A look at the fourth week of the first leg of the 2001/2002 Volvo Ocean Race

  • High or low – It’s big decision time for the VOR fleet as they negotiate the south Atlantic highs and lows

  • More gear problems expected –Team SEB has already lost two headboard cars. How many more will the race take as the fleet heads south in to stronger winds?

As the VOR fleet heads towards Cape Town they have to make one of the biggest decisions in the race so far – how to tackle the complex weather pattern that lies beyond the island of Trindade. There are currently two large high pressure areas in the southern Atlantic rather than the more usual single pressure zone. And to spice things up a bit there’s now a low pressure area squeezed in between the two.

Second placed Assa Abloy is in the driving seat right now with race leader Illbruck having to cover every track – wherever Assa goes Illbruck would be foolish not to follow at this critical stage of the race. In more usual circumstances, where there’s only one high pressure zone covering the whole area, it tends to pay to take the southerly route where, despite the extra mileage (approximately 400 miles), there’s more breeze. The other option is to take the northerly approach round the front but the chances of getting stuck in a no-wind zone are pretty high.

The situation the VOR fleet have on their hand right now is where to approach the low pressure area within the two highs. The best route is aim for the top of the low where there should be strong westerlies to give them a good blasting broad reach to Cape Town. Aim too low and they’ll find themselves beating in to easterlies which is not a desirable option.

While there is little the trailing three boats can do now to take control of the race the top five boats are still relatively close with just 55 miles between them. Expect to see some swift place changes over the next few days.

As the fleet head for the stronger winds and excitement builds up, the chance of further gear breakages will increase. News of SEB’s second broken headboard car this weekend must be a worry to the rest of the fleet as they head for the tough south Atlantic conditions. Another victim of broken gear is Amer Sports One with her two broken halyard locks. Although the crew has fixed an external halyard it is far from perfect. Jeff Brock bowman on Amer Sports One spoke to Yachting World about the situation. “We have been plagued with halyard lock problems since day five. We have had to run an external halyard because one lock is stuck permanently at the top and another lock has pulled out completely. It is all bad news when it comes to hoisting the Code Zero sail. Conventional halyards just do not work with these boats, we have too much load, too much chafe and too much friction. At times we are as much as one knot slower just because we cannot carry the zero!”

Halyard locks and headboard cars will undoubtedly be the topic of dockside conversation once the fleet ties up in Cape Town. It will be interesting to see whether boats carrying the same make fittings will consider a complete replacement or whether they’ll risk the Southern Ocean with less than perfect kit.