I am not sure of the psychology of getting a course amendment that extends your race by another 12hours or so when in the thick of it. We have already seen shortening of courses and sections of motoring in the Leg 0 and the Prologue and now we see an extension in the race in order to get the boats to Lisbon later. Definitely a different aspect to the race.
The race so far has already seen some drama: from Team Akzonobel having last minute skipper and crew changes onshore, to penalties being given in the starting lap of the race track and sails falling out of the sky. But there is certainly no let-up in the team’s passion for the race and their desire to perform.
So far it has been anything but clear cut on who is going to perform in this race as teams shake their first leg nerves and niggles and head to Lisbon
Currently the teams have passed Porto Santo and are now heading to the new virtual waypoint before turning towards Lisbon.
Heading back to the beginning, Dongfeng led out of Alicante creating a half mile buffer with the rest of the fleet battling it out with each other, you could be forgiven for thinking that they would probably stretch their legs from here. But it wasn’t long before there wasn’t much between any of the teams.
As the fleet progressed towards the Gibraltar Straits the first key strategic positioning choice came. How to take advantage of the effects of acceleration and wind bend around Cabo de Gato and the following headland?
Brunel took the inside line here on the headland and having trailed for most of the race so far, pulled themselves back into the game. It was Team Vestas 11th Hour and Akzonobel who consolidated the gain the most by leading the gybe to the second headland and creating a significant split in the fleet that on their return put these two boats into the lead.
As the fleet headed on towards Gibraltar Straits it was Vestas, Akzonobel and Turn the Tide that made the most of the windshifts downwind and biggest gains within the fleet, whose 5 well placed gybes saw them lead into a lifting wind and further extend on the fleet
The teams then weathered the 30+KT of acceleration through the straits and started sailing into a lot lighter winds, where the next key positional decision had to be made.
What’s going to pay? South, west or point at the mark?
In our leg one preview we talked about the decision here being between where the teams believe the new wind will come from or whether confidence is too low to commit to one and its best to just point at the mark.
The three leading boats seem to make a split at this moment, which most certainly kept it interesting! Vestas 11th Hour invested in a more southerly positioning and early on. MAPFRE wiggled their way west on the decaying easterly breeze from the Gibraltar Straits and Akzonobel initially appeared to split the difference, though sometimes in light winds you just end up where you end up. Eventually Akzonobel invested further in the south and ended up in a gaining position on the two front runners as the SE came in providing them with a faster angle to sail which saw them close on Vestas and be neck and neck with MAPFRE.
The rest of the fleet were tightly packed and have probably been loathed to split. They will have been focussing hard on winning their group, where confidence is low in the forecast they will be subtly positioning themselves one side or the other of the group rather than making a break. Scallywag positioned slightly further to south and got the controlling position on the other three, who were clearly locked in an all-out speed battle to Porto Santo – being able to turn that corner first would have been a huge focus
Rounding Porto Santo and the ‘not so’ home straight.
Although Porto Santo isn’t as high as Madeira, the wind shadow effects will still be quite critical and getting the sail changes and manoeuvres perfect here will be critical as they transitioned this zone on each other tails.
From here it will feel like the home straight, finally pointing towards the finish line rather than psychologically going away and with introduction of the new waypoint the opportunities to pass have somewhat been reduced and it will be down to a boat speed race and matching gybes for the layline to the Porto Santo waypoint.
We will see some compression and extension over these last two days and if boats manage to stay within 0,5nm of each other then traversing the ridge on the approach to the finish and getting the shifts right could give people a last shout at place changes, but I am sure teams will be covering hard in these final stages. Most likely teams will end in the position they round the waypoint in.
Today the teams will be VMG sailing downwind towards the waypoint picking their moment to gybe, the leaders will extend as they get into the pressure first and there will almost certainly be a little bit short gybe shuffling of the 4 boats at the back if the wind shift offers it.
By midday tomorrow the boats will once more be heading into a decreasing breeze as they negotiate the high pressure ridge that is extending south along the Portuguese coast. Ultimately this results in a decreasing wind that will also steadily back from the SE round to the NE and so as the routing shows teams will be hot footing it towards the shift.
The routings show that the big picture goal is to get to the left hand shift and the best way to traverse the high pressure ridge. With less wind expected further south in the ridge axis there will be a difficult decision of the trade-off between extra distance sailed and the speed at which you believe you can do it. In theory any leverage on the fleet or a boat that you can get towards the resulting NE wind will convert to a gain.
This means that when the teams turn the corner of the virtual waypoint, the mode they pick between getting the shift and heading towards the finish will be critical. All routings have the teams set up on their fastest angle out of the waypoint towards the shift and then gradually peeling through to upwind headsails. It is a subtle change but the difference between sailing 2 or 3 degrees higher at the right moment will make the difference.
High pressure ridges are notoriously difficult to predict and navigate in terms where you believe the best pressure to be. In this situation this ridge axis is moving west through the fleet, which does mean the option to tack earlier through this feature is more tempting and I am sure if you are not in sight of another boat you will be hoping to get your tack in before the other team
This will be tomorrow mornings activity!
ETA 0800-1200 on 28th, just after high water with tide beginning to ebb and a decreasing and shifty breeze as they approach Lisbon, the fleet will once again compress and as has been seen in previous races coming into finish at this stunning city, boats will be sailing in light winds covering each other to get to the finish line up the river.
Could be a nail biter. Vestas 11th Hour, MAPFRE and Akzonobel all finishing within 30 mins.