Volvo Ocean Race – This morning Team Brunel took over the lead from Dongfeng Race Team in leg six to Newport. A few hours earlier, the six boats crossed the Equator and sailed back into the northern hemisphere.
The boats in the Volvo Ocean Race have been on their way to the next stopover in the American port of Newport for a few days now. What sets this leg apart is its long straight sections. In fact, we have changed tack only once in the last nine days. Well, a straight line is something else because if you check the map at home, you’ll see that the boats are lurching around the ideal line like drunkards. So why is that? Why doesn’t the fleet just sail straight on?
“It’s a drag race,” says Jens Dolmer. It looks as if the teams have used few tactics so far and so speed is more important than ever. Everyone is looking for the sweet spot – the moment when the boat is sailing perfectly. But the sweet spot is hard to find.
Before we go further in our search for the sweet spot, let’s start with navigator Andrew ‘Capey’ Cape. In his dark burrow, he plots the optimum route. As in Hansel and Gretel, he lays a trail of breadcrumbs (waypoints) from Brazil to Newport. The only thing that the men on deck have to do is sail from crumb to the crumb. And preferably faster than the other five teams.
So how does Capey fix the position of these breadcrumbs? Well, apart from all the weather and current data, he also has all the boat’s performance data stored on his computer. He knows exactly at what angle and with which sail the boat should sail the fastest. So the breadcrumbs mark the ideal line…on paper.
But why aren’t we sailing to the next crumb in a straight line? “Sometimes the boat sails faster by just-to-say not following Capey’s line. On the line, the boat doesn’t sail the way you want it to,” continues Jens Dolmer. “The boat has to feel right and have just the perfect trim so that you can forge ahead for a longer time. If you get everything right, the boat will sail well and you’ll go faster than the rest. And BANG! – you’ve hit the sweet spot.”
Pablo Arrarte is at the helm and he’s anxious. The men on deck frown in concentration. The biggest foresail (A3) is up and yet the boat is not running well. Dongfeng Race Team is racing away and also MAPRE is running faster. In the search for the sweet spot, it is decided to replace the A3 with the smaller masthead Code Zero, which will enable us to sail slightly closer to the wind. Suddenly the wind changes. Loud laughter rings through the cockpit. Fists punch the air. We start to close in on Dongfeng Race Team at high speed. “Another 10 minutes and we’ve passed them,” says Capey. Team Brunel has found the sweet spot.
However, straying from the ideal breadcrumb line does not go unpunished. For every extra metre sailed, you also have to sail extra fast. The question is, which team will manage to find the right balance in the days to come? The team that sails the fewest metres and hits the sweet spot most often will be the first to reach Newport.
more info …. brunelsailing.net