The gap closes as the fleet compresses on Leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race
The leading boats in the Volvo Ocean Race have left Friday’s record-breaking conditions in their wake as they bump into a ridge of high pressure that is beginning to slow their progress towards the finish in Cardiff.
The Leg 9 leader on Saturday is team AkzoNobel, the crew still basking in the afterglow of setting a new 24-hour distance record for the Volvo Ocean Race.
Skipper Simeon Tienpont’s team smashed the old Volvo Ocean 65 record run of 550.8 nautical miles, then broke through the 600-mile barrier to provisionally claim the outright race record with a 24-hour run of 602.5 miles.
“I would have bet the house you couldn’t do 600 miles on one of these boats,” said watch captain Chris Nicholson. “I’m so happy for the whole team. It’s really cool. Everything had to align perfectly to break the record… what an effort!”
Regrettably, the team can’t spend much time celebrating. Already, the strong to gale force winds that pushed the fleet into record-breaking territory are easing and the leaders are starting to feel the effects of a high pressure ridge standing between them and the finish line.
“There is a big, big light spot ahead of us,” explained Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charlles Caudrelier, from his third place position, nearly 30 miles back of the front runners.
“Unfortunately for the leader there is a wall of no wind. I don’t think anyone will cross it as it will move with us and we will have to wait and we’ll have a new start, all together. So I imagine there will be a big compression…”
At 1100 UTC the leading pair, team AkzoNobel and Team Brunel were only seeing 3 to 5 knots of wind, and watching helplessly as their hard-won advantage on the ranking started to plummet.
At 1600 UTC on Friday afternoon, for example, Dongfeng Race Team was 62 miles behind team AkzoNobel. By 1100 Saturday morning, the margin was barely 25 miles, and the compression is expected to continue.
This is good news for those at the back, although there is a chance the leading pair break through the ridge and find favourable winds on the other side while the rest of the fleet is mired in the light and variable conditions.
“At the moment the ridge is stationary and that may allow a couple of the leaders to punch through it,” explains Brian Thompson, the navigator on Turn the Tide on Plastic, still some 60 miles from the lightest conditions.
“But just as we get into it, it’s going to start to move back towards the UK and we’ll only be able to go the speed that it’s going. That’s going to be particularly frustrating for our team, but there will be other boats in the same predicament and we’ll be fighting with them to get out of this ridge and into the good wind on the other side.”
The light conditions mean that even though team AkzoNobel now has less than 600 miles to run to the finish – a number they’ve just sailed in 24 hours – it will in fact take closer to three days to reach Cardiff.
Current ETAs have the leading group finishing in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with the rest of the fleet finishing throughout the day.
Volvo Ocean Race – Leg 9 – Leaderboard (11:00 UTC)
1. team AkzoNobel – Distance To Finish: 598.8 nautical miles
2. Team Brunel – 1.9 nautical miles behind
3. Dongfeng Race Team – 26.6 nautical miles behind
4. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 34.7 nautical miles behind
5. MAPFRE – 50.9 nautical miles behind
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 65.1 nautical miles behind
7. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag – 95.0 nautical miles behind