A big make-or-break moment for Leg 2 is almost upon the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the Indian Ocean: do they take on an approaching tropical storm in the next 24 hours or so, or dodge it?
If they try to ride its power, there are three likely outcomes. They will either be catapulted at high speed towards the stage’s destination of Abu Dhabi through the Indian Ocean. Or they will suffer breakages, possibly serious, on the boat.
Or it could be a combination of the two.
Equally, the decision to avoid the storm has its ups and downs. The boat that opts for this strategy is more likely to stay intact, but its crew could find themselves several days – if not up to a week – behind the risk-taking leaders.
Gonzalo Infante, Volvo Ocean Race’s official meteorologist, summed up the dilemma in a briefing to volvooceanrace.com on Wednesday.
In a nutshell, the seven-strong fleet is facing an old-fashioned game of “chicken”, and the decision whether to take on the storm will be made by most of them before midnight (UTC) on Wednesday.
Infante said the tropical storm could even pick up to become a cyclone but, similarly, could peter out into a depression.
Either way, the winds are likely to be high, according to Infante, with a worst case of gusts of up to 70 knots, which is more than the one-design Volvo Ocean 65s have faced so far.
“Personally, I think the boats will take this on and try to use the favourable downwind angles of the western side of the system,” he said.
The tell-tale signs of their decisions will be seen on the race tracker, which will either show them staying on a port tack east to steer clear on the right side of the storm, or turning in the opposite direction to avoid it on the left.
MeteoFrance, the international weather forecasters, raised the alert of the tropical storm on Tuesday night and produced an immediate ripple of apprehension through the 66 sailors.
“It can be pretty scary,” said Dongfeng Race Team’s onboard reporter, Yann Riou (FRA). “But in reality, we’ve known about the existence of this depression for a while.”
Team Brunel’s skipper, Bouwe Bekking (NED), was more graphic. “The biggest problem is that the storm emerges and waves of seven metres ensue. If we hammer the waves with 30 knots, I do not have to explain what happens. Things get busted.”
At 1240 UTC (see panel), Leg 1 winners, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), still retained a slim, two nautical mile (nm) lead over MAPFRE (Iker Martínez, ESP), with Team Brunel five further miles behind in third. Overall, the fleet is compressing, with 18nm covering first to last.
The fleet still has more than 3,500nm to sail before they arrive in Abu Dhabi in mid-December. They have covered around 1,700nm since leaving Cape Town a week ago (November 19).
– VOR Media