Light winds expected for penultimate leg of VOR which starts later today 2/6/06

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet departs from Portsmouth later today on the eighth leg of the race. The route west will take the fleet round Ireland and Britain and back down to Rotterdam before the final sprint to Gothenburg for the finish.

Before reaching the open waters of the English Channel, the teams first have to tackle The Solent, the narrow strip of water which lies between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, notorious for its tidal quirks and sand banks.

After passing through a gate off Cowes, on the north side of the Isle of Wight, the fleet will leave the Needles to port and head west down the English Channel. Once they have passed the Fastnet Rock, off Ireland, they head north for the second part of this leg, going almost as far as the Shetland Islands, on the northern tip of Scotland, before turning south into the North Sea for the final approach into Rotterdam, Holland.

ABN AMRO One (Mike Sanderson/NZ) goes into this penultimate leg with the overall winner’s trophy already in the bag, but they will still be racing hard to bring ‘Black Betty’ first into her home port.

“The boat has Rotterdam written on the back and it was where she was christened. It is our home port and we are really looking forward to getting there as it will be a big stopover for us,” commented Sanderson.

With first place taken, second position will be hard fought. Paul Cayard’s Pirates of the Caribbean will be looking for another podium finish to firm up their second position overall. They currently lead Brasil 1 (Torben Grael/BRA) by 7.5 points but the light conditions forecast for the start might just suit Grael, who is know as the magician for his ability to triumph in fickle winds.

After posting their first podium position in the offshore legs so far, Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald/UK) will also be hoping to go one better. They are currently 3.5 points behind ABN AMRO Two (Sebastien Josse) who are currently placed fourth overall.

After rejoining the event in Baltimore, Brunel (Grant Wharington/AUS) only has eight points on the board, but performance evaluation of the boat is key for this team and they will be happy with the improvement it has shown so far after its major refit in Australia. British skipper Matt Humphries steps up the role as skipper again for the offshore leg and is looking forward to the challenge;

“We are feeling good. The boat has come a long way since Melbourne and we have seen some real potential. We are feeling confident and are hoping to show everyone what Brunel can do. Round Britain and Ireland is a race I have done a few times and is a race that I would really like to see Brunel successful in.”

Leg eight, although short, at just 1,500 nautical miles, will give the navigators plenty to think about: inshore versus offshore breezes, tide and current to be factored in, shipping, oil rigs, islets and rocks all to be avoided.

Weather models are suggesting that a large area of high pressure will be centred just south-west of Ireland which will provide light, north-westerly breeze at the start, which could give the fleet a fairly slow exit from the Solent under spinnaker. Sea breezes in the late afternoon may see the winds shifting to the south or south-west within 10 miles of the shore, but by late on Friday evening, the winds will return to the north but generally decreasing as the boats prgress further west.

Current Leaderboard
1st ABN AMRO ONE, Mike Sanderson (NZL) 84.5 pts
2nd Pirates of the Caribbean, Paul Cayard (USA) 59.5 pts
3rd Brasil 1, Torben Grael (BRA) 52.0 pts
4th ABN AMRO TWO, Sebastien Josse (FRA) 48.5 pts
5th movistar, Bouwe Bekking (NED) 48.0 pts
6th Ericsson Racing Team, Neal McDonald (GBR) 45.0 pts
7th Brunel, Grant Wharington (AUS) 8.0 pts