Leg 10 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cardiff to Gothenburg could see the cats set amongst the pigeons. Rob Kothe has been in Cardiff talking to skippers and navigators this week…

The overall standings paint incredibly tight picture, with Dongfeng just one point ahead of Mapfre and Brunel rushing into contention. But this is not simply a three-boat race, and there are two leg winners – Vestas and AkzoNobel – who could each have a significant role in final two legs.

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Leg 10, from Cardiff to Gothenburg, start day. 10 June, 2018.
Pressure to perform 

First up Simon Fisher (SiFi) from Vestas 11th Hour, who was the navigator aboard the winning boat Abu Dhabi in the 2014-15 race.

“Charlie and Mark and the team won the last leg of the last race and the first leg of this race, and in the legs, we’ve finished we have been very consistent.

“This is such an excellent opportunity to put the cat amongst the pigeons in the last couple of legs because we haven’t got the pressure to perform, so we are keen to bookend the race with a couple of victories.

 

“This is another leg that will test the navigators, at a couple of points in the leg. One will be our inshore loop and getting out of here and how we deal with sea breeze and thermal effects and the gradient northerly.

“The northerly will allow us to reach across the western tip of Ireland and then the rich should get richer.

“The south coast of Ireland can be quite tricky with sea breezes there, if the timing is right, and the wind shadow then (there’s the question of) whether to hold tight on the shore to play that coast?

“Then the ridge of high pressure, that’s been sitting since we came into here – are we going to have to sail through the ridge to get to the wind on the other side, or can we slide up in the northerlies up the west coast of Ireland and then have a smoother transition to the south westerlies by going straight north?

“There are plenty of decision points: inside or outside the Hebrides? It is very tidal in there as well. If you get the timing right, it could give you a good boost, good pressure and nice little shortcut – and conversely if it goes wrong for you it could be tough for the North Sea blast to Gothenburg.”

Test of the navigators

A very similar sentiment comes from the VOR 24-hour record holder, AkzoNobel, as navigator Jules Salter explains: “If we’d not had the mast track issue on the way to Melbourne, we’d probably would be right at the back of the three-pack now.

“I think the three leaders (read for that the ‘pigeons’) will stick together; there is a lot at stake, both Vestas and AkzoNobel (the ‘cats’) have slightly freer rein to take some risks.

One of the trickiest elements he feels will be the initial departure from Cardiff: “The tide models don’t pick up the 100-metre tide lines and differences you get. We saw a lot of weed lines and lines in the colour of the water (when we arrived) which the models never pick up, but there are significant differences in current from one side to the other.

“The high-pressure ridge we had to cross on the way into Cardiff is still there and is still in the way. That will be the key part I think because the whoever is out of that first and gets into the westerlies will probably stretch a bit.

“Up the coast of Ireland, there is a series of big peninsulas – Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head – so they will influence the breeze as well as the current They are 300-400 metres high and then there are the Skellig Islands, big lumps of rock, so you have got to weave your way up through those.

“From the top of Scotland towards Denmark is going to come in a bit of a flurry. We should be in the good westerlies; south westerlies then so there should be some excellent fast running conditions then – nice angles for these boats. It is easy to knock off 200 miles in a couple of watches, (we know we have speed now) and with lots of daylight way up north, it is going to be tiring.”

Front runners

Of the pigeons, third-placed Brunel has the momentum, four points off the lead. Bouwe Bekking explains: ‘It was just in the beginning we were just not fast enough. That’s just one of the things, and that was just a learning curve. From Hong Kong on we started sailing the boat faster.

“We pushed it hard. Sometimes you must take the pedal off as well just to keep it in one piece. I think we have found the right balance, we have 1,2,1 score over the last three legs.

“In this leg, we have to beat both the red boats, Dongfeng and MAPFRE, again, and then we will see what will happen in the last leg. It will be a great finish. The race won’t be decided until the last leg into our home port, maybe even in the in-port race.

MAPFRE, who were the early race leaders is just a point behind Dongfeng. Skipper Xabi Fernandez says: “Brunel did a great job in the two double-scoring legs, which happened to be the two legs that we did worst in, one because of a breakage, and the other just didn’t turn out well for us.

“So, they are now well in the fight, as well as Dongfeng. We know that the teams will all fight hard until the last day, and there will be opportunities for everyone.

“We will try to start well and push hard all the way as we know we can. We will have to be very attentive to changes in the wind direction at every headland and at every corner.

Juan Vila, MAPFRE navigator, says: “It will be tricky from the start into the early evening. You think the Solent has strong tides – until you come here! By tonight the northerly would already be in so that should help us to reach towards Ireland.

“Our strength is downwind, and in the North Sea we should have good southerlies turning into south westerlies as we get close to Gothenburg.’

Holding the lead  

On board Dongfeng, the overall race leader, Skipper Charles Caudrelier explains: ‘We are the best placed, and now we have to hold on. We should gain the extra point for fastest overall race time – but Mapfre has the tie-breaking In Port Series advantage, so we can’t afford to finish even.

“Speed-wise, downwind is very even. We are good in strong wind now, whereas last time our strength was just in light air. The record shows we are consistently the fastest boat, we have made mistakes but not on these upcoming two legs.

“We are not going to become conservative. We always sail well in the first week, we are going to win two legs. We have no choice!”

Brave words indeed but said with a grin.

More to come

A fascinating scenario, a fantastic race, and the online tracking audiences will be massive.

Start day (Sunday) has been a beautifully sunny day in Cardiff, as was yesterday, with big crowds in the race village and for those who can’t get on the water, the stroll across the Cardiff Bay Barrage and the climb to Penarth Head lookout provided a beautiful vantage point to watch the Severn Estuary start for the start of Leg 10 – 1300 nautical miles to Gothenburg, Sweden. Watch this space…

Volvo Ocean Race Leaderboard after Leg 9
1. Dongfeng Race Team – 60 points
2. MAPFRE – 59 points
3. Team Brunel – 57 points
4. team AkzoNobel – 48 points
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing – 36 points
6. SHK / Scallywag – 29 points
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic – 26 points

** Should there be a tie on the overall race leaderboard at the end of the offshore legs, the In-Port Race Series standings will be used to break the tie.

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