Despite the usual tactical and strategic challenges that are part and parcel of sailing up the coast of Brazil in the South Atlantic, a mercifully swift doldrums passage and strong northeast trade winds have the Volvo Ocean Race rocketing toward a finish in Newport as soon as the middle of next week: well ahead of schedule. That said, there’s still a lot of racing to go, not to mention plenty of additional tactical and strategic challenges in the form of the North Atlantic High, the Gulf Stream and whatever weather systems may stand ready to sweep out over the fleet from where they’re now being spawned somewhere over North America.
“We are pushing to the max we can do,” said Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking, whose team was in the lead at press time with about 1,500 miles to go to the finish. “We know we are sailing into less pressure, so the boats behind us will keep gaining: annoying but a fact we have to live with…. Andrew “Capey” Cape, our navigator, is relaxed in his own way, but you can see and feel that it is game-on. He is making I don't know how many simulations for all the routes possible from here to Newport.”
With respect to the Gulf Stream, Bekking added: “The current can run up to 5 to 6 knots. Unfortunately, it is not one straight stream, it has big eddies, so if you do it wrong you can have 5 knots against you while another boat has 5 knots with them. But we are confident!”
Meanwhile, 25 miles south east of Brunel, Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic was having to deal with the fact of having dropped down from a podium spot to fourth as a result of falling into an area of lighter and more contrary winds.
“Three disappointing position reports in a row is frustrating and could get you down,” she admitted. “During the early hours of this morning, the rain clouds carried some squally action and huge shifts. One minute we were in 28 knots of wind heading toward the Caribbean, and then the next moment we were lifted, toward the center of the high pressure, in 14 knots of
wind. We can only sail in the conditions that we have, and we are working hard. But it seems everyone else’s clouds are more user-friendly allowing them to keep gaining on us and we are slipping back.”
Then, of course, there is the continuing problem of weeds catching on the seven boats’ underwater appendages, which has been an issue since the doldrums.
“If it is not the up and down and shifts of the wind then it is this Sargassum weed. Rudders no longer having smooth water flow lose grip and the boat spinning out is not fast,” Caffari said, echoing the complaints voiced by the entire fleet over the past few days, which on a number of occasions has seen the sailors leaning far out over the boats’ topsides to clean things off—one of the lesser-known aspects of a VOR crew’s job description.
For the latest on the race as well as real-time position reports, click here.