This game isn’t fair sometimes, and this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race across the Atlantic is no exception in a big way.
First of all, Groupama has something to complain about. They lead the fleet into a small tropical depression off the coast of Georgia and got out of there with a 40-mile advantage after an early jibe toward Portugal paid huge dividends. What do they get for it? Nothing. They sail into light air, the fleet sails up to them and their lead vanishes.
Telefonica then takes a northern route and cleans our clocks over a 48-hour period on the third and fourth days of this leg. A 30-mile lead vanishes and turns to a 50-mile deficit when a weak cold front overtakes the fleet from behind and we all jibe away to the north — right around them. They are the last to be eaten up and pay the price accordingly.
Then came two of the lousiest days I have had on the water. First, we were beating north to get to a new low pressure and we have to use the Gulf Stream. The 25 knots of wind against 3.8 knots of current meant big nasty waves trying to rip the boat and crew apart every second. Why do we do this to ourselves, you may ask? Because everyone else will if you don’t. Miserable pounding in a horrible sea state for about 24 hours, with the wind slowly diminishing and the sea state staying up. Bad stuff. Almost blew apart our best jib. Saved at the last second by a quick-thinking crew.
Which leads to the latest in the long list of sad stories for the leaders in this leg.
Abu Dhabi, who has had a tough lap around the world to date, got through the Gulf Steam and high-pressure center first and best, extending to a 80-mile lead in breeze the rest of the fleet never got. Really fortunate, but they also put themselves in a spot to succeed. And now we are running them down. The rest of the fleet has caught the front side of a front that is propelling us toward Lisbon at an average speed of 22 knots over the last 24 hours and we are slowly and painfully (for them) reeling them in. We are second at this stage (and have been for most of this leg, no matter who was leading) and a bit in the same spot Abu Dhabi is in. The fleet, which is 20 or so miles behind us, is starting to do the same to us and there is literally nothing we can do about it. Not fun, but a part of offshore sailing, I guess. Sometimes the rich get richer. Other times the tail enders get a break and are thrown right back into the mix. It is what you do with it that counts. And that is what the final 1,000 miles are going to prove.
Right now, the results of this race are extremely close and if we finished today I believe the top four places would almost do a complete flip-flop in the standings. Do I expect things to finish as they sit right now? Absolutely not, but it’s fun to dream isn’t it?
I hope the pressure stays up so the final 1,000 miles are quick and the frustration of this leg can be washed away with a couple cold ones. But one thing is for sure: the next 48 hours are going to go a long way toward figuring out who is going to win this race overall. Trying to shake off the tension, but I would guess it is just beginning.
Ken Read is skipper of the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG team, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. The 39,000-nautical-mile round-the-world yacht race is the world’s longest continuous professional sporting event. Visiting five continents over nine months, the world’s best offshore sailors risk their lives every day competing in the “Everest of sailing.” The race began in Alicante, Spain, on Nov. 5, 2011, and will finish in Galway, Ireland, in early July. Follow the race at www.volvooceanrace.com.