Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race was perfectly balanced on Thursday as the fleet sped towards Auckland with just under 54 nautical miles (nm) separating all six boats.
All of them were chasing ‘the right sort of cloud’ as they approached a huge area of Doldrums in the mid-Pacific with some 2,500nm still to sail to reach New Zealand.
A cloud in the process of gathering moisture will suck away the gusts, which are powering the Volvo Ocean 65 boats forward. In contrast, one about to rain will offer extra wind pressure to vessels correctly positioned beneath it.
Spotting the most favourable clouds is a skilled job and all six navigators will be earning their wages twice over in the next few days trying to get it right.
Few are more experienced in the art than five-times Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Andrew Cape (AUS), navigator on board current Leg 4 leaders Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED). The Dutch team were protecting a sliver-thin 22.1nm advantage over Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) at 1240 UTC on Thursday.
Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA), MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP), Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR), and Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) were banked up behind them, with no more than 31.5nm separating the chasing pack.
Brunel’s skipper Bekking was counting down every mile until he reaches Auckland, according to his latest blog from the boat.
“So close, but still so far. If you look on the map you’d think we’ve nearly reached New Zealand, but then you look at the mileage and know the reality is different,” he wrote.
“We are getting close to the Equator and we are facing numerous big clouds in each watch, which makes it interesting from a short term strategy perspective.
“We are giving the sailors on watch total freedom on how to attack a cloud formation. That’s why you can see on the tracker back home some very big changes in our course.”
Bekking described how a sudden shift of wind caught the fabric of a Code Zero sail in the spreaders on the mast, causing two huge holes. “We had to drop the entire sail without furling it on the foredeck, otherwise we could not reach the holes,” he wrote.
“This all went remarkably easily, but the foredeck is covered in 300 square metres of sail, and now, during first daylight, Laurent (Páges/FRA) and Johnny (Gerd-Jan Poortman/NED) are on the repair job.”
Meanwhile, Will Oxley (AUS), navigator on third-placed Team Alvimedica, was busy trying to read the elusive clouds. “For the first nine days, we raced in very close company with Azzam, Dongfeng and MAPFRE,” he said.
“Then, when we reached the area of massive clouds, suddenly the fleet scattered as we found ourselves taking different options in the squalls.
“By design, we found ourselves south and west of our immediate competitors. This means we are closer to the finish line, but it remains to be seen whether this is a strong position we can defend. One bad cloud and those behind could be past us again.”
Photo Credit : Amory Ross / Team Alvimedica / Volvo Ocean
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