On the 22nd October at 1200 UTC the longest endurance race in the world begins, the Volvo Ocean Race. While I am not in a race team this edition I will be working with B&G Sailing to give you some insight into the thoughts, feelings, the decisions and the mistakes as 7 teams set off round the world. So first of all let’s take a quick look at the upcoming 9 months, the changes in the course, the crews, the boats and what the first leg has in store.
The one-design VO65s are back on the start line again with some modifications to the on-board systems, in particular now running with the B&G H5000 system and new positioning of the boat speed sensor will mean teams have better more consistent data to work with and continue to push performance, with the experience of racing these boats before teams will again be going quicker than last time.
The sail-locker has been expanded to include a J0 a light upwind jib and a fast reaching sail for medium to fresh conditions. It slots in-between the J1 and MH0 (Masthead Zero), which has been made flatter and slightly smaller. With the recent light to moderate winds on Leg0 and the Prologue race I am sure the teams have been working hard to fine tune where the crossovers are on this sail and there will definitely be an edge to have here, with teams that identify this sooner.
The composition of the teams has changed as Volvo Ocean Race lead the way in making a mixed team rule which has resulted in one completely mixed crew with 10 people and then the majority of the teams running with 9 people and one team wanting to keep light and only having 8. It will be interesting to see whether other teams change their crew composition as they go round and play with having one less crew member and therefore saving weight or stick with 9.
Some of the teams are also running a squad system which means crews will rotate, we will see new faces, more people are getting experience and exposure to the race and team dynamics will be changing and no doubt performance with it.
What does current form suggest? Who will be your favourite team?
I am going to pick Team MAPFRE, biased slightly by the fact my brother Robert Greenhalgh is on it, but also form so far shows that will more than likely be leading the way at the beginning having won the cumulative Leg 0, the Prologue race and the In-Port Race.
Dongfeng are yet again on the pace and as one the boats with the most training as a team and time in the boat I would expect that these two boats initially will be having a little fight of their own.
But as we saw on TeamSCA as the race goes everyone gets to pace and by the end anyone can win a leg which I think is where we will see teams like Turn the Tide and Scallywag begin to come into the mix as probably the two teams with either the least experienced people or least experience in the race
The dark horse for me are Team Brunel, late to the game but putting some strong players on board and surely at his 8th time as skipper it must Bouwe’s turn.
TeamVestas have a back under a slightly different guise with former Alvimedica skipper pulling together a team including previous race winners on Abu Dhabi Simon Fisher and Phil Harmer. With Simon Fisher at the navigation table I am sure this team will be making few mistakes on where they go and last time they openly talked about not taking big risks and being consistent. Will they run the same strategy?
Finally Team Akzonobel one of the earliest teams to announce and have a brand new boat, currently surrounded in a little bit of controversy with crew members changing teams and more recently and abruptly the skipper parting way. But looking through all that smoke, this team has the potential to succeed with Brad Jackson and Joca Signori bringing a wealth of experience and success.
The course has also changed. Going back to what many would say was a more traditional route and putting a lot more sea miles in the Southern Ocean and hopefully increasing the 12 knot average windspeed from the last, making it faster and more engaging for sailors and fans alike.
In this edition the race will consist of 11 Legs versus 9 legs, with a high scoring system, 8 points for 1st, 7 for 2nd and so on. But it is not entirely that straight forward.
The legs starting in Cape Town, Auckland and Newport will be double points, a team will get a bonus point for winning a leg, there are additional points up for grabs for first past Cape Horn and the boat with lowest overall elapsed time to do the race. Then finally Leg 5 when the teams wiggle their way from Hong Kong into Guangzhou, they’ll all get a point for taking part!
Any tie breakers will once again be decided by the InPort series which last time came down to the last leg of the last race to decide the overall finishing spot between Mapfre and Alvimedica, so its not over until its over.
Now to the here and now and Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Formerly Alicante to Cape Town it is now a short hop to Lisbon which is roughly 450nm and could take as little as 2.5days which logistically isn’t ideal for everyone shore side, who need to get to Lisbon, meet the boats and open a race village. So there are 4 course options.
All the courses start and finish the same, with a sausage triangle off Alicante and leaving the local Island of Tabarca to port and they finish up the River Tagus at Lisbon right off the harbour wall. There is also a gate called the Oeiras Gate at the entrance to the river which is clearly the back up finish line for the no wind and lots of tide that the area is known for that could result in boat kedging just before the finish!
The Leg Sailing instructions state that the goal is to set a course that takes between 7-8 days to complete, so the race management have issued 4 courses that vary in length from 1100 miles up 1700 miles and will pick a course most likely the day before as confidence in the forecast builds. Each course sends the boat off around an additional island before heading to Lisbon.
Course A: 1700 nautical miles
The longest of the potential courses has the boats turning east before they head west out of the Mediterranean sea and taking in a lap of Sardinia. The teams can decide which side they leave the Balearic Islands and this potentially creates an early split in the fleet.
Course B: 1100 nautical miles
This is the shortest of the proposed courses that still sends the boats east and around Menorca to starboard but the teams can choose which side of Ibiza and Majorca they want to go which again offers opportunities for teams to try something.
The final two courses are very similar with only 50 nautical miles different in them at 1500nm and 1450nm. The boats will head out the Gibraltar Straights and offshore towards Madeira where they will either leave Madeira to starboard or just leave Porto Santo to Starboard.
Leaving the Mediterranean Sea
We have already seen for the Prologue just how light it can be in the Med and in other years there have been dismasting. With some of the ex-hurricanes holding form for longer as they progress to Europe the weather could well be, ‘not like it normally is!’. The important things are understanding the land feature as essentially the exit route is following the land.
Last time we saw a split on the approach to the Straits and we could again see that this time. The overall easterly going current means any light winds make it very hard to escape the Med and you could see some big gains and losses at this point
Rounding an island
With the course not decided it is hard to talk about the other key points along the way, except for the fact that all the courses have to round an Island and it is never easy to round an Island. Particularly Madeira.
The wind hole the land mass creates can vary notably and affect conditions for many miles to leeward. Madiera is at its widest 27nm long and 12nm wide and rises to just over 1800 metres and as you can see from this image below the downwind effects of the islands can be felt for 100s of miles. Transitioning the lee of any island is hard and Madeira will be very difficult if high pressure and NE to E conditions set up. There could be a 27 mile area of little or no wind from every direction and as much as you have a plan to get through it sometimes you don’t have an option. You often see teams look like they are splitting from a fleet but sometimes it is just that is all they could do.
This will be the time to watch whether its Sardinia, Menorca, Madeira or Porto Santo.
Check back in on start day to find out the confirmed course the expected conditions and which Island the teams will be potentially doing a not so fast fly-by!