At 800 nautical miles, Leg 6 may be the shortest of the race but it is also one of the most complex. From the start in Aarhus the fleet will head south for a fly-by in Kiel before turning north to head back up the eastern side of Denmark. Once around the top of the country the fleet exits the Baltic and heads out into the North Sea for the run south to the finish in The Hague, anticipated to be on Saturday evening 10 June.
“The leg to The Hague via Kiel is one of the most complex and ambitious we have taken on,” said Race Director Phil Lawrence. “The narrow channels and confined waters make it tricky from a navigation point of view, but so too is catering for the large amounts of leisure and commercial traffic as we get close to Kiel. We’ve been told to expect over 100,000 spectators and up to 1,000 boats which has meant a great deal of planning that includes a detailed marshalling schedule.
“As an indication of the local impact that this leg will have, the Kiel canal will be closed for two hours and commercial shipping has been suspended in the immediate area.
“But on top of this, the range of speeds that the IMOCAs are capable of adds another level of complexity. As I’m often told by the IMOCA crews, these boats have four speeds, 0, 10, 20 and 30 knots and not much in between. A small increase in wind strength by a few knots has a big effect on their speed.”
With such a wide range of potential performances, planning for a specific arrival time is clearly difficult. This looks set to be especially tricky given the forecast for the first part of the leg where a light southerly breeze is expected to veer to the northwest during the passage south. Add to this the local effects through the fjord and around islands and the complexity of the leg for organisers and crews is clear to see.
“Compared to a trans-oceanic leg with lots of strategic options, now the focus will be on navigation and the management of transitions, basically getting the timing of sail changes right,” said 11th Hour Racing Team navigator Simon Fisher.
“Deciding whether you invest in getting to the new breeze or stay on track and wait for it to come to you, is going to be one of many key decisions.”
Biotherm skipper Paul Meilhat agrees that this leg requires a different approach which is reflected in his choice of crew.
“For us this is like what we do a lot in France,” he said. “I’m lucky because I have two Figaro specialists, Alan Roberts and Anthony Marchand who have 25 races between them. Apart from tactics the big issue will be the speed. From 10-12 knots of wind speed the boat speed can leap from 12 knots to 25 knots and with that kind of speed difference it doesn’t take much to stretch out a 30 mile lead.”
Team Malizia’s Will Harris is also thinking about the conditions, especially for the first night.
“Looking at the weather forecast it looks likely that the first stage will be the hardest with light breeze for the first night, with lots of transitions, with the risk of the breeze going around in circles,” he said. “Trying to get out of that cleanly will be really important because if one boat gets the jump on the fleet, they could well hold onto that lead when the conditions settle down as the wind comes in from the east. It’s going to be a coastal race on the first night and it’s going to be intense.”
And then there’s the issue of points. With just one point separating the leaders 11th Hour Racing Team from Team Holcim-PRB and with Team Malizia just four points further back, a shuffle on the leader board is a distinct possibility. The fact that the fleet is now back up to five boats with the return of GUYOT environnement-Team Europe – who arrived in Aarhus on Wednesday after a herculean effort to rejoin the race following their dismasting – provides even greater opportunities for the pecking order to change.
For the VO65 fleet, the route to The Hague is less complex as they do not head south for the Kiel fly-by. Instead from the start they head north, exit the Baltic and then head south to The Hague. But even without the dive south to Kiel this is still a challenging leg.
“The number of traffic separation schemes and exclusion zones make this a complex leg to navigate,” said The Ocean Race veteran Bouwe Bekking who is aboard Mirpuri/Trifork Racing Team. “Then there are the wind farms to avoid along with plenty of shipping, there’s plenty to take into account on this leg. The sheer number of waypoints in the sailing instructions for this leg make it very clear.”
So, while this is one of the most ambitious and complex legs, for the teams it is also one of the most tactically challenging for all.
Start times – Thursday 8 June
VO65 Sprint – Stage 2 – Aarhus to The Hague
16:05 – Warning signal
16:10 – LEG START
IMOCA – Leg 6 – Aarhus -> Kiel fly-by -> The Hague
18:10 – Warning signal
18:15 – LEG START
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