APPROACHING MADEIRA – Those of you in the USA following the Volvo Ocean Race on the race tracker will have awoken to an apparent flip-flop of the fleet with early leaders MAPFRE and Dongfeng now out to the west of the fleet and ranked, by the tracker, 6th and 7th in the seven-boat fleet. Scallywag, the easterly-most boat, is ranked first simply because they are closest to the ostensible rhumbline.
However, take the tracker, and rankings, with a large grain of salt. Why?
There is normally an area of lighter air "downwind" (southwest) of Madeira to the Cape Verde Islands that it pays to avoid by staying west. You can also avoid it by going down the African coast inside the Madeira archipelago and the Cape Verdes, but that means a lot of jibing. And jibing a VOR 65 means a temporary loss of speed, and it is hard on the crew; much more so than, say, jibing a Laser – 30 minutes of hard work for the entire crew vs. 3 seconds on a dinghy.
Moreover, the current weather forecast is for more breeze from a better angle to the west of the islands. Finally, a westerly track normally better positions the teams for getting through the light-air Doldrums at the equator. So once again, most experts are saying "west is best."
The race tracker is no longer live (as of 24 hours into the race / 1400 UTC / 0600 PDT) and will now update every six hours. As of the last live shot, it looks like the entire fleet is working their way west, no surprise.
This is a long, 7000nm leg that will take mas o menos 21 days. Unlike the Leg 1 sprint from Alicante to Lisbon which was a more tactical than boat-speed challenge, on Leg 2 you can expect speed to rule. Even though the boats are strictly one-design, including the sails, there can and will be significant differences in speed, even for boats in similar wind and sea conditions, because of sail selection and boat handling. That's why the more experienced teams, MAPFRE and Dongfeng, are tipped as the favorites by many insiders. And, no surprise, for the first 24 hours the average speeds on MAPFRE and Dongfeng have been a knot or more higher than the rest of the fleet. Vestas, too, is looking good in the speed department.
By all accounts the first night was wet and wild with 30 knots and big seas. Fortunately there was a full moon to make steering through the waves easier to keep the boats on their feet. No doubt all seven teams had their moments, but a scary broach on Scallywag, from which they quickly recovered, was caught on video and released by VOR media earlier....
The breeze is moderating, and will continue to drop into the high teens today.
For more on last night's tough conditions, read Peter Rusch's daily report "Fast and frightening first night at sea" here.
For more insight into the next 24-48 hours, watch a replay of the excellent 1300 UTC Daily Live netcast from VOR Race HQ in Alicante here. It includes live interviews off two of the boats. You will especially like the light, lively and informative chat with Simon "SciFi" Fisher (GBR), the navigator aboard Charlie Enright's (USA) Vestas 11th Hour Racing.