It’s going to be a fast opening to Leg 4, but there are still tactical options beyond just putting the hammer down, writes Conrad Colman…
After storming out of Port Phillips Bay and blast reaching through the infamous Bass Straight at the bottom of Australia under a full moon, the Volvo Ocean 65 fleet is now approaching their first turning point in the race, Cape Howe, and the first opportunity to shake things up.
What lies before them is a Volvo Ocean racer’s dream, a long downwind blast northwards up the Australian east coast in 20-30 knots of wind that will allow the sailors to peel off the layers of clothing that kept them alive in the Southern Ocean and tick off fast and easy miles.
These rare conditions are created by the combined flow generated by a mature high-pressure zone over central Australia and a developing depression drifting through the north Tasman Sea that will park over New Zealand for the next few days.
The fleet is expected to be off the coast of Sydney by midday UTC on the 3rd of January, offshore Brisbane by 1800 UTC a day later and then it’s full speed past New Caledonia and towards the Soloman Islands where the fleet will face their first real test of the Doldrums after a dream passage in the Atlantic on Leg 2.
While waypoints on this leg read like a tourist’s guide to the South Pacific, how they make their run northwards is far from clear.
There is a strong ocean current flowing southwards down the Australian coast, with a circular eddy just south of Sydney. To avoid lumpy seas, that are slow and uncomfortable, navigators may choose to hug the coast to avoid the worst of the countercurrent or head offshore soon after Cape Howe, the headland that is just over the horizon for the fleet.
Will the new navigators, freshly taken on board in Melbourne, take a gamble early in the leg or will it come down to boat on boat tactics and pure speed?