Top Volvo Ocean Race correspondent, navigator and sailing analyst, Mark Chisnell writes a regular report for B&G on the current race and trends he sees developing. This week he looks at the first week of Leg 6.
Mark Chisnell – Leg 6 Preview – Into the North Blog
After the race through the Southern Ocean and back into the Atlantic, the teams will now unwind their Leg 1 passage across the equator and return to the northern hemisphere. Leg 6 runs from Itajai, Brazil to Newport in Rhode Island, USA. It’s 5,010 miles and it will run the full range of climate zones.
Crossing Climate Zones
The race from Auckland to Cape Horn was distinguished by the fact that it all took place in a single climate zone, racing east with the low pressure systems that circle the Antarctic.
Now we’re back to racing south to north, and the fleet will be back to crossing climate zones; passing through a pattern that we should all be able to recite by heart by now – South Atlantic High, south-east trade winds, Doldrums, north-east trades, Azores High and then the westerly’s of the North Atlantic.
It’s been a theme of this blog that each of these climate zone transitions creates a passing lane. There are much bigger opportunities for gains or loses compared to sailing with or against the weather systems in a single climate zone. Fortunately for all those tired navigators and skippers, this particular leg is familiar stuff – apart from the fact that we came most of this way in Leg 1 – the Volvo Ocean Race has raced from Brazil to New England on several previous occasions.
Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 – Leg 5 to Itajai
We’re starting from Itajai on Sunday, and although that’s five days out (I’m writing this on Tuesday), it’s worth a look at the forecast. The prediction is for the South Atlantic High to be centred on roughly the same latitude as the start, about two thirds of the way across to Cape Town. It will generate a light-ish north to north-easterly headwind for the first section of the race, up towards Rio. There is a small low pressure forecast to form off Itajai on Monday/Tuesday night, and this could mean that they are soon beating into a freshening breeze.
In theory, the trade winds should be established not too far north of Rio, and it looks like this will be the case. Once they get around the corner and head for the eastern tip of Brazil at Recife they should transition into weak, east or south-easterly trade wind conditions. It’s important not to forget the south-running Brazil Current, which runs all the way down the coast from Recife to Buenos Aires – the navigators will be watching the current charts to find the swirls and back eddies that can help.
Cutting the Corner… Or Not
The next strategic problem is how close to cut the corner of Brazil at Recife. Two things have to be balanced – the further offshore they sail, the stronger and steadier the breeze ought to be, but the more miles they have to travel. There’s an old rule of thumb for this one – stay within 10 miles of the coast, or stand further off than 100 miles.
There’s a chance for a big gain here, Lawrie Smith took the ‘within 10 miles’ bit very seriously in 1997-98, slipped around the corner within smelling distance of the beach and powered into a comfortable lead. Bouwe Bekking did the same thing in 2005-06 – and might be wondering if he will get the chance for a replay this time around.
For the rest of this Preview click here