Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bad weather forecasts prompt difficult decision

Water gushes on deck on CAMPER during Leg 4 to Auckland
Photo: Hamish Hooper/CAMPER ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race

Last Saturday, race director Jack Lloyd informed the teams that Leg 4 to Auckland would be split for reasons of safety after forecasts of “un-sailable” conditions in the South China Sea.

Forecasts of winds gusting above 40 knots and waves of eight metres prompted the decision.

"We are doing this because of the weather advice issued by experts both from our own race HQ in Alicante and the teams' experts,” explained the race’s chief executive Knut Frostad.

Difficult decision
"They all believe we have conditions which will be dangerous up to 12-18 hours after the leg start, with waves that can break boats if you sail into them."

He added: "This has been a very, very difficult decision for us, which we've waited as long as possible to make so that we make the right one."

Knut’s comments - made before the start of the leg - highlight the importance of accurate weather data and pinpoint position reporting.

Hand of fate
Knowing the start time and the estimated speeds of the racing yachts, coupled with the bad forecast, Volvo could predict trouble.

The Volvo Ocean Race management team has to sail a thin line between over managing the raw risks associated with ocean racing, and letting the sometimes cruel hand of fate fall on the fleet. The call to hold back the fleet did not go down well with all the sailors.

Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said: “As a team we built and designed a boat for these types of conditions and trained in them off New Zealand last winter knowing that we were likely to encounter them in this race.

“It is frustrating for all of us that this decision limits our ability to race the boat in the conditions we’ve prepared for. This is a professional round the world race and as such we need to be set to go to sea in rough conditions.”

Ironically, the teams restarted the leg in eerie drifting conditions in the early hours of Monday morning.
But it wasn't long before the wind and waves got up. Fierce conditions are back and several teams are suffering from seasickness.

And guess who is leading the pack to the City of Sails 5,200 nautical miles away? Yes, Camper Team New Zealand.

Mark Covell

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