Volvo Ocean Race - Tough tactical decisions for the fleet

Lots of water on deck onboard Team Telefonica during leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Itajai, Brazil, to Miami, USA.
In the Volvo Ocean Race, Telefonica skipper, Iker Martinez, commented that 'The tactical decisions are tough and often we have to adapt them as we go.' Today, at 1900 GMT Telefonica had risen up the leg leaderboard to seize second place from Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS).

As the leading three boats all chose different options, the game is wide open. Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (Ken Read/USA) still lead the fleet, 13.5 nautical miles ahead of Telefónica and 102 nm to the east of Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) who are now 20.2 nm behind and in third place.

While Ken Read and his men had taken the high road to the east, looking for a quick exit from the light wind trough, which is currently hampering progress, Chris Nicholson, having rounded Barbuda, has sailed much closer to the Virgin Islands in search for the new breeze. Iker Martínez meanwhile, has positioned Telefónica between the two, keeping his options wide open.

'The truth is, we can’t trust the weather forecasts with such light and unstable breeze and that’s where intuition really becomes important,' Martínez explained. 'We have to stay light and agile, and we will have to think through carefully anything we do.' The team spent time during the Brazilian stopover of Itajaí configuring the boat for light airs performance, just the conditions the front of the fleet are currently experiencing.

'Up until now, this leg has been relatively simple, full of straight-line sailing with a heavy emphasis on boat speed. Small variations in strategy have focused mostly on choosing a high road, low road or somewhere in between, but now we face a different tactical challenge. The probability that positions will change grows with each diverging manoeuvre,' explained Amory Ross, Media Crew Member with leg leaders Puma.

According to Jean-Luc Nélias, navigator with Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) in fourth place, the trade winds are in the process of crumbling away and it’s set to become a long hard battle to Miami. It is an important leg for the overall standing, but Nélias says the weather does not correspond at all with the normal statistics. 'Usually, we would have had trade winds from Cape Frio to Miami,' he said.

Although 84 nm behind, Franck Cammas has opted for the easterly route, similar to that of Telefónica, however all five boats will have to endure up to 30 hours of light airs, as they look for a crossing place at the narrowest point of the trough.

For the crew of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) the disintegrating breeze has been a tough pill to swallow, but there is hope ahead.

'If we manage to slowly close down the gap [to the leaders] each day, like we have been doing over the past few scheds, we should be under 100 miles and ready to make moves in the next few days,' said helmsman/trimmer Simon Fisher. Skipper Ian Walker has chosen the westerly option similar to that of Camper, but 91 nm behind. At 1900 GMT tonight, this was proving the better choice as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s average boat speed for the preceding three hours was fractionally faster than that of Groupama, 44 nm further to the east.

The reward for crossing the trough will be reaching conditions of around 15 knots of wind, which will give the fleet a boost as far as the Turks and Caicos Islands, two groups of tropical islands in the West Indies, 500 or so miles ahead and southeast of Mayaguana in the Bahamas island chain. Whoever finds new breeze first will extend, however the next stage is very likely to be another light wind test of patience for a set of crews who are weary and want to reach Miami quickly.

Volvo Ocean Race website