Leg eight of the Volvo Ocean Race, starting on Saturday June 6, will take the fleet over a tricky route from Galway, Ireland to Marstrand, Sweden.
“It's not straightforward by any means,” said Jules Salter, the Ericsson 4 navigator, at the Ericsson Racing Team navigation briefing this week.
“There are a lot of navigational challenges,” added Chris Bedford, the team meteorologist.
This next leg, barring a surge across the Celtic Sea from Ireland to the waters south west of England, will be comprised of predominantly coastal sailing.
“There is some open ocean stuff, but a lot of the time will be playing the breezes around topographical features, using land breezes, sea breezes and coastal currents,” Bedford said. “There are a lot of aspects and a lot of navigation challenges.”
“It means a lot of work,” Salter continued. “A lot of details.
“You could probably lose or gain three or four hours on a headland because you get there at the wrong time for the tide. I have had to get out all my old tide books out for the English channel, the western approaches in the North Sea and off Holland and the rest; reacquaint myself with that.”
Salter added: “There's a lot to consider. Because the weather is a little unstable at the moment we don't know exactly what headlands we are going to be right up to or exactly when we are going to be there so you have to cover all eventualities. You probably have to know what the tide is going to be doing off the Channel Islands or on the French coast in case we end up over there.
“We could be off the south of the Isle of Wight even, if there is a tide advantage over there. You need to cover all these little things just to make sure, and you probably won't use it. You still have to go through the preparation.”
There are numerous uncertainties at the moment. One of them is the estimated time of arrival. “It could be between four and six days,” Salter said. “There are so many variables, like I said. We have this Rotterdam loop to do and if we are there first thing in the morning it could be only two or four knots of wind, and we might have to kedge. It might take four hours or it could just be a quick little diversion for us. There are all these little variables.”
It is also hard to make any concrete judgements on the wind direction. Bedford showed a slide depicting a wind rose for the western channel and the only clear conclusion was that the wind might come from anywhere.
“One thing, when you get to this side of the Atlantic, there is a lot more variability,” Bedford said. “When we talked about the tropics we had very persistent winds so if you look at the wind rose, you always had wind from one or two directions. Now if you get up to this part of the world, you can see there is a lot more variability. It can blow from the south, south-west, to the north-west or east. That variability increases further as you head into the North Sea.
“We might see a variety of weather conditions on this leg from good downwind running conditions, fresh to moderate, to some moderate upwind. Maybe even some very light airs.”
One thing that is quite certain, Salter explained, was the likelihood of close racing. “It is quite likely that we will be in sight of all the boats all the time,” he said. “There will be a lot more boat on boat racing.
“The thing with this leg is there is a big moon at the moment so at night we should be able to see things more clearly and there's a lot of daylight as it's nearly midsummer. It will be pretty tiring because there will be a lot of light and everyone will be racing hard because they are in sight of each other.”
It all amounts to a leg which Salter believes will not be won until the final centimetres are sailed. “In the last leg of the last race (which was similar to the final third of this leg) we gained quite nicely because the leaders got to Gothenburg at the wrong time in the morning, we came in on a building sea breeze and got right around them in sight of the finish. I don't think you will be able to rest or have a big enough lead at any stage of the leg to be 100% sure of anything.”
By Riath Al-Samarrai
1. Ericsson 4, 94.0pts
2 Telefonica Blue, 81.0
3 PUMA Ocean Racing, 80.0
4 Ericsson 3, 62.5
5 Green Dragon, 53.0
6 Telefonica Black, 39.0
7 Delta Lloyd, 31.0
More information: www.volvooceanrace.org