The skippers competing in the fourth leg of the Globe40 set sail today at 12:00 hours local time just off the famous Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and stretching some 2,300 nautical miles, the first leg should take crews 12 to 14 days to make the waters of French Polynesia.
The first stop is the largest maritime area in the world dependent on a single state spanning five archipelagos, 118 islands, and 5.5 million km2. Austral, Gambier, Society Islands, Tuamotu, Marquesas – the names of the archipelagos certainly ignite the imagination. And yet, they had never hosted a round the world yacht race, a territory usually reserved for the countries in more southerly latitudes – until now.
Entering the name Bora Bora into your GPS to prepare your navigation is a pretty unique moment in the life of an offshore racer, but that’s exactly what the Globe40 skippers have been doing today.
The famous atoll formed by the Leeward Islands of the Society archipelago will be the only course mark for the competitors racing from Auckland to Papeete on the island of Tahiti. After what promises to be a windy start, the Class40s will leave the Hauraki Gulf and will quickly have to make a series of tactical choices with a zone of light breeze to the east of the course.
Weather consultant for the event, Christian Dumard, explains. “The five competitors will take the start of the fourth leg of the race in a sustained northerly breeze at the edge of a vast anticyclone, which will be virtually stationary over the coming days to the east of New Zealand.
“For the skippers, the name of the game will be to close on the centre of this anticyclone so they can switch onto starboard tack and set a course for Bora Bora in a wind set to shift round to the south-east. The closer they get to the centre of the anticyclone, the quicker they’ll latch onto the fresh breeze as it shifts from north to south-east.
“Conversely,” he says, “they’re at risk of stumbling into a zone of very light winds if they get too close to the centre. As such, they’ll have to play a very tactful hand with an accurate analysis of the situation if they are to strike the right balance: namely latching onto the wind shift as soon as possible without falling into a zone with a limp breeze,”
Spanning 7,000nm between Mauritius and New Zealand, the third leg proved to be a tough and particularly competitive one with a truly epic finish, just 34 minutes separating the top two after 34 days at sea. With the leg taking considerably longer than planned, the crews only had a maximum of two weeks to rest their tired bodies and overhaul their machines after a half-lap of the world.
Fortunately, the quality of Auckland’s marine professionals enabled them to complete their maintenance operations in record time, with some supreme logistical management making it possible to unstep masts, carry out rig checks, repair sails, haul the boats out and check the hulls.
Jellicoe Harbour Marine, in its new central location of Wynward with dock neighbours including a certain Emirates Team New Zealand, was the perfect site thanks to its proximity to the public and the quality of the reception put in place by the Tataki Auckland Unlimited structure, partner to the event.
Furthermore, a few rapid excursions for both the skippers and the organisation gave everyone a taste of the wild charm of this country with its vast open spaces out on the water and up in the mountains.
With three separate winners in each of the three legs, taking the win in Tahiti is clearly anyone’s game. Currently top of the leader board on an old boat, the Dutch team on Sec Hayai has sailed a masterful and very cohesive race so far, with a crew remaining unchanged since the start.
The Americans on Amhas, second in the overall ranking, have two alternating teams and it is the victorious duo from the first major leg around the tip of South Africa that is rejoining the fray in Auckland.
A Japanese team on Milai Around The World remains a formidable competitor too and could be poised for the top spot if they can overcome the technical issues of previous legs.
Whiskey Jack’s Canadian crew and the second American crew on Gryphon Solo 2 are never far off the pace either, with just three days separating the first and last boats in the last 7,000nm leg.
Suffice to say that the battle out at sea is always as intense as the bond created between the teams on shore during the stopovers, with one and all relishing the extraordinary adventure offered up by this first edition of the race.