Monday, 27 February 2012

Splinter move puts Puma back among front-runners

As I covered in my last blog, navigational routeing software are great aids for the navigators to plot several complicated options, in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.

However, it’s up to the crews onboard to choose which way to go. They have no outside help in this difficult choice, only the metrological GRIB files sent every three hours via Inmarsat FleetBroadband.

Sometimes there is just one obvious route to sail,and the only thing that separates the teams is boat speed.  So far on Leg 4 things could not be more different. We have six boats, with six individual navigators reading the same data as each other but interpreting it totally differently.

Trade winds
Since the teams have left the uncomfortable waves of the South China Sea, it has all been about sailing East through fairly unstable light conditions to reach the trade winds that will sweep them eventually south to New Zealand.

04:01 UTC, 23 Feb: Puma, in red and trailing the fleet, sees
another option to sail north and stronger winds
This would mean sailing in the opposite direction, away from New Zealand. At one point the following day, on 24 February, Puma was sailing a course of 35 degrees and Team Sanya 127 degrees.

The move was one of the most radical we’ve seen on this race. The tension on board must have been immense.  As a superstitious man, Ken Read, the skipper of Puma, has a small piece of wood laminated to the navigational table. He commented that he has a splinter in his hand from touching the wood so much! He would need all the luck going and nerves of steal to pull this one off. 

Bold move
The long-time leg leader Camper, together with the rest of the fleet, gets position reports of each of the yachts both for tactual and safety reasons, so they could see Puma’s bold move. 

At first the comments by the other teams dismissed the gamble, but soon they were admitting that they too would like to be further north. Only Groupama pushed further up to try to converge with Puma. 

This morning Puma’s MCM Amory Ross wrote: “We appear to be OK. Our lonesome detour to the north hasn’t ended in self-destruction, we don’t find ourselves hundreds of miles behind, and by all means we are back in this race. A lot sooner than expected, too, I might add. 

07:20 UTC 24 Feb: Puma strikes north away from the fleet
Short-term profit
“The decision to stick to the high road was never built around short-term profit; it was a long-term plan that would unravel over the next week or so. 

"We figured it would be weeks before we saw anyone again.” 

I say ‘well done’ to Puma for being so bold. It can divide crews and course enormous anxieties within a team. 

Race tracker
With a reshuffle to the leaderboard on the cards and a game of nerve coming up on who pulls the trigger on the dive south, the next few days will be a good time to grab a coffee and sneak a quick look at the VOR website race tracker when the boss isn’t looking. 

It’s all brought to you by Inmarsat, so consider it work anyway… 

Mark Covell

07:02 UTC 27 Feb: Race Tracker shows Puma back in 

the running with well over 4,200 nm still to sail

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