Spindrift 2, Cape Horn, December 22, 2015. Source.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Spindrift 2, Cape Horn, December 22, 2015. Source.

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Toward Cape HornThere’s an amazing race happening at the front…

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Toward Cape Horn

There’s an amazing race happening at the front of the Volvo fleet. At the moment Alvimedica leads, followed by a tight trio of MAPFRE, ADOR, and Brunel about 8 miles back, and then Dongfeng, who have fallen off the pace a bit in the last 12 hours, about 25 miles back. All of them should be rounding Cape Horn tomorrow (Monday, March 30); the VOR media operation has a helicopter and photographers staged to hopefully get aerial photos.

The more compelling story for me, though, is 475 miles back, where SCA has been limping along (if you can call it that when a boat is surfing at 20 knots) ever since they blew out their medium-air downwind sail (the Fractional Code Zero, or “FR0″) back on March 24.

There hasn’t been much video from SCA during the last few days. What I know is mostly based on the tracker, and on updates to the blog on the team website. The top gif above shows an animation of the last six days in the tracker, in which you can see SCA falling steadily back.

They’ve been sailing conservatively rather than pushing, doing relatively few maneuvers and using their smaller sails (mostly the J1) rather than their remaining large downwind sails (the A3 gennaker and Masthead Code Zero). Basically, they’ve shifted from racing to sailing in survival mode, just concentrating on reaching Cape Horn safely.

There are hints in the blog of disagreements; it sounds like Libby, at least, is disappointed about the decision to ease off the throttle. But ultimately it has to be Sam’s responsibility to make that kind of call. From the sound of it, she’s decided they need to save their energy for the difficult rounding ahead, rather than trying to match the rapid-fire gybes (and exhausting shifting of the stack) that the boats ahead have been using to keep racing.

The lead boats will probably round Cape Horn in relatively light wind. Because they’ve fallen a day behind, though, SCA is likely to experience a much rougher rounding, with steady winds into the high 30s, and possible gusts to 50 knots or more. That, combined with the extreme sea state that typically forms off Cape Horn, means they’ll probably be sailing in the worst conditions anyone has ever experienced in a Volvo 65.

The four wind projections above show the current wind, and then winds for 12, 24, and 36 hours from now, with SCA’s position advanced to show where they’re likely to be at those points. The dot toward the right of each image is Cape Horn.

They’re a tough crew, and they have a strong boat. My thoughts are going to be with them over the next few days.

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