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Sail-World.com USA Newsletter: The wind-blown realities of two big ocean races

26/03/2018


Spring's reluctant arrival and the wind-blown realities of two big ocean races

Zhik 2018 Dongfeng 728x90

North Sails 3Di 60 - 728x90

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 09 on board Dongfeng. Daryl Wislang trimming the mian whil Vestas is trying to stay in our wake - photo © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race


Dear [recipient name]

While spring's arrival might seem unenthusiastic in many parts of the country, signs of spring are inescapable, from the tulips and crocuses that are clawing at the sky in my garden, to the return of outdoor sports for schoolchildren, to the joyous extra hours of sunlight each day, to (drumroll please) the start of early-season regattas. Here in the Pacific Northwet [sic] we're lucky to have a racing season that begins in the fall and straddles the cold, dark months into spring, before the wind machine switches off with summer's annual return of high-pressure weather systems (read: cruising season), but a quick glance at the big-picture sailing calendar reveals that international events such as Charleston Race Week (April 12-15) are just around the corner.

Yet for the men and women engaged in the nautical dogfight known as the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), there are no spring flowers or other harbingers of warmer days. Instead, the seven-strong fleet has spent the last week battling their way east and south, taking care to avoid dipping south of the ice-exclusion zones as they press towards Cape Horn, and, eventually, the finishing line off of Itajai, Brazil, which is still almost 3,200 miles over the horizon for Team Brunel, Dongfeng Race Team, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing, who are the frontrunners at the time of this writing.

According to official VOR communications, teams spent the weekend enjoying the relative calm of 20-25 knot winds and "reasonable" sized seas (these are the "Furious Fifties" latitudes, after all) that saw Team Brunel lay claim to the pole position; however this respite didn't last.

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 08 on board Brunel. Boiuwe Bekking cold after 4 hours on deck - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 08 on board Brunel. Boiuwe Bekking cold after 4 hours on deck - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race

"Some awesome sailing, but also very stressy times, especially when you need to gybe," reported Bouwe Bekking, Team Brunel's skipper, in an official VOR press release. "We had some winds of 40 to 45 knots which is no fun, actually it is pure survival mode, but you know the others aren't holding back either... No way. It is the way we sail."

While Bekking and his team were able to leverage their more northerly position (relative to the fleet) to reduce the number of gybes (also compared to other teams) needed to reach the front of the pack, all sailors understand that in the Furious Fifties, the next storm's arrival isn't a case of "if" but rather "when".

Bekking again: "The young dogs help to make the boat go fast, but they have never been bitten badly in the butt and we don't want them to experience that. Down here things can quickly snowball in the wrong direction. In a blink, 30 knots can turn into 40-plus and then it is crash and burn...

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 07 on board Brunel. Drone picture. 51 South. 35-38 knots of wind. Three reefs in the main sail. Top boatspeed of the day 36.1 knots. Drone back onboard. - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 07 on board Brunel. Drone picture. 51 South. 35-38 knots of wind. Three reefs in the main sail. Top boatspeed of the day 36.1 knots. Drone back onboard. - photo © Yann Riou / Volvo Ocean Race

 
Allen ROA 300x250   Mars Keel -  Manufactured Keel Systems 250
 

"(But) we've been going very nicely for the last couple of days," continued Bekking. "There is a big front coming from behind and the Ice Exclusion Zone is setting us up for a gybe. Then a big shift and quite a bit of breeze tonight and tomorrow."

While remaining breakage and injury-free is every team's goal, some squads are having better luck realizing these objectives on this marathon, 6,776-nautical mile leg. (As of this writing, teams were some 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn, likely making them some of the most isolated humans on the planet.)

To date, overall race leader MAPFRE and Scallywag have both been contending with equipment issues. In the case of Spanish-flagged Mapfre, the issue was a damaged mast track that made it difficult to shake-out or reef the mainsail, while Scallywag suffered an accidental gybe that knocked the Volvo Ocean 65 flat on her ear.

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 09 on board MAPFRE, Xabi Fernandez and Blair Tuke fighting against southern ocean waves. - photo © Ugo Fonolla / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 09 on board MAPFRE, Xabi Fernandez and Blair Tuke fighting against southern ocean waves. - photo © Ugo Fonolla / Volvo Ocean Race

"Your initial reaction is to just stick to the process and look after the people and the boat," said David Witt, Scallywag's skipper, in an official VOR release. "But once you get through it and get the boat up and running again, you understand the enormity of the job all of the skippers in this race have, to ensure the welfare of the people on board. We've tipped it over in the middle of the Southern Ocean in the middle of the night and the closest thing to us is a satellite. It really hits home..."

Still, Witt is no stranger to the responsibilities of leadership, and he is well aware of what he has to do to keep is team in the hunt. "Make sure we get to the Horn intact and we may have a chance," continued Witt. "We may not, but we need to get from here to the Horn and at the moment we're struggling so we just have to get there safely."

Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 5 on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. David Witt after a stint on the wheel. 22 March,. - photo © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 5 on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. David Witt after a stint on the wheel. 22 March,. - photo © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race

 
Hyde Sails 2017 March 300x250   J111 Worlds 2018 Retina MPU
 

Meanwhile, further west and considerably further north, the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race fleet is making its way from Qingdao, China, to my hometown of Seattle, Washington. Appropriately, skipper Nikki Henderson (of the UK) and her crew aboard Visit Seattle are leading the charge, followed by Qingdao and Unicef.

In addition to spending plenty of time on the winner's podium during this edition of the Clipper Race, 24-year old Henderson also holds the proud distinction of being the race's youngest skipper of all time - a title that she happily lifted from Alex Thomson (also UK), skipper of the IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss' (N.B. Thomson was 26 when his team won the 1997-1998 Clipper Race) and the runner-up in the last edition of the famous Vendee Globe Race.

Clipper Race Skipper Nikki Henderson on the Visit Seattle yacht - photo © Clipper Ventures
Clipper Race Skipper Nikki Henderson on the Visit Seattle yacht - photo © Clipper Ventures

So, while the rest of us are enjoying spring's early trappings, be sure to occasionally take a moment to savor the fact that your horizon is stable, there aren't monster-sized waves hunting you down, and it's possible to walk around without fear of getting blown off one's tiny toehold on life in an otherwise utterly inhospitable yet savagely beautiful environment.

Sail-World.com wishes both the VOR and Clipper Race fleets safe and speedy passage across the Pacific to Seattle and around the Horn to Itajai (respectively), while hoping that spring's arrival allows for plenty of early season sailing here in North America.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, Sail-World.com North America Editor

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 08 on board Vestas 11th Hour. Satcey Jackson waiting to grind under the cold, appreciates this rare moment of sunshine. - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 from Auckland to Itajai, day 08 on board Vestas 11th Hour. Satcey Jackson waiting to grind under the cold, appreciates this rare moment of sunshine. - photo © Jeremie Lecaudey / Volvo Ocean Race

 
Nebo 300x250 4   Zhik 2018 Dongfeng 300x250
 


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