Crews are playing a strategic game in trying to position their boats off a low pressure system
Ericsson 4 and PUMA remain glued together as they head South-East. At 10:00 GMT this morning, the leaders were running a line down the middle of a fleet fanned out behind them, to the north and the south, all heading south-east on a port gybe in a northerly wind. It’s been a night of shuffling which has seen the skippers and navigators aboard each boat finally reveal their strategies for the incoming low pressure.
For several days now, the forecasts have shown a strong low pressure system spinning up off the coast of Brazil, and heading east towards the finish. Everyone’s strategy has been focused on positioning their boat to get into the breeze off this low pressure, riding it east as the weather system sets off towards Cape Town.
The timing of this departure is such that it’s a lot harder for the boats at the back of the fleet to pull this trick, than the leaders. And the stakes are high – anyone who gets it wrong can expect to see their deficit blow out to several hundred miles.
At the head of the pack Ericsson 4 and PUMA are still no more than three miles apart. Both boats gybed just before 18:00 last night (26 October). They sailed south-west on starboard for a little over an hour, then gybed back together. They’ve been going south-east ever since.
The chasing pair close behind them have edged further south (dropping further behind on the leaderboard as a consequence) – Green Dragon making the more aggressive move overnight, with Telefonica Black splitting the difference between them and the leaders. What’s interesting about Green Dragon is that she’s spent about the same amount of time on starboard as PUMA and Ericsson 4, but has been able to sail lower, getting further south.
On the opposite side of the race track, to the north-east, closest to the centre of the high and the dangerous area of light air was Telefonica Blue – her greater and more sustained drop in wind speed is clear. They are trying to cut the corner, taking the risk of sailing too close to the centre of the high, trying to get further east to pick up the low pressure.
Telefonica Blue navigator, Simon Fisher was worrying about flying too close to the sun in a Sunday evening email: “I cannot help feeling slightly nervous. We are set up a little to the east of our guys ahead ? it makes me feel slightly uneasy being closer to the high pressure system than them.”
This morning, Telefonica Blue’s skipper, Bouwe Bekking, was reflecting on a close call, “Last night we had to sail the unfavoured gybe several times, as we were getting too close to the ridge of high pressure. So we actually had to sail away from Cape Town to stay in the breeze ? It just hurts badly? but we know that this was the right call.”
On the latest NOAA weather forecast, the low is centred at about 33degS 42degW (to the south-southwest of the fleet) at lunchtime today (27 October). It deepens significantly as gets moving east, and it is going to put the hammer down once it gets going. By Wednesday lunchtime, it could be centred at around 45degS and 9degW. That means it’s doing about 800 miles a day. That’s too fast for even a Volvo Open 70, and it looks inevitable that the boats that are furthest south and east will get the ride for longer.