Monday, 5 March 2012

Around it, over it, under it, or through it?

Volvo Ocean Race positional data

As a kid, I remember a book about a bear hunt and how the family on the hunt for an imaginary bear had to decide how they would pass various obstacles.

They would go around them, over them, under them, through them, and all set to a little rhyme.

I now grin to myself as I imagine the tough offshore navigators singing the little ditty as they approached the Solomon Islands.

Pitch black
I joke, but the call to fire headlong through the island chain in the pitch black of night, dodging the shallow reefs and ship wrecks, must have made them consider the “go around it” option.

Well 50% of the fleet did exactly that.

Telefonica, Camper and Sanya all ran the complicated gauntlet on the west route and Groupama, Puma and Abu Dhabi took the east. As it shaped up, the group of three to the west realised that they weren't going to get around, so did the next best thing, they found a gap and went “through it” - right through the middle of the island chain.

East-west split
To the east, Kenny Read, the skipper of Puma said: “I can't remember a race where I have been so unsure of the outcome. The huge east-west split opens up room for the three boats to leeward to sweep around the high pressure possibly better than us.

“But, we do have a lot of leverage in a port tack race south. I don't know what is going to happen.

“It is strange because usually we have a pretty good idea how things are going to work out in the big game of chess long before it actually does happen. Or at least I hope we usually know their move.”

Radically different
All in all, about as even as two radically different approaches could be.

The fleet is split, but the weather data that beams to the boats as regular and reliable as a Swiss train is telling them that they could all hit a light wind wall 200nm off New Zealand.

This leg has been defined by how the fleet uses the data they get sent. Big calls and gutsy game plays have been rewarded.

So once again it’s all to play for on this big bear hunt on the sea.

Mark Covell

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