venerdì 25 maggio 2018

The Atlantic bears its teeth as Dongfeng leads the "northern" fleet in the Volvo Ocean Race

Dongfeng Race Team is now almost halfway across the Atlantic and blasting its way eastwards towards the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 Leg 9 finish at the Welsh capital Cardiff as a fascinating transatlantic leg continues to unfold.     Today the Chinese flagged boat is sailing in heavy southerly winds in the north Atlantic at a position about 285 miles south-southeast of St John’s in Newfoundland.
In the last 24 hours the sea temperature has plummeted by 15 degrees as Dongfeng has come under the influence of the Labrador Current and skipper Charles Caudrelier and his crew are back in full foul weather gear and under-layers as the North Atlantic bears its teeth.

 Propelled eastwards by an intense depression, Dongfeng is travelling at an average speed of more than 20 knots and is close to the Ice Exclusion Zone imposed by the race director to keep the boats away from icebergs drifting down from the Arctic.

Dongfeng lies second overall in the race, three points behind leaders MAPFRE. Caudrelier has made no secret of his goal to beat the Spanish team on this 3,000-nautical mile leg that scores double-points. If Dongfeng gets to Cardiff ahead of the Spanish boat – by one place - then the two crews will set off on the final two legs of this Volvo Ocean Race neck-and-neck.

This eight-day stage from Newport, Rhode Island has seen an absorbing contest with Dongfeng taking the early lead before a big split in the fleet emerged on the second day as Dongfeng, MAPFRE and Turn the Tide on Plastic chose to head north while the other boats, led by Team Brunel, continued riding a weather front to the south.

Since then Team Brunel has held the initiative for almost all the time as the southern boats have enjoyed more breeze than the northern trio. But in the last 36 hours the northern boats have come back into it with Dongfeng leading them in fourth place and with the fleet once again converging in the north.

The current position of the Jet Stream is pushing Atlantic depressions well to the north of the European landmass as they head eastwards, meaning that the fleet will sail into lighter airs once this depression has moved on. The forecasts are suggesting a long phase of light air and an upwind finish on Cardiff Bay on Monday.

Marcel van Triest, the Dongfeng Race Team meteorologist who is watching the battle unfold from on shore – and who has no contact with the crew while they are at sea – is predicting that the leg will reach a decisive phase once the boats close on the Irish coast before they make their final approach to Cardiff.

“The trickiest bit is before they get to Ireland – the transition of the high pressure zone will be the most difficult part of the leg and I think that it will be then that this stage will be won and lost,” he said. “It seems they will have some wind in the Irish Sea and it will not be the parking lot as we see at the moment.”

Van Triest says he understands Caudrelier’s decision, together with navigator Pascal Bidegorry, to head north earlier in the leg. “I’m not unhappy with where Dongfeng is at the moment,” he said. “They have got MAPFRE behind them which is most important. The best option is clearly what Team Brunel and the other southern boats did, but it is no a big disaster for us.”

 Caudrelier, meanwhile, is relieved to be back in big breeze after a nervy few days of light airs watching the boats to the south sail into the lead. “We have caught the wind after two days that were really bad for us with no wind in the north where there was less, less, less than forecast and we lost a lot of miles on the fleet in the south,” he said.

“Right now we are in a better position and it’s the key moment because, if we manage to gain some distance, we can come back together and I think the fleet will join up again in the north.”     The depression is producing fast boatspeeds and potentially record-breaking conditions but it is also a stressful time for skippers who need to manage their crews and ensure no one, and nothing, gets broken.

“The next 24 hours are going to be very difficult to manage,” added Caudrelier. “Lots of wind, lots of sail changes, a choice of route – it will be impossible to always find the right sail so we will have to manage it and be first to make the right calls.”

Dongfeng Race Team is taking part in its second consecutive Volvo Ocean Race, having finished third overall in 2014-15. In addition to trying to improve on that result this time around, the team is committed to helping to develop the sport of sailing in China.

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