by Ian Walker (skipper)
Anybody watching the fleet on the internet would be used to seeing all the coloured dots (boats) moving along a pretty similar path. Every now and then a boat may take a slight risk and go away from the others but normally the only boats that separate are those that lag behind and may have different weather or those that feel they need to gamble to get back in the race. All of a sudden after the scoring gate at 36 South on leg 5 the fleet has scattered, so what is going on?
What we are dealing with is very changeable weather as a new low pressure forms and breaks up the long standing high pressure that you historically route around to the South. This coupled with the ice gate being very far North makes it very unclear what should be the fastest route to take.
For three days we have been running or reaching South in the traditional way whilst talking about going East and 'cutting the corner' to the Ice Gate which is ESE from us. For the last 36 hours the computer has given this Easterly route the edge over one to the South - but only just and not without considerable risk of getting caught up in the light winds of the high pressure. Much as we would love to try something different we didn't want to go against all the historical routes to the South and nor did we really want to beat upwind in 30 knots for two days.
Well three hours ago that all changed when the latest weather gave even more credibility to the 'Easterly route' and the Southerly route suddenly looked the more risky. I suspect there have been a lot of skippers and navigators scratching their heads. Wouter and I have been agonising over this for days and we needed no more persuasion to turn left and head directly upwind for the ice gate. E3 had the guts to make this call earliest and may have stolen a march on the fleet - well done to them if it works out. I have to say the crew have taken the change of plan well considering they no longer have a week of downwind sailing to look forward to - at least it should stay warmer in the North.
The fleet is now well and truly scattered and with a lot of uncertainty in the weather it can only be good news for the Dragon. There will be no Southern Ocean for a while and there will be lots more upwind sailing, which we don't like but there should be some big opportunities ahead. Each six hourly weather forecast will be awaited with even more anxiety than normal.
Volvo Ocean Race