Wind speeds ease and leaders start to change course
Another day passed, another 400 miles added to the log for the Volvo fleet. The wind speed is in the mid-teens, and its direction is northerly. Still leading the fleet is Torben Grael and Ericsson 4, with Ken Read and PUMA only 10 miles behind.
By 10:00 GMT this morning, the wind had eased just a touch more to the low teens, while the direction had started the long veer to the right, that will eventually end (the other side of the Doldrums) in the southeast trade winds.
Hence boots are being traded for shoes on board; the leaders have started the course change towards the south; and the leading pair has poured on the mileage since yesterday – in 24 hours they’ve gained 55 miles on each of the three boats behind them.
Ian Walker is aiming for an eastern transition of The Doldrums
Initially, this was great for the boats behind, the late-starters – Ericsson 3 and Telefonica Blue – as they were pushed down to the leaders on the new south-going breeze. But since then, the trailing boats have been closer to the centre of the high pressure, and consequently in a little bit less wind – and they have had to watch the leaders ease away from them. The squeeze box is back – always a feature of these north-south legs, where the fleet are crossing from one climate zone to another.
This brings the fate of Green Dragon’s play to the east. For the next 24 hours the best breeze is to the west, as they transition from the northerly, into the northeast trade winds.
Unfortunately the long-term gains ought to be to the east. It’s a question of balancing likely short-term gains to the west, with possible long-term gains to the east – and assessing each of those probabilities. And that’s the really hard part – as Ian Walker says, the forecast doesn’t go far enough ahead to allow them even the usual level of uncertainty. The seven-day forecast still doesn’t reach the southeast trade winds.
Walker did acknowledge (in a weary tone) that they were up against the fastest boats in the fleet, but while they were aiming for an eastern transition of the Doldrums relative to the others, they still didn’t intend to end up quite so far north. And after hearing that yesterday afternoon, it’s no surprise to see that the Dragon has spent the last 24 hours folding their hand, and falling into line behind the leading trio. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted, but I’ll have to save my ‘big break’ link for another time?
And there is still some interesting leverage around – Green Dragon are 120 miles east of Telefonica Blue, at about the same latitude. And as we mentioned before, Ericsson 4 and PUMA are spread 25 miles east to west, at the same latitude. So, we should get to see which side is faster.
Seven day forecast
For what it’s worth, the transition through the Doldrums anywhere west of the Solomon Islands looks pretty bad. So it is probable that the boats will be targeting the eastern tip of this island chain to exit into the south-east trades. That should give them a fast wind angle (TWA) down to New Zealand, so long as they don’t get tangled up with Vanuatu or New Caledonia.
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