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Board » Flag Officers » Races » SOL World Race: Leg 2 Analysis

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Interesting times!

For those who've been wondering what on earth Sanya is doing irl look no further than our boats up near Madagascar. The wall has broken there first allowing a surge of boats to start tacking NE.

The boats that did make the jump further N should move across in front, but overall good gains are being made on the main fleet.

The SE pack have hit the corner via the South Indian high and are on their way N on a close reach. The low that was threatening to squeeze them out from the NE has slowed and should now give a small boost. This group is almost committed to going wide of the second exclusion mark, so the weather at PE1 and PE2 are critical.

Everything points to a relatively smooth race from PE3 to the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. Last few days are likely to be trying.
And should not forget to mention our intrepid duo in the deep South. Cal and Scotsman are more than a 1000nm SE of the main fleet, but remain within striking distance of the lead thanks to a re-coalescing high pressure zone.

Interesting times indeed!
Quick post after being away for about 36 hours. Progress in the south has been as expected, good speed and now heading north. However, we are a long way behind the leaders (defined as DTG) - a massive 1000nm. The latest weather shows a lighter patch ahead than earlier models, but still good progress expected. Our VMC needs to be twice as good to catch up. We (just the two of us, currently 100nm apart) have a good chance of this as forecasts show fast reaching or downwind sailing until well past a latitude level with Mauritius.

Back to the main fleet. This has spread out and fragmented. The northernmost boats in the previous central group have almost merged with the group that were behind the blocking high from a couple of days ago. This group is now small and spread out, but occupy the top 13 spots. They look like they are in a good position at the moment, but need to watch out for a developing low pressure off Madagascar. More of that below. They also need to watch for headwinds if they trend too far west.

The rest of the old central group are very spread out. The best placed have just about escaped from the softer pressure nearer the big high pressure. They can expect good reaching conditions for at least a day and will make good progress north.

The main fleet that were blocked by the high formed a very large dense pack, with several hundred boats in less than 100nm. They were eventually released from the blockage and have raced quickly up beside Madagascar. However, they now face a low pressure quickly coming across them. Some have already tacked in anticipation of this slowing progress too much, cutting their losses early against those to the SE.

So the race is still on. At least 4 very separate strategies have played out so far with the winner far from clear. Not that different from the real VOR, where 3 separate tactics are being played. We may still see a lot of boats come together as we cross the equator.

BTW, I found a rock that I didn't know about called Ile Amsterdam located at 37°49′S 77°33′E. Not that there is much to report, inhabited by only a few birds (and cattle left there decades ago). 10km long and up to 867m high. One of those lonely islands in the middle of the S Indian Ocean.
8d5h Report
Just over a week from leaving Cape Town and we are seeing the leading boats approaching the next mark off Mauritius. From there we leave the chilly southern oceans and head towards the equator.

As the boats converge on the mark, which in this case is more a line of latitude across from the island as many will pass well east of it, we see a clearer picture of which boats are in the lead and which tactics have paid off.

We also see a good example at the moment of the difference that positioning the boat to achieve good wind strength and wind direction. Some boats have travelling much further than others, but if the boat is going twice as fast, then a much greater distance can be travelled.

The boats nearest the rhum line are in the lead in terms of distance to go and are in moderate head winds. A quick calc shows a VMC of about 9kts and a distance of 100nm to the island. So they might take 12 hours to get there.

Some 300nm SE we see a group including some of the pre-race favourites. They are in strong winds on the beam, ideal conditions to sail these boats fast. Their boat speed will currently be up to 20kts, and they do not need to tack or gybe. So the 250nm they need to sail to pass the island might take 14 hours or so. But they also end higher relative to the wind as they pass Mauritius, giving a better angle to head north to the next mark. So they have a good chance of overtake the rhum line boats between Mauritius and PE1.

I am in the very SE of the plot, about 600nm away from the group mentioned above. When I planned this move I expected 20kt easterlies. Instead I'm in 15kt southerlies. That means I'm doing 13kts VMC instead of the expected 20kts. That makes a huge difference and is one reason why I'll be a long way back as we pass the island. Bad luck or bad planning? More the latter with a touch of the former. There is a reason why the same names pop up at the top of the leader board regularly. They know how to sail fast, position the boat for good winds and play the percentages for when the weather changes.
9d16h Report
Now that over 500 boats have passed Mauritius, the position of fleet is much clearer. The old central group has overtaken those on the rhum line and taken a significant lead. Most of the top 50 boats on the leaderboard were in this group.

As the crew enjoy fast reaching conditions in steady trade winds, thoughts are 1 to 2 days ahead where the tricky crossing of the doldrums will be made. A small low pressure spilling out of Sri Lanka may have stabilised the doldrums, with the potential for fewer deep holes than might normally be the case. However, there remains the risk of big losses for those ahead, or big gains for those behind.

So the boats are now positioning for where to cross the ligher zone. There are few better areas showing in the forecasts, but weather is chaotic and these zones may change. The top 100 boats are spread across about 300nm, but notably none are on the rhum line. Some are pointing as low so to pass only 50nm east of the next mark, but most are pointing higher - more like 200nm east. Are they just giving themselves room to move near the mark, or have they lined up the preferred crossing point already?

Once past the doldrums, the sailing does not get any easier. There are signs of better pressure in the east to begin with, but that leaves further to travel and potentially lighter winds closer to India.

The final challenge will be to navigate the narrow Strait of Hormuz. The festive season may well be disturbed by the SOL activities over the next few days. Will anyone finish this year?
Sorry to not have updated during the crucial crossings. Holidays put a bit of a strain on steering, let alone thinking and posting! I have a couple of screencaps to share later.

For those who haven't seen SWE54's blog, he's doing a particularly good job of documenting this race!

SWE54's SWR Leg 2 entry

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