Tuesday, 14 April 2009
PUMA Ocean Racing cross in front of Telefonica Blue. Image copyright Gabriele Olivo/Telefonica Blue/Volvo Ocean Race.
by Mark Chisnell
It's all happening very ssssllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyy out there ... And if the lack of wind wasn’t bad enough, there’s also been a monster swell (check out the take-off at about 1m 30s) rolling in from the south, generating a fearful rock and roll motion.
A frustrating opening for leg six, or at least it was, up until just after the 16.00 ZULU Position Report Sunday night, when the breeze finally trickled across the race course. Since then it’s filled in for everyone, and at 10:00 ZULU Monday morning we find the fleet romping up the Atlantic in the south-east trade winds, with the wind speed in the mid-teens, and the wind direction – unsurprisingly – out of the south-east.
Telefonica Blue got the best of the drifting match and has opened up a handy 15-mile lead on second placed Delta Lloyd, with a few additional miles advantage over the tightly grouped chasing pack. The main bunch of the Ericsson boats, PUMA and Telefonica Black has moved slightly inshore of Telefonica Blue and Delta Lloyd, with Green Dragon taking the most offshore line. Everyone was headed north-east, slowly creating some separation from the Brazilian coastline.
Sunday 10 ZULU (GMT)
PUMA short tacking out of Rio de Janeiro, at the start of leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Rio de Janeiro to Boston. Image copyright Rick Deppe/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.
So, how did we get here? The start belonged to Telefonica Black, she led off the pin and grabbed an early lead, staying out of trouble and staying in front. They were first out of Guanabara Bay, followed by Ericsson 4 – Torben Grael on a charge in front of his home crowd, after recovering brilliantly from an average start. PUMA and Telefonica Blue followed, with Green Dragon fifth and Ericsson 3 in sixth, after a dreadful spinnaker drop at the end of the first lap robbed them of second place. Delta Lloyd was struggling at that point, the boat’s Achilles heel was light air in the previous race, and that didn’t appear any different against this new generation of designs on Saturday afternoon.
The fleet headed west initially, tacking around the base of the Pão de Açúcar to round a mark off Copacabana Beach at about 19:30 GMT on Saturday night. Once they had cleared that they headed east for Cabo Frio, which stood between them and the turn northwards towards Boston.
The wind was still a light southerly sea breeze at this point, and everyone made gentle progress in a tight pack across the mouth of Guanabara Bay. But all good things must come to an end, and just as the gorgeous Dani Monteiro had to step off PUMA, so the sea breeze had to die.
And unfortunately, Dani wasn’t the only one to step off a boat – Michael Pammenter’s mishap with his foot led to his departure from Telefonica Black, although Bouwe Bekking seemed to be suggesting the ankle injury might be quite convenient -'a couple of words for Mike, who has been taken off the black boat: bad luck and we all feel for you... but at least you have your girl there!!!' - apparently Michael’s paramour is already on the way to New York for some, er... shopping.
Michael Pammenter's injury
Michael Pammenter of Telefonica Black back onshore with a foot injury soon after the start of leg 6. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.
"I had the jib sheet wrapped around my foot when we went into a tack and I got flipped into the rig," he said, describing how it occured. "I got my foot stuck between the mast and the jib sheet basically. It's really painful but I've had some painkillers so it's calmed down a lot, but there's a lot of swelling so we thought it would be safer if I got off the boat and got it checked out properly. Hopefully I'll be back for the next leg.
"Originally I was going to try and carry on, do as little as possible, but the realisation came that if I want it to heal properly I have to get off and get it done properly. There is minimal chance that I have broken anything, but just be safe.
"I am really upset," he continued. "I just feel pretty stupid to be honest. We are all really excited to leave and then I do something like this. But it happens."
Back to the racing...
Telefonica Blue, skippered by Bouwe Bekking (NED) at the start of leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Rio de Janeiro to Boston. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.
Sorry, I digress... back to the yacht racing. Once the sea breeze faded, the wind shifted round to the south-east/easterly direction flowing around the top of the high pressure that’s sitting to the south of Rio de Janiero. And that meant that everyone had to start sailing upwind, tacking to port off Itaipuacu. Both Green Dragon and Telefonica Blue flirted with the beach at this stage, but clearly didn’t like what they saw and headed back offshore around the 22:00 ZULU Position Report on Saturday night.
When they got back to the group they were some distance adrift (Bekking thought they had something on the keel at this stage), as everyone settled onto port tack in the easterly breeze. Perhaps now feeling the need to do something different, or perhaps as part of some masterplan, Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon both tacked and headed back inshore again. They left the pack just as it got a wind shift to the north-east, allowing the other five boats to parallel the coast. And so the separation started to open - the rest of the fleet holding offshore on port, as Green Dragon and Telefonica Blue headed inshore on starboard.
It turned out to be a spectacularly good strategy. The Dragon’s skipper, Ian Walker reckoned it was a combination of the current (see how it was running south-east in this graph), and getting the best out of the katabatic or drainage wind that started to flow off the land from the north. By 04:00 ZULU on Sunday morning the pair were into the lead, holding a light north to north-westerly breeze, and ghosting along the beach.
The northerly, drainage breeze did reach the offshore group, but not in time to stop Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon gybing out from the beach and crossing in front of the pack as they headed for Cabo Frio. Telefonica Blue was now leading by a couple of miles from Green Dragon, with PUMA and Ericsson 4 heading the chasing group from some 4-6 miles back.
Green Dragon’s navigator, Ian Moore, said that they had been working hard on the strategy for the first night. It looks to have been worth the effort. It’s not the first time the Dragon have pulled this one either, they made a big move inshore out of the starting blocks in Cochin, and led the next morning.
Onwards into Monday
Telefonica Blue heading out of Rio de Janeiro at the start of leg 6. Image copyright Gabriele Olivo/Telefonica Blue/Volvo Ocean Race.
Telefonica Blue went around Cabo Frio first, just after 10:00 ZULU on Sunday morning, still sailing in the light northerly wind. Just three or four miles to the west, PUMA and Ericsson 4 had moved back into the light gradient south-easterly. And as the sun started to poke up over the horizon, we should have been set for another transition into the sea breeze – certainly, they were expecting one on Ericsson 4, as Guy Salter explained. It never really happened, at least not for Ericsson 4 and the main bunch.
Once around Cabo Frio the land breeze exhaled its last gasp, and with nothing much in the way of gradient wind to replace it and that big swell rolling in (up to 3.5 metres), it was pretty ugly out there. Perfect for surfing, rubbish for sailing. Apart from anything else (it’s making me queasy just thinking about it), it was tough to find sails that would work, as Gustav Morin reported from Ericsson 3. The big Code Zero masthead sails were getting trashed by being slapped against the rig. Aboard Ericsson 4, they were using a much smaller Code 3 headsail, as Guy Salter revealed.
Green Dragon leading Ericsson 3 on leg 6. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.
Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon both held their inshore line as they fought their way northwards, still separated from the main group behind them. The breeze was wafting around from the east, north-east, north-west... While Bouwe Bekking told the media that eventually it would pay to be offshore. But even as Bekking opined that no one had made a move that way yet, at the back of the fleet Delta Lloyd were slipping eastwards - watch out Bouwe, Wouter the Router is behind youuuuuuuu.
The fleet were now split into three groups – inshore were Telefonica Blue and Green Dragon, in the middle were Ericsson 3, 4, Telefonica Black and PUMA, while Delta Lloyd ploughed a lonely furrow offshore. And in the end, it paid to be anywhere but the middle.
Telefonica Blue were the first to get the breeze, finally seeing five knots on the dial at around 17:00 ZULU last night. It was a light easterly, and this may have been a very soft sea breeze, as it was just after midday local time. The Dragon was the next to get the puff, and they also snuck away as the main bunch languished. Meanwhile, offshore, Delta Lloyd had to wait about another hour until they saw the wind ghost in and build from the south-east. But I think this was the gradient - yer’ actual, proper trade wind starting to fill in from offshore. It was more solid than the breeze the lead pair had inshore, but it took another couple of hours to get down to the pack.
Distance to Leader Graph 13/04/09, copyright Volvo Ocean Race.
The story from there was one of slow acceleration, as both sides of the fleet moved ahead of the bunch in the middle – as we can see in the Distance to Leader (DTL) graph (above). Telefonica Blue just about pulled off the impressive trick of transiting smoothly from that light easterly sea breeze into the gradient south-easterly without really stopping. Delta Lloyd was moving at about the same speed offshore, and Telefonica Blue held a lead of around ten miles, while increasing her advantage over the rest.
And the rest included Green Dragon, who has spent the last 12 hours investing in an offshore position. There’s been a fair bit of lane changing overnight, with the main pack moving inshore of Telefonica Blue’s line. That’s also shuffled the leaderboard a little as the inshore route is closer to the waypoint, and so the bunch have closed on Telefonica Blue and Delta Lloyd, while Green Dragon has slipped back.
Race Viewer showing weather and predicted routes of the fleet at 07:00am GMT 14/04/09, copyright Volvo Ocean Race.
So which side is going to pay? The Predicted Route image (above) shows the boat positions and the weather in 24 hours time, but also showing the isochrone north of the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha in five days. And not a lot is supposed to change in the big picture.
But while the wind remains in the light to moderate range - as they sail on the northern fringe of the South Atlantic High and battle the Brazil Current - there will be potholes, and I suspect the reality out on the water will be gains and losses. And that’s not to discount the importance of boat speed over the next five days, if Telefonica Blue’s got it in the tank, this is an absolutely crucial time for Bouwe Bekking to show us.
Volvo Ocean Race