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5 May 2006, 10:58 am
Tactical Battle To New York
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006
Annapolis, Maryland, USA

Leg six of the Volvo Ocean Race up the east coast of the USA from Annapolis to New York starts this Sunday 7 May, with the weather forecast suggesting record breaking conditions will this time play a back seat to a more tactical battle on the shortest of all the legs.
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Assistant Race Meteorologist Jennifer LILLY explains, 'At 400 miles leg six is the shortest of all the legs in this race. In fact, with a rhumb line course that keeps the boats nearly in sight of shore, this leg is likely to be sailed much more like the In Port races.

'On Sunday, the fleet can look forward to a partly sunny, spring day for the start, with typically light conditions for the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay. The overall pressure gradient should be north easterly, with a low pressure system approaching from the south; however, on a more local scale, the conditions in the Chesapeake are likely to be fluky with local geographic effects and thermal gradients causing frequent shifts and gusts.

'After the start, the fleet will make their way down the Chesapeake Bay on Sunday afternoon, passing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and turning north towards New York. With a weak pressure gradient driven by high pressure building in from the west, the sailors should see the southerly sea breeze build slightly through the afternoon.

Out Of Chesapeake

'Once the fleet gets outside the Chesapeake the winds will be driven by high pressure building in from the west and an area of low pressure, which is expected to move north out of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday and continue northeast into maritime Canada by Tuesday. The development of this low is still rather uncertain, and the question remains how fast and how far east the low will move. If the surface low were to stay west over the coast, the fleet could stay on the east side of the low making for a fast trip. More likely, however, the low will move offshore creating a building north easterly gradient with the high to the west and making for an upwind beat to New York.

'With this short course, any large scale tactical options are limited. Coastal sailing, however, means more variable winds and currents. Thus the tactical decisions are reduced to a much smaller scale, where even the smallest course change can make a big difference.

Currents To Play A Major Role?

'In theory currents could have a big impact on this leg. The Gulf Stream, flowing to the northeast just offshore, seems to offer a boost to the north. The reality, however, remains that extra distance required to sail out to the stream would more than outweigh any advantage gained. Tidal currents will have a much larger influence on the result of leg six, either helping or hindering based on the time and place for each boat.

Before long the fleet will sail past Sandy Hook and into New York Harbour. In these more restricted waters, current, local traffic and fluky winds from the urban environment will make for challenging sailing. The winds should drop off as the fleet heads in and spectators are sure to line the last part of the course from the Narrows, past the Statue of Liberty, and into the Hudson River.

Looking Ahead To Leg Seven

For leg seven, the In Port racing intensity is not likely to slow down, even as the fleet heads north east into the open Atlantic Ocean. The end of the race is in sight and on this leg the fleet will also have the added incentive of a transatlantic record as they sail the classic ocean racing route past Ambrose Light to the Lizard.

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The VO 70s are following in
Atlantic's footsteps
© Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld
Collection/James Burton

The west to east transatlantic record, initially set back in 1905 by America's Cup veteran Charlie BARR (USA), on board Wilson MARSHALL's (USA) Atlantic, was just over 12 days and 4 hours. This year, the Volvo boats will have to maintain an unlikely average speed of over 25 knots to beat Steve FOSSETT's (USA) 2001 record, on Playstation, of just over 4 days and 17 hours, but that was a multihull. More realistically the one up for grabs will be the record of 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 32 seconds set by Mike SANDERSON (NZL) as skipper of Robert MILLER's (USA) 140ft monohull Mari Cha IV in 2003, an average of 18.05 knots.

Looking at leg seven, LILLY commented, 'With a Thursday start right downtown off Battery Park, the fleet will head out past Ambrose light before turning north to the stronger winds and shortest course to Portsmouth. With typically westerly winds, the fleet is expected to pass the Lizard on their way into the English Channel about eight days later.

Plenty To Think About

'Although this leg may not take much more than a week, there is plenty to think about. Once clear of New York, the fleet will head northeast, staying as close as possible to the great circle route, or the shortest course to the Solent. Over the course of this leg the boats will cover almost ten degrees or 600 nautical miles of distance to the north.

'This course will take the fleet across the dangerous waters of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap, as they head north towards stronger winds and colder weather. The waters of the North Atlantic are some of the most dangerous in the world because they combine ice, fog, and shallow water.

Iceberg Danger

'Sailing north in May will add to the challenges on this leg. Warm spring temperatures will allow some of the ice to melt up north, making icebergs a real danger on this leg. Icebergs tend to flow south with the Labrador Current, ending up very much along the course, before they melt in the warmer water of the Gulf Stream. Additionally, the warm air temperatures combined with the cold waters of the Labrador Current make for very thick fog. Between the shallows of the Grand Banks and the icebergs, the almost zero visibility is very dangerous. If necessary the race committee will put in an ice waypoint to keep the boats out of danger, but the farther north they go the more likely they are to set the record.

'Once the fleet gets past Newfoundland and the shallow waters of the Flemish Cap they will head on northeast towards the Western Approaches. Frequent strong lows move northeast through this area, and surely the fleet will hope to catch a record setting ride across the pond with the strong, pre-frontal, south westerly winds in one of these lows.

'Much like the trip up the Chesapeake, the last 200 miles up the English Channel and into the Solent will have tidal issues, diurnal winds, and micro-scale weather patterns. As tactical decisions are reduced to the local scale, anyone with local knowledge will become a huge asset to their team.'

Overall Leaderboard
(Up to and including Baltimore In Port Race)

Pos Team Nation Skipper Pts
2 movistar ESP Bouwe BEKKING (NED) 44
3 Pirates of the Caribbean USA Paul CAYARD (USA) 41.5
5 Brasil 1 BRA Torben GRAEL (BRA) 37
6 Ericsson Racing Team SWE Neal MCDONALD (GBR) 30.5
7 Brunel AUS Grant WHARINGTON (AUS) 0.5

For a complete list of all the news about the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 CLICK HERE.

Sacha OSWALD (As Amended By ISAF). Image, ABN AMRO TWO passes under the Bay Bridge in Volvo Ocean Race Parade of Sails from Baltimore to Annapolis:© Oskar KIHLBORG
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