The second week at sea on Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 has been a predominantly nervous and edgy time for the crew of Team AkzoNobel after they gambled on an easterly strategy to help them get back in contention with the leading teams.
After crossing the equator in fifth place on Monday November 13, the team fell into formation with the rest of the fleet as the boats powered south west towards the coast of Brazil, making fast progress in steady, southern hemisphere trade winds.
By Tuesday November 14, isolated from the leading group – Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Mapfre (ESP), Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA) and Team Brunel (NED) – and well ahead of sixth and seventh placed Turn the Tide on Plastic (UN) and Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (HKG) – with nobody to pace themselves against, for a few days the Team AkzoNobel crew struggled to match the speed of the leaders.
“We are falling a little bit behind,” reported boat captain Nicolai Sehested (DEN). “It’s just a few miles every day, so it’s not the end of the world, but we have to fix it.” The crew attempted to resolve their speed issues by experimenting with several new sail combinations to bring them back on par with the frontrunners.
Meanwhile, navigator Jules Salter (GBR) devised a new routing strategy in hopes to close down the leading group – such as breaking away from the line of the fleet to take up a more easterly position that could enable them to cut the corner around a large persistent light wind weather system called the St. Helena high pressure, that blocked the fleet’s direct route to Cape Town.
The potential gains from this much shorter route were significant but the team would also run the risk of being trapped in no wind if the high pressure system shifted even a little to the west.
“Sometimes in these scenarios there are more options in being behind,” said Ross Monson, team AkzoNobel’s on shore navigator. “The boats at the front of the pack will tend to stick to the routing, whereas boats further back can see what is happening up ahead and adapt their strategies. They can take more risk with fewer consequences,” he surmised.
For a few days team AkzoNobel’s easterly position in the fleet meant the team was geographically closest to Cape Town and this elevated them to the top of the standings on the official race tracker which ranks the teams based on the distance to the finish. However, when the fleet began to converge on Friday, November 17, Team AkzoNobel found themselves in fifth place again as the westerly route delivered more wind for the new leg leader Brunel.
Since then the fleet has continued to push south into the colder and stormier waters known as the Southern Ocean, bringing a new strategy into play. Now the goal is to line up in the path of an easterly-moving “depression” – fundamentally a small storm system – that formed off Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We have exited the high pressure weather system and the race is now down to the next low pressure system,” explained Nicholson. “The goal is to set ourselves up for the front to come through and to ride the front as fast as we can for the next four days and try to be there with those guys [the leading pack of four] towards the finish.”
However, with several days of fast running ahead, in wild and windy conditions on the leading edge of the cold front, the crew is hoping to make gains over the boats further north and will be sailing flat out, striving to be part of the leading bunch when the fleet reaches Cape Town – around 2,000 nm (3,700 km) away – on Friday November 24.
About team AkzoNobel:
Team AkzoNobel is a professional ocean racing team challenging for the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world. The team is owned and managed by leading global paints and coatings company AkzoNobel and led by Dutch skipper Simeon Tienpont – a double America’s Cup winner and two-time Volvo Ocean Race competitor.
AkzoNobel creates everyday essentials to make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring. As a leading global paints and coatings company and a major producer of specialty chemicals, we supply essential ingredients, essential protection and essential color to industries and consumers worldwide. Backed by a pioneering heritage, our innovative products and sustainable technologies are designed to meet the growing demands of our fast-changing planet, while making life easier.
Headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, we have approximately 46,000 people in around 80 countries, while our portfolio includes well-known brands such as Dulux, Sikkens, International, Interpon and Eka. Consistently ranked as a leader in sustainability, we are dedicated to energizing cities and communities while creating a protected, colorful world where life is improved by what we do.