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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6, the fleet is heading into the doldrums

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Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 da Hong Kong ad Auckland, SHK/Scallywag
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 da Hong Kong ad Auckland, SHK/Scallywag

All it takes is one look at the Volvo Ocean Race tracker to get a sense of what the fleet is going through as they head into the weekend... and the doldrums. 

Squiggly lines abound, as the wind becomes light, unstable and difficult to find and hold on to. At one point heading into Thursday night (UTC), MAPFRE was under a cloud that saw them drop nearly 10 miles to the fleet in just one hour. Dongfeng, just a couple of miles away was relatively unaffected. That's about as frustrating as it gets.

There's a new leader as of 0700 (UTC) on Friday morning, with Team Brunel at the top of the charts, just ahead of team AkzoNobel and Turn the Tide on Plastic.

"What a night: rain, rain, rain, rain, rain and more rain. Unbelievable so many million of liters must have come down," writes skipper Bouwe Bekking. "And of course the wind goes crazy, sometimes 2 knots , then 30 knots and big windshifts. Many, many sail changes.

"The problem is as it raining so much, you can't see any horizon and it's impossible to judge if the breeze is increasing or dying. So sometimes it is like russian roulette, you have the big gear on and the wind increase like from 3-11 knots in a matter of seconds: you start questioning is there any more coming do we start need to prepare a headsail change? If yes, which sail we should choose? If it is 30 knots then you need a tiny sail , if only 20 again another option is possible.

"I think we had the right recipe last night, got caught once with 30 knots where we decided to hang on for dear life too long. Luckily we had the small sail in the air, but still it was "expensive" as we had to bear downwind to get the big sail furled."

Whatever they did has worked. Brunel, along with Turn the Tide on Plastic, have had a good 18 hours. 

And while Scallywag is still furthest south, their position to the west puts them at the bottom of the leaderboard for now.

"Flip flop, slip slop it's a glass off. The next week is going to be tough, interspersed with some nice westerly breeze but ultimately there is an element of lucky dice needed," writes Scallywag navigator Libby Greenhalgh. "Maybe moreso in our positioning to the west than for those further east who are now cashing in their pay check!

"We are hunting hard to get through these light winds and into the westerly first in order to close the gauge that we are struggling maintain. As always there is an element of not really having control over where you can go and once we rattled south into the light winds you have to make the most of it."

Life on board will be different in these conditions but no easier. It's very hot, so sleeping down below is difficult. Not to mention all the sail changes the variable conditions bring. 

And then there is the rain, which as Bouwe explains, brings its own complications when it comes in the form of a torrential downpour.

"Communication is another challenge in these conditions. As everybody has a hood on to protect their eyes against the "cutting"rain, you can scream as hard as you want but 75% of the crew will not hear or understand you.

"Since we have a good system in place when making sail changes, there is hardly any talk necessary. I am driving all of the sail changes so I always have a good overview how the manoeuvres are going. And even when you "hate " to make a sail change, it always gives a good feeling when everything is going so smooth. A great team we have!"

They'll all be put to the challenge over the coming days.

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