Friday, 9 March 2012

Faster, faster…. the human race always demands more

Casey Smith brings the mainsheet to the stern on Puma.
Credit: Amory Ross/Puma/Volvo Ocean Race)
As technology marches on, the human race seams to happily devour its capabilities and then nonchalantly demand more.

Fast food is never fast enough. A fast train can always be faster and we are never satisfied with our internet access speed.

Always asking for more describes a Volvo Ocean Race crew member perfectly. It goes without saying that each one works tirelessly to get the most out of the boat, but they only find out their reward every three hours when the “sched” report is sent to all boats.

Day races
Puma’s skipper Ken Read says: “Nothing is more longed for and feared than the next ‘sched’. I have said a million times that this isn't a distance race, but a series of three-hour day races. A really long series!”

While the teams grapple their way around the world in three-hour milestones, we get to watch the race on the VOR tracker, also updated every three hours.

That is, until VOR decided to increase the update rate to every 60 seconds, which is now virtually live!

Real-time positioning
For the last 24 hours we have been able to see real-time positioning. The Inmarsat FleetBroadband 150 sits quietly at the back of each race boat, efficiently transmitting a mere 80 bytes per second to deliver its position with pinpoint accuracy.

Those positions are now being watched ever more closely by thousands of eager Kiwis who are willing the fleet on with even more interest. I can safely say “the fleet” because there is a New Zealander on five of the six boats.

It is Team New Zealand’s Camper that they are really routing for though, currently in fourth position.

Finish line
The leader, Groupama, is now only 300nm away from the finish in Auckland, with the rest of the fleet only 100nm behind. The French have continued to hold a solid lead, with the chasing pack probably more concerned with fighting for their finishing positions rather than catching the Gallic green boat.

Squalls and unstable weather fronts will provide more taxing conditions in these closing stages.

“Groupama are in the worst of the weather,” Volvo Ocean Race chief meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said.

Tough weather
“The winds are gusting up to 38 knots and the seas are around seven metres - incredibly tough weather for the end of a leg.

“The middle three boats, Puma, Telefónica and Camper, will also have to face the winds and waves, but it is decreasing.”

Infante said a compression of the fleet was likely as they entered the final few hundred miles to Auckland.

Direct course
“Abu Dhabi and Sanya are sailing a much more direct course to Auckland and will catch up a lot on the boats in front. The race is very much open for the five boats behind Groupama.

“It is going to be a very close finish, that’s for sure,” said Infante.

Whatever happens we have that little FB150 to thank for bringing us all the action. I bet it never thought that it would play such an important part.

No one is demanding it works harder or transmits faster. They just want the boats to sail quicker and arrive safely at this city of sails.

Mark Covell

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