

Even so two Gold medals for the NZL Sailing Team and other team of a similar ilk along with several other near-misses is an encouraging result. Sure some of the heavy-metal from Rio 2016 is still absent - your Burling/Tukes and Grael/Kunzes, the new British Womens 470 crew, and many more.

Looking through a tighter lens at the results from Princesa Sofia Trophy held in Palma in early April, suggests that the Kiwis are not in bad shape at all. In several classes, there is some serious depth developing - 49ers, Finns, Nacra 17 and Laser.

The question for those nations with multiple crews in the world top-ten is whether they will work together for the good of God and Country right through to 2020, or if Olympic self-interest will kick come August once the class has been qualified for New Zealand?

The Olympic journey is a hard one - made more difficult by allowing the entry of just one sailor per country - even if there are two or more who fit the description of being "medal-capable".

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell

Images for Volvo Ocean Race Leg 11 finish and course options

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