Volvo Ocean Race – Diverse Yachts Director – Si Fi’s Blog

Volvo Ocean Race – Diverse Yachts Director – Si Fi’s Blog

Ever wondered what it is like navigating while going 40 knots on board one of the Volvo Ocean Races 65 footers… Navigator of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Si Fi provides us an insight with his blog!

Leg 4… Wed 17th  Jan 2018

The last couple have days have seen some good progress towards the finish, racing fast in the open ocean.   It has all gone by in a bit of a blur if I’m honest, but not because of monotony or boredom.  Quite the opposite in fact.   We have had to be focussed on speed sailing the boat fast and efficiently without anyone else in view to measure ourselves against.   It is our invisible rivals, for each six hours between scheds at least that we have been trying to out run but outsmart also. With each passing cloud and wind shift we have had to weigh up the pros and cons of gybing, giving up fast pace to the finish versus securing our position relative to our rivals and making sure we are in the strongest breeze possible. With Dongfeng hiding in stealth for the last 24 hours we have been missing a reference point to our nearest rivals but at least with their re-appearance in the latest position report we have had some confirmation we are on the right track.   Each hour spent sweating in the heat of the nav-station pouring over grib files and satellite images seems to have been well spent until now.  There lies a tricky couple of days ahead though.   The path past the Philippines and into the South China Sea is open to a number of options and some important choices will have to be made.  We can easily see the fleet splitting which will no doubt lead to more tension as we close on the finish.

Cheers,

Si Fi.

 

 

Leg 4… Mon 15th  Jan 2018

The last couple of days have provided a very welcome return to fast sailing, clear skies and good winds. Conditions on board are almost bearable now we can finally sleep without sweating.  Gone are the near constant threat of big rain clouds and instead the gentle oscillation of the trade winds have taken their place.  It is good too to have Micronesia in our rear-view mirror and open ocean out in front of us.  It was a busy 24 hours of picking our way through the islands, atolls and banks which at times had me nervously checking our digital charts against our paper ones then cross referencing them against our sailing directions to ensure everything was where it was supposed to be. Each time we sailed up onto a bank it involved studying the depth sounder against the charts to make sure it all lined up properly and there weren’t any extra surprises laying in store.  Some may see this as overkill but it is easy to forget that in these far-flung corners of the world the source data for the charts can be really quite old and potentially not that reliable!  I’m pleased to say however we passed through without issue and the significance of the islands and atolls become tactical rather than a challenge to our safe navigation. With the fleet forced to pick sides on a number of islands the choice was between gybing and sailing lower and slower versus keeping fast but heading more to the north.  For our sake I am pleased to say the former whilst potentially a short-term loss has paid out over the long term and we are once again enjoying being bow forward on both Dongfeng and Akzo as we settle into the drag race towards the Philippines.

I was left thinking, as we blasted past remote palm covered islands in Micronesia, that one day it might be good to visit these places at somewhat slower pace, taking to the time to explore each island and atoll would be an entirely different adventure but something very enjoyable.  However, the time to daydream was short lived as for now the focus is purely on speed and consolidating our position as we close in on the South China Sea.  Cruising with the family will have to wait!

Cheers,

Si Fi.

 

Leg 4… Fri, 12th  Jan 2018

It feels like the trade winds are tantalisingly close.  After nearly 24 hours of sailing in more consistent breeze we have all been buoyed by the fact the will soon finally be seeing the distance to Hong Kong start to come down and a decent rate. However, this morning the doldrums have served up one final treat for us, another big cloud with plenty of rain, gusts, wind shifts and now calm. Light winds have once again slowed us and the little dot showing where the boat should be on the weather routing is once again stretching out in front of us.  This, however is a preferable situation to seeing our rivals stretching out in front of us as ultimately it doesn’t matter how long we are out here if it is a little less time than the others! We will wait anxiously for the next sched even though we know that the boats around us have slowed with us.  It is the ones we cannot see that now may be more dangerous.  However, spirits are good on board and we are optimistic about our progress.  With the rain this morning we are all showered and clean and ready to do battle for as long as it takes to get us to Hong Kong!

Cheers,

Si Fi.

 

 

Melbourne to Hong Kong

Leg 4… Sun, 7 Jan 2018

Passing the first of the Solomon Islands this morning, and our waypoint, Santa Ana Island felt like something of a milestone, however the real barrier we broke through was yesterday. Passing through the monsoon trough marked the end of the stable trade winds and the beginning of what feels likes a very big doldrums arena in which we must do battle not only the other boats but whatever the weather throws at us. So far, the weather gods have been relatively kind, the clouds have been abundant bringing us good winds and speeding us north faster than the forecast suggests. The light patches that inevitably follow have allowed us to get back in touch with the leading pack which has filled us with optimism. However, it can also be frustrating. Each time we have felt that an overtake might be within our grasp the weather has denied us claiming a scalp as we are forced to watch the boats ahead slowly pull away back to a position of relative safety.

With 600 miles to go until we reach the trades in the northern hemisphere there will be plenty more opportunities if we play our cards right. It is amazing how quickly things can change out here. From inky black skies and a foaming grey ocean back to flat calm blue water within the space of an hour. Each time this happens we are given a chance to try and outpace our rivals whether it is in straight line speed or to the next sail change to stay on course. Mindful of the fact that whoever reaches the new trade winds first will likely extend away we must embrace the chaos and the opportunity that each cloud brings whilst remaining patient and focused in the relative calms in between.

Cheers,

Si Fi.

 

Leg 3 Cont… Wed, 20 Dec 2017

It is hard to imagine that we are already over halfway through this leg both in terms of miles and time. Not least because I think at this stage I have fully lost track of time itself.   On one hand, it feels like the leg only started a short time ago and on the other Cape Town seems but a distant memory as racing and the challenges of this leg have dominated my thoughts over the past few days. Be it the bad weather getting out of the start, the big low pressure to contend with or working our way round the ice gate there has always been something to occupy the mind and focus the energy. It has been somewhat enjoyable that these last couple of days have been occupied by sailing fast and enjoying the drag race. Having seen the fleet compress as we came north now we are racing east again it is all stretching out once more.Brunel who was at one stage only 13 miles behind is again back to almost 30.Gaining miles each sched on the boats behind is both comforting and rewarding as is pushing had on deck working to get every last bit of boat speed.With the wind and the sea state always changing getting the most out of the boat sometimes requires finesse, gently taking the boat from wave to wave without ever slowing.Other times it is more about aggression, forcing the boat through the sea state and hanging hard onto the wheel to force it onto course. This morning it is more of the latter as with each acceleration you have to batter your way through the wave in front. The squally wind that is now coming from the south west also forces you to be punchy and sail high and fast to stay on course but big gusts can quickly unseat you if you relax too much.

We are hoping that in the coming days we can consolidate our position with the boats behind us getting held back by the lighter air as the High pressure catches them. However, this also means that the two red boats in front have extended on us once again. We still have our sights on them but for now we will have to be patient. Hopefully we will get another opportunity to close them down in the coming days.

Cheers,

Si Fi.

 

Leg 3 Cont… Mon, 18 Dec 2017

Hi There,

It has been an interesting couple of days.  With the low pressure, more or less behind us we slowly have been re-adjusting to more ‘normal’ windspeeds although what gets referred to as ‘light’ is still a fairly solid breeze with the heavy downwind conditions still fresh in our minds.  However, it wasn’t long before the new object of our attention became the Ice exclusion zone and it’s updated more northerly position. Getting around it has been a fairly labour intensive process, having to gybe the boat every few hours in order to stay close to its perimeter and remain in the stronger winds to the south.  This has come at the expense of sleep and has meant sleeping in foul weather gear, ready for action, at times when you can get your head down between manoeuvres.   Not surprisingly given the hard work involved, the exclusion zone has been the subject of some discussion. It’s relocation has had the effect of massively compressing the fleet and we have seen the boats behind us come in from almost one hundred miles to less than twenty.  Some on board are feeling a little hard done by, although we have also gained on the red boats in front.  Others however, who happen to be the older and wiser guys on board, and not co-incidentally the ones who have had to pick their way through ice bergs in Volvo’s gone by have welcomed the fact that we have been shifted north out of harm’s way!  Either way, it is what it is and now the battle for positions has been freshly intensified.  We are going to have to be on our game if we are going to distance the boats behind once more and try and reel in the ones in front…

Cheers,

Si Fi

Leg 3 Cont… Sat, 16 Dec 2017

If the first few days of the leg were all about the anticipation of the low and getting to the Southern Ocean then the last couple of days have been all about living and breathing it. Conditions have been pretty full on to say the least. As the barometer fell and the low approached so did the air and sea temperature and we quickly found ourselves in the conditions that the Southern Ocean are famous for. After the passage of the front which saw gusts of almost 50 knots we commented on how wild the conditions were but over the last 36 hours we have quickly become accustomed to sailing in more than 40 knots downwind, with one gust topping out at 53 knots in the midst of a hail storm. 30-35 knots has become to feel quite moderate these days which is a measure of how windy it has been.

Despite the sea and air temperature hovering around 7-8 degrees and the wind still blowing hard morale on board is good. We are walking the fine line between performance and safety, trying to respect the conditions but continue to race hard and so far we seem to be rewarded by our commitment. For sure the red boats in front have been able to get a little richer by virtue of their lead but we are hanging onto their coattails less than 100 miles back whilst working hard on stretching on the fleet behind.

Every few hours we have to gybe which from start to finish is a 40 minute process but it is worth the effort to stay in the stronger wind and in phase with the shifts. However, we are all looking forward to the point where we can sail straight for a little while and catch up on some sleep. For now though it is back to the computer, plan the next gybe and then back up on deck for more action.

Cheers,

SiFi

Leg 3 Cont… Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:52:51 +0000

The story so far: Well, it is fair to say the conditions have been testing us this leg in a variety of ways, The first day after what was quite pleasant conditions in the bay soon turned into a test of boat and crew off the Cape of Good Hope! And as it turns out a test of my constitution to which I don’t mind admitting that the conditions won;r Looking at the computer in 40 knots whilst pounding upwind wasn’t much fun. However, the wind quickly subsided and we found ourselves in quite the opposite as we had to navigate the ridge of high pressure to get to the westerly wind This split the fleet somewhat as the breeze died and filled in over us once again and as a result we have ended up on a slightly more northerly track than many of our rivals. I’m sure it would be more comforting to have our opposition around us but we have not been afforded that luxury. We have been making reasonably progress up here to the north though and I am hopefully that our northing may prove useful when the weather starts to deteriorate later today.  It has been hard not to think about the low brewing behind us which is threatening to give us winds well into the 40s, big seas and drive us down against the ice gate. Perhaps being a little more north will allow us to sail slightly fast wider angles and more importantly reduce the risk of getting run over by the low which remains a possibility and keep us away from being squashed against the ice gate a little longer. In a few days we will know but for now we just have to wait for things to develop

Overnight has been interesting too with clouds and big wind shifts which has seen the wind deviate from the forecast due to what feels like a trough forming more sharply ahead of us. This however only serves to add to the anticipation and apprehension of what lies behind as we are forced to ignore the optimum line that is given to us by the software and deal with what we have in real time.

It feels like a lot has happened in the short time we have been out here but all that could quickly pale into insignificance once the low pressure starts to catch us later today.

Cheers,

Si Fi.

Day 1 Leg 3:

“Were through the ridge now which is good, heading southeast down to stronger wind. We’re able to sail a faster angle now which is nice. Next challenge is getting around the Agulhas curent which is sort of a strong south going warm current. It will make the seas more choppy and more wind and a bit squally there. Once we’re through that we’ll feel the sea temp drop a lot and it will start to feel like the Southern Ocean. The wind is building from here. It’s faster and faster sailing from this point onward.”  Current location: 180 nm south of Africa

Cheers,

Si Fi.

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Natalie

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