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LEG 2: Will the great divide happen?

In the first of the big legs, the teams face a big decision!

After what is probably best described as an EPIC InPort race where the leaderboard at the beginning of the race got turned upside down, almost, by the last mark. Penalties were yet again given as teams try to scrape through gaps or a bit too close to each other and injuries occurred. The InPort series may not be worth points but given how close the racing is, positions will more than likely be decided on tie breakers and this will be key.

The blustery squally conditions of Saturday’s InPort race have moved to E over southern France and the Azores high is building quickly behind, setting up a fairly typical weather pattern and a breezy start.

The decaying cold front seen in the forecast chart will mainly bring broken cloud but the high pressure set up to the west will provide an accelerated Northerly breeze and the boats will be out the blocks at maximum speed with a full throttle first night with winds reaching 35 KT.




I am expecting a north-easterly wind anywhere from 12-17 KT and I suspect the wind will funnel down the river making the first leg a fetch or on the wind. With most likely some strong left hand shifts falling off the northern shoreline. It could be a bit of a follow my leader loop as they start the Leg, with a lot of pressure on the start, with a flooding tide pushing them over the line, and the sail choices.

The first key thing will be exiting the river, while there are a couple green channel marker and Bugio island (just off the map above) to leave to port, they pretty much mark some very shallow water on a still rising tide. So I doubt anyone will be trying to cut the corner, not just for depth but also because the first goal is to get to the accelerated wind offshore. Here the wind is likely to be in excess of 30 KT.


Above you can see the accelerate wind is about 10 nm west when you get clear of lee of Cabo de Roca and although the course is to head off to the SW the first goal is to get to this breeze.

The MODE and SAIL CHOICE here will be key which may in turn knock back to affect what sail the teams use in the inshore loop. Ultimately, they are going to be on their A3 blasting downwind offshore, then it is all about how they get to that sail combination without making a loss through either the sail changes or being on the wrong sail in the lighter breeze to the lee of Cabo de Roca.

So if they are on their A3 in the inshore loop do they choose to keep it and sail hotter with it to keep  more speed on to get to the stronger breeze. Or, as the more rehearsed teams might do, do they have the MH0 set up as well in case it goes lighter or the angle tighter.

This is going to make the first 2 hours pretty exciting as teams no doubt choose different modes and different sails before they settle in to 24 hour of fast and furious sailing downwind.

The big decision: Will they split?

At the skippers press conference and in general chit chat there has been a lot of questions about will we or won’t we get a big split or the ‘GREAT DIVIDE’ as I am going to call it. With the removal of Fernando de Noronha as a rounding mark, teams can pick where they want to go in the Atlantic and a significant part of this decision is going to be made 24 hours into the race.

Realistically, I doubt you will get anyone longer term going down the African coast and trying to make the upwind approach from the Doldrums, statistically the weather patterns have a less than 5% chance of this route even being close. However, we will potentially see more of an east west split crossing the Doldrums and therefore some teams holding along the African coast before deciding how far west they want to get.

the great divide

From the image you can see a sample spread of the routings with the most eastern and western shown. These also show the split in crossing the doldrums somewhere between 20 W and 26W and you can see the extent of the doldrums (dash orange line). It is fairly obvious that the easterly routes spend significantly more time in lighter and more variable wind. However, there is an option to move west and reposition from the easterly route and you may see a bold team take this on and make this work, probably coming back in the same position as they split from!

Decision making time….

On Monday the teams will be deciding if they are going to go west or east by splitting around  Madeira. This will make for a busy 24hours for the navigators from pushing performance overnight and picking the moment to gybe south to then assessing the latest weather and deciding whether to push south and leave Madeira to the west or start heading west. There is currently significant uncertainty in a shallow low pressure developing over the Sahara and pushing towards the Canary Islands that means the easterly route will require weaving its way through the islands. Definitely harder work for potentially no gain.

This is a hard decision to make when you have no idea what the weather is going to be like in 10+ days time in the southern ocean. Ultimately, historical and statistical preparation will be guiding the teams on this decision.

Teams will have identified an ideal longitude as to where they want to cross the doldrums, which most likely will be somewhere between 24-26 W.  Anything to the east of this will be considered risky and consistency in the forecast approaching the doldrums will have to be strong for a team to take a more easterly approach. Don’t rule it out though, Vestas made a successful easterly traverse last time round, though for a good 24hours they did look like they would be stuck!

What are the questions I would be asking myself

  1. The risk-reward balance: are the routings showing consistent gains on an easterly path
  2. The percentage of time the routing is under 08KTs
  3. The time in the race and the time in the leg: only the second leg and the first half. It would be bold to take such a risk

Consistency is key to being in the running in this race and with that in mind, I suspect the lead boats from Leg1: Vestas, MAPFRE and Dongfeng, will almost certainly stick together and are unlikely to take a risk by going east.

Maybe this gives an opportunity for the other teams to try something, but you have to believe you have the speed and will probably have to push extra hard to make the easterly route work, with more manoeuvres through the islands.

Tune back in here next week to see if the GREAT DIVIDE happened as we take a look at where the teams have positioned themselves, how they got there and where they are heading