Tuesday, 9 June 2009

VOR: A Long Night as Green Dragon Stays at the Front

Green Dragon speeds along. Image copyright Huang Jian/Green Dragon Racing.

by Lucy Harwood

Leg 8 continues to prove tricky as the fleet negotiates its way through the English Channel, with tides, shipping and a peninsular or two to battle with along the way. Green Dragon remains at the front just 2 miles to the stern of Telefonica Black, with 16 miles now splitting the fleet from front to back. Last night the Dragon decided to head further south into the bigger breeze, but this also meant they would sail a longer course. Elsewhere the rest of the fleet, barring Telefonica Black who had also committed to the southerly route, stayed north and were soon forced to gybe onto starboard and join the others to the south where they were enjoying the more constant conditions and making gains on the pack behind them.

The next obstacle would be the tide which was going against them at over 5 knots as they approached the Cherbourg Peninsula. This was a particularly tricky area to sail past due to the water from the Baie de Seine being squeezed past on an ebb tide, which only accelerated the westerly flow along its northern shore, particularly around the Cap de la Hague. Navigator Ian Moore took the decision to head closer to the shore, with Delta Lloyd and Ericsson 3 in pursuit, whilst the others headed offshore. But it was a shift in the wind from the west to the south-west that threw a spanner in the works for the fleet. The tide started to build against them, and at one point the whole fleet was taking on one of the most notorious pieces of water in the Channel - Alderney, the Casquets and the Cherbourg Peninsula. At this time of year they were battling a raging foul tide, creating a nightmare situation for the navigator’s onboard.

A long night ensued as they all made their way through to the other side. Ian Moore’s local knowledge came good as the Dragon crept around the south of Alderney, where they then had to defend their lead at Cap de la Hague. The rest of the fleet were left struggling as they tried to sail in a 6 -7 knot breeze against a 5 – 6 knot tide! By morning there appeared a light at the end of the tunnel and as a 15 knot south-westerly wind provided welcome relief to the fleet, but it didn’t last long and again it was apparent that once again the better breeze lay offshore.

But life isn’t about to get any easier for everyone, Volvo’s Race expert Mark Chisnell filled us in, “conditions will remain light as they continue to shift to the east (and eventually the north-east), as the fleet sail into the influence of a high pressure system centred off the entrance to the Baltic. The tide will turn against them and whether they like it or not, pretty soon the most leeward boats are going to have to tack to avoid the Dover exclusion zone. That will enable Green Dragon and Telefonica Black to bank their gains, and they should continue to hold the lead as the fleet tack up the French coast. It looks like they will be tackling the Dover Strait upwind in a foul tide. I’d take naked in a maths exam over that one, too - all to play for, there’s a very long way to go!”

Green Dragon Racing
Volvo Ocean Race

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