Skip to content

Straight from the Navigator's Seat

Libby Greenhalgh sends an update from the baking hot navigator's seat on SHK Scallywag in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race

Leg 4 half way update: an insider’s view

So usually I would be updating this blog from the comfort of my home, with the Volvo Ocean Race tracker showing all the wiggles of the courses the teams have chosen to take. This update comes from the hot and humid navigator’s station on Scallywag which hopefully adds a different element!

We are 9 days into this Leg and from inside the race we are declaring it the half way mark, though we have yet to reach the equator. When we set off the routings were varying from 16- 21 days and are now settling in a happy medium after a couple of very slow and very tricky days in the Doldrums.


Inshore but Offshore
This Leg saw the start of the race, right up in the north of Port Phillip Bay of Melbourne, in a light 8-10 KT breeze that increased to 20-25 KT by the time we reached the exit: nearly 40 miles upwind in very much an inshore racing mode.

The startline was heavily biased to port and the course was biased to the right: The key was always going to be a long tack to the right into more pressure and setting up for a steadily right trending breeze. Mapfre and Vestas held the best lanes and even overstood the first mark. Scallywag and AkzoNobel tried to dig out early but they went a bit too soon and didn’t hook into as much pressure or shift, so no gain, despite the other teams overstanding the mark.
Once outside the Bay there was fast reaching in 20-25 knots of wind around an exclusion zone before the downwind game to the corner of Australia.

Downwind to the Bass Straits
Teams gybed their way downwind, picking up clouds from behind that saw AkzoNobel and Scallywag pull back into the fleet and then push inshore to make some gains from the shoreline effects.
The wind bend effects were not all that strong and the real gains came from staying offshore in pressure until Cape Howe where the wind wrapped round from south to the southwest.

Inside or Outside?
The first real split came at Cape Howe as teams decided whether to take the inshore route to avoid an eddy current or the offshore route, potentially in better pressure but a worse shift. The age old debate: Shift versus pressure!

Dongfeng and AkzoNobel pushed off first, followed by TTOP. Scallywag, Vestas and Mapfre pressed up north but Scallywag failed entirely to get out of the current, and along with Brunel ended up in a bad half way house that resulted in them ending up some 30 nm behind.

Gybing to the Solomons: East or West?
A few days of gybing to the Solomon Islands saw the tail enders closing on the leaders with better pressure and angle and Turn the Tide keeping a strong position E to close the miles later on.
A small road block for Scallywag in the form of a reef saw us drop further miles in tough conditions. But we all know that with the Doldrums anything can happen.


The Doldrums are 600nm of uncertainty, and the wind was coming from pretty much everywhere but the forecasted east.. Scallywag and Turn the Tide continued to make gains.

As we progressed to the 10th January the teams were getting closer and closer, as an exceptionally active cloud band saw the boats compress to within 10nm of each other as it engulfed us.

On Scallywag one cloud lost us 30nm on Brunel. Trying to manage your positioning on the clouds is so key in this area and this is a lot harder at night than in day for obvious reasons.
We are reliant on the B&G Radar onboard, which becomes a key tool for tracking the movement and positioning of any showers, identifying the angle of approach and how long until we are through – not to mention figuring out how the hell you get out of one when it swallows you!

For a couple of days Vestas have been making a strong play to hold further east of the fleet while overall heading north, despite the fact that the finish line bears 290!
Ultimately, it’s a race to get out of the doldrums and into the NE Trade winds where the rich get richer, and this positioning is starting to pay.

Looking ahead

The routings still hold the teams all finishing with 2.5 hours which isn’t a lot of time: it could be 60nm as the forecast at the end looks windy. But where is the action next?

Drag Race to the trades

Speed is your friend and clouds are not – well, most of the time! Ultimately, the goal is to get across the equator and another 150nm north before slowly turning the bow towards the finish as the trade winds build to 25 KTs of downwind sleigh ride.

Speed will definitely be key and I am sure once again we will see the separate groups develop in these miles as the experienced teams continue to build and find their legs.

Pacific Ocean

Note to self: There are plenty of reefs and islands out here for us to avoid! Including to our east a place called ‘The location mostly abandoned.’ I don’t know much about it but it does make me wonder as I do my weather routing!

As the teams wiggle their way through Micronesia, the winds will become lighter and the fleet will compress. This will provide an opportunity for teams to gybe and reposition before straight lining to the Luzon Straits.

The Luzon Straits are the gap between the Philippines to the south and Taiwan to the north. The Siberian high looks like it is set to bring some strong winds and cold conditions as the teams reach the straights. Notorious for accelerating the winds well beyond forecast and with a strong adverse current the sea conditions are likely to be heinous and a 30-40 KT downwind sleigh ride will probably be more about boat preservation to the finish.

I’m looking forward to updating you all when ashore…wish the Scallywags forward! It’s phenomenal how close the boats all are after 3000nm and as the race progresses it is only going to get tighter and tighter.