'Every Volvo Ocean Race team has the same questions. What will the weather be like for the start? Will there be wind? Will it be an upwind or downwind start? Where are the trade winds and how soon will we be in them? Should we aim for inside or outside of the Canary's? Where do we aim to cross the Doldrums at the narrowest point? And on and on and on. . .
I remember these questions well from the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race, working as meteorologist for the eventual race winner, illbruck Challenge. Before the start of each leg, I spent many hours with our navigators, Juan VILA and Ian MOORE, looking at the historical weather for that leg. We ran thousands of simulations through the historical weather data to identify the likely wind angles and boat speeds we could expect on the leg. We also looked at historical routes and what key weather features controlled each routing solution resulting in the fastest route from start to finish of each leg.
But a week from the start, our focus switched to the actual problem at hand. Rather than the abstract analysis of climate and the historical frequency of various weather patterns, we started to look at the actual weather that was occurring and how the patterns were likely to evolve in the hours, days, and weeks ahead. We never forgot the historical analysis we had just completed, but weather rarely repeats itself exactly. So even if we identified how the existing weather pattern matched a particular common historical pattern, we were always aware how that pattern could change radically (and perhaps unpredictably) in very little time. This is the essence of weather as chaotic system.
For the last Volvo, our process of daily weather analysis and forecasting involved a detailed analysis of the recent and current conditions. We reviewed recent weather maps, satellite loops, ship and buoy reports, satellite remote sensing data of wind and ocean currents, and upper atmospheric data. From there, our focus turned to the most important thing in the navigator's quiver - computerized weather model output.
Using the results of many different forecast models, we created an ensemble of possible forecasts. When the forecasts agreed, we were very confident in our forecast and resulting routing strategy. When the various forecasts did not agree, we worked hard to identify what weather was causing the differences. This allowed us to understand what things the weather forecast was sensitive to and what Juan and Ian needed to monitor once the leg had started and they could no longer receive outside assistance.
No doubt all the navigators and skippers are now going through a similar process this time around. They are carefully studying the development of a cold front that is expected to move through Vigo on Friday night and early Saturday morning. Behind this front, a new high pressure area will build over the northeast Atlantic Ocean. This will create a fairly strong and building northerly wind along the coast of Spain and Portugal.
As a result of this evolving weather pattern, for the start of the race on Saturday, the Volvo Ocean Race crews have been given a gift from the weather Gods. The weather forecast practically couldn't be any better for the start on Saturday. While it may be a little on the light side in Vigo harbor and for the around the buoys portion of the start, a building northerly along the coast just offshore will make for very quick downwind sailing once the boats are out of Vigo. The northerly winds look to build steadily overnight Saturday and into Sunday, so the first 24 hours could be VERY fast! Its probably asking too much for a 24 hour record in the first 24 hours, but there could easily be some boats reporting 500 miles progress in the first 24 hours or so.
At last things are coming together for the Australian Premier Challenge. They are sorting out the measurement and have named a full crew. Grant WHARINGTON (AUS) and the Premier Challenge crew are heads down trying to get their boat measured and ready for action on Tuesday. WHARINGTON flew into Spain on Monday night and was busy helping his men attach the new keel fin and knock 500kg of lead out of the bulb, as the boat was too heavy for the rule in its original configuration.
'It's been an extremely busy time for us all this week,' said WHARINGTON. The team is assembling, some still in Australia organizing last minute things, but we should all be together by Friday - the day before the start. Everything is running on schedule at the moment, more or less; with so little time the slightest delay can become a major issue.
'Barney WALKER and I are delighted with the team that has assembled. Everyone is a number one choice and we thank them all for their dedication and loyalty.'
Premier Challenge has issued the names of all ten crew members for the first leg to Cape Town, South which begins at 1400 hours local time this Saturday.
Far from being a crew of have-a-go amateur sailors, as many thought they might be after WHARINGTON was forced to say good bye to the original team of pros, the majority of the new team have extensive experience of previous Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Races. Least experienced is Briton, Mark 'Becksy' BARTLETT, who at just 20 years old is the youngest competitor in the race. He has sailed with WHARINGTON on the Melbourne property developer's 98 foot canting-keeled Maxi yacht, Skandia Wild Thing, having come through the Skandia sailing academy system, but this will be Becksy's first round the world experience. At least he is in good company who should take care of him.
For a complete list of all the news about the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 CLICK HERE.