If you think your Monday was a tough one, check out what the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race fleet had to contend with during the first 24 hours of Leg 2 out of Lisbon, Portugal. After a dramatic start to the 7,000-mile marathon to Cape Town, South Africa, the seven teams taking part found themselves dealing with relentless winds and a sea state that made for a truly miserable life on board all last night and into this morning.
"The sun is down now, and we're plowing through story-high waves at speeds up to 30 knots,” said Sam Greenfield, the onboard reporter aboard British-flagged Turn the Tide on Plastic. "To be honest it's really hard. In the three legs I sailed last race, we never came close to these conditions. Saw some crazy things today. A wave threw Bianca Cook off the stack [of sails] and into the cockpit while she was clipped in. So much water that her pfd exploded. There she was trapped on her back in the cockpit, stuck by her tether taking hundreds of gallons of water to the face. It was scary to watch. [Boat captain] Liz Wardley got to her quickly and sorted her out."
Since that time, windspeeds across the fleet have moderated to where they are now in the 20-25 knot range and boatspeeds are averaging just over 20 knots. (See the latest boat positions here)
As is always the case with this iconic three-week battle from the North Atlantic down to the Southern Ocean the question now becomes how far east or west to go to successfully navigate both the doldrums and the relatively windless zone in the middle of the South Atlantic known as the St. Helena High.
Not only that, the tactical options on the leg have been opened up this year by the removal of a traditional waypoint, the island of Fernando de Noronha, about 170 nautical miles off the coast of Brazil.
While teams often sail as far west as this to pick up the tradewinds earlier, it adds hundreds of miles to the route to Cape Town. Now, without this island as a mark of the race course, the shorter, but normally slower option of sailing further east, down the coast of Africa, may be in play.
“It’s a very interesting situation, maybe more interesting than in the past,” said Charlie Enright, the skipper of Leg 1 winner, Vestas 11th Hour Racing. “You usually have to go nearly all the way to Brazil… ‘West is best’ as they say…”
But it’s not clear that will be the case this time.
“I think (taking out the waypoint) changes things a lot,” said Sun Hun Kai/Scallywag skipper David Witt. “I think this will be an interesting leg, and I think you might see the biggest split you’ve seen for a long time in the Volvo Ocean Race. But we’ll see what happens.”
“For sure you can go more east,” agreed Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier. “The difference is huge, but it’s a danger (tactically). It’s always a balance, and it’s always difficult to know where to go. It will be a nightmare for the navigators.”
And you thought the start of your work week was a tough one!