In Spain, at the first In Port race in Sanxenxo, the very light winds showed that the big volume, ultra-powerful ABN AMRO boats were not a force to be reckoned with in drifting conditions. Mike SANDERSON's (NZL) ABN AMRO ONE was last and gallingly, just ahead were his team mates in the TWO boat, the boat that was meant to be learning from their elders and betters, not trouncing them in a race. Ericsson won at a canter and the pundits thought it was all over.
Then in Cape Town, South Africa, the Cape Doctor did its stuff and ABN AMRO ONE blew the doors off the opposition in winds that reached over 25 knots. If they had not run aground, ABN AMRO TWO would have probably come in second, but as it was, a superbly well sailed movistar took the runner's up slot. Pirates amused the spectators with some repetitive spin outs on every gybe, blaming a slow canting keel for the problem.
Then, in the second offshore leg, Ericsson, Pirates, then movistar had keel hydraulics and/or structural problems which allowed the two ABN AMRO boats to extend into an unchallengeable lead - a lead that they fought over like cat and dog, with the big boys only beating the kids by a whisker.
But, after all the drama, the keelgate triplets have been spending hours of time and thousands of dollars on fixing their hydraulic problems; Brasil 1 are burning the midnight oil stepping their replacement mast and doing the leg maintenance in 72 hours that most of the other boats have done in two weeks. So the challengers are back, fit to take another shot at the leaders and it looks as though the wind will play into their hands.
Initial forecasts show that there might be just a light - ten knots or less - gradient wind from the south in the morning, perhaps gaining in the afternoon if the sea breeze, caused by the land heating up to the north of Port Phillip Bay, takes effect.
On the dock the hot tip for Saturday is that Paul CAYARD (USA) and the Pirates will win the race. They have been working on their keel systems and their Farr designed boat is reputed to be fast in light and in moderate conditions; and nobody would count out CAYARD and his highly talented crew.
Then there is Ericsson with the skills of John KOSTECKI (AUS) to augment the normal crew; they won last time it was light by a huge distance and have to be desperate to get a good result in the bag after all their recent dramas.
And you cannot rule out Bouwe BEKKING's (NED) movistar, once the overall race favourite; they have had to take lead out of their keel bulb thanks to putting back heavy stainless steel keel hydraulics in order to gain reliability, but that lessening of stability will not be the worry on the short course. Their familiarity with their boat should worry the other yachts.
Brasil 1 have the most star-studded team of inshore sailors aboard, but you have to feel that their rushed preparation must count against them. Surely even five-time Olympic medallist Torben GRAEL (BRA) cannot pull this one out of the fire?
Brunel? This boat is big and decidedly powerful, but was not able to shine in Cape Town. In front of a home crowd they will want to put on a show, but unless the wind really howls they must be thought to be out of the podium slots.
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Slow in the light? Perhaps. But the designer has constantly told us that the boats are optimised for twelve to 18 knots of wind - and this could happen if the sea breeze builds. The team have been working on its sails and sail selection to improve light weather performance and they must have the greatest confidence in their own abilities after their leg wins and success in the last In Port. The one undecided factor might just be which boat leads the ABN AMRO fleet. Sebasien JOSSE's (FRA) team of young warriors have earned immense respect from the way they sail their boat and have surprised SANDERSON, skipper of the ONE boat on a number of occasions. Is this the day for an upset?
Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist Chris BEDFORD has the following predictions for tomorrow's race:
'For the first In Port race in Sanxenxo, the wind barely blew enough to get the race completed. In fact, the race committee shortened the course fearing the four to seven knot breeze would die completely, leaving the race unfinished. For the second race, there was very nearly too much wind. Starting in 20 knots, the wind built during the race with gusts over 40 knots. Early indications are that the race in Port Phillip Bay will take us back to the light side of the wind spectrum.
'Current forecast charts show that a weak ridge of high pressure will be extending from the Australian Bight west of Melbourne into the Bass Strait. Winds are often very light in high pressure ridges and this one looks to me no exception. If we are to get significant breeze, it will have to come from the sea breeze - the result of daytime heating of the Australian land mass sucking the cooler winds over the waters of the Bass Strait into the Bay.
'It does look like we'll see some kind of a sea breeze on Saturday, but I don't think it will be particularly strong. In addition, the breeze may take a little time to fill up into the bay sufficiently to bring the wind speeds up to the level where race leader ABN AMRO ONE will be happy. Rather, winds will be sluggish to fill, and this could very well favour the Farr designed boats.
'On Saturday morning, light south to south southeast winds are forecast on Port Phillip Bay. There may actually be a weak land breeze blowing offshore first thing in the morning, but this should give way to a five knot southerly by late morning. From about midday onward, the sea breeze should slowly start to take control of the winds, with a gradual build from the south filling up the bay from about noon onward. Initially, a build from five to 10 knots is expected, then a gradual increase to nine to twelve knots through the afternoon.
'After 1500 local time, there may be enough energy for the sea breeze to increase to twelve to 14 or perhaps even 15 knots. But the degree to which this is an influence on the race, could rely on whether or not the race starts on time. If the race starts on time, then it is less likely the boats will see this moderate build. But, if there is a delay, then the second half of the race could take place in some stronger winds.
'Given the light and building sea breeze, the winds may be a little patchy on the bay throughout the race. This could keep things interesting, especially if the fleet gets widely separated on the race course. One wrong choice of favored side could spell disaster. Finding and staying in the best pressure will probably be the biggest challenge of the race. Shifts are not expected to be as significant across the bay as pressure differences, so it will be a pressure game for these crews.
'It promises to be an interesting race!'
The best place to watch the racing, for those lucky enough to be in Melbourne, will be on the water. The race area will be right off Melbourne, a diamond shaped race exclusion zone about five kilometres across which will have it's northern extremity between Point Gellibrand and Point Ormond, straddling the Port Melbourne Channel.
Spectator boats will be kept away from the race area by a series of red marker buoys and patrol boats, so expect some massing near the marks of the course.
There are two possible courses, the first beginning with a triangle and then followed by three windward leeward shuttles. The second course misses out the initial triangle and just sails four shuttles.
On the water and in the Race Village, live commentary will be broadcast. It will be available on the water on VHF Channel 72. On water crowd control will be handled on VHF Channel 13 and emergencies on VHF Channel 16.
On the Volvo Ocean Race website there will be a pre-recorded preview programme starting at 0130 UTC, with live commentary from Guy SWINDELLS and Rob MUNDLE staring at 0245 UTC, just before the 0300 UTC start.
www.sailing.org will also be bringing you all the latest reports from the goings on in Melbourne.
ABN AMRO ONE
ABN AMRO TWO
Ericsson Racing Team
Pirates of the Caribbean
(Up to and including Leg Two)
|1||ABN AMRO ONE||NED||Mike SANDERSON (NZL)||29|
|2||ABN AMRO TWO||NED||Sebastien JOSSE (FRA)||24|
|3||movistar||ESP||Bouwe BEKKING (NED)||15.5|
|4||Brasil 1||BRA||Torben GRAEL (BRA)||14.5|
|5||Pirates of the Caribbean||USA||Paul CAYARD (USA)||13.5|
|6||Ericsson Racing Team||SWE||Neal MCDONALD (GBR)||12.5|
|7||Brunel||AUS||Grant WHARINGTON (AUS)||11|
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