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NO FREE RIDE EAST IN GULF STREAM TRADE OFF

25May2012_Volvo_Ocean_Race_Camper_2Photo by Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race

25-05-2012.At 1900 GMT, Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand’s stranglehold on Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was in jeopardy as Walker’s team closed to within 4.9 nautical miles, while Telefónica, although in third place, remained disconnected from the fleet, 50 miles to the south.

Having left the Gulf Stream several days ago, the three-knot current has now come back into play as the six-boat Volvo fleet bailed out of the south and altered course to the north to skirt a light wind high pressure zone. It could almost be a free ride east with three knots of positive Gulf Stream current under the keels but for the fact the wind is blowing against it, creating a short steep sea way.

The Gulf Stream has a number of eddies coming off it, which the teams are able to identify from current GRIB [gridded binary data] files. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker says at least two eddies have helped propel the team up the fleet over the last 24 hours. The charts are not always perfect, so teams also monitor the sea surface temperature to find the warm water coming up from the south and heading to the east.

According to Walker, the latest dilemma facing the fleet is that the wind is going right, which favours port tack, but the current is stronger to the north, which favours starboard tack. To complicate matters further, the high-pressure is sinking down on the fleet and there will be a 20 degree wind shift to the right, which will favour boats to the right like CAMPER. However, Walker insists it is possible to pick up more favourable current to the left, which could be enough to offset that gain.

“This is the balance we are trying to play,” Walker explained as PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) went left, CAMPER went right and Walker chose the middle road.

The high-pressure system which is sinking down on the fleet has also had the navigators scratching their heads once again as they try to work out how close they can sail to its centre. The further they sail towards it, the bigger the windshift will be and the wider the angle coming out, but there is a high risk of sailing into a no wind zone. Walker expects another 24 hours of upwind sailing around the corner, after which the wind should free up and bows can be turned towards Lisbon for some fast downwind sailing.

For the two teams at the top of the overall leaderboard, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA), it’s been a painful 24 hours after they were unable to gybe north as a fast-moving cold front rolled over them making it impossible. By the time they had a suitable wind angle to gybe, the rest of the fleet was much further north and managed to gain an advantage which continued to grow.

“Basically they [the fleet] went round us and I think that it would have been totally impossible to avoid them getting past. They had a better set of conditions and that’s all there is to it,” explained Telefónica skipper Martínez. “We have to think about the next move, which is how to get out of here, and then it will be onwards from there. Some new breeze is coming and something different will happen, so we hope we can stop dropping miles and begin notching them up again,” he said.

Telefónica currently has a seven-point lead over Groupama, who is under pressure from CAMPER (152 points) and PUMA (151 points). However, with a whisker over 2000 nm to sail to the finish, it is all still to play for and the nothing is a certainty.