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Volvo OR: Quick recovery after man overboard on race leader

by Peter Rusch & Sail-World.com/nz 15 Jan 00:14 NZDT 14 January 2018
Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 13 Alex Gough and Annemieke Bes i n the pit as the breeze increases on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race

The Scallywag crew is sailing like a team motivated to be first home into Hong Kong, charging west at the head of the fleet.

Scallywag continues to race towards home in Hong Kong, leading the fleet west in well-established trade wind conditions.

At 0700 UTC on Sunday morning, skipper David Witt's team was leading by about 20 miles over team AkzoNobel and Dongfeng Race Team in terms of distance to finish.

But on the water, the Scallywags are about 70 miles further west, and 100 miles to the south of the their closest opposition.

Although their advantage remains solid, the past 24 hours haven't been without incident as a crew member went overboard during a sail change. He was recovered within 7 minutes and is reported to be uninjured, with the team resuming racing immediately after the recovery.

Crew member Alex Gough was washed overboard by a wave during a sail change, near midday local time, in winds of 15-20 knots.

The team swung into recovery mode, and Gough was back on board within seven minutes, unharmed. Scallywag resumed racing immediately.

“He went out on the outrigger, I was driving, and we went off a big sea and it picked him up threw him off, like a horse,” skipper David Witt said.

“The main thing is, we got him back on board. He’s safe. But I think it’s shown everyone how hard it is to see the guy in the water. Even on a sunny day, 18 knots of wind… You wouldn’t want to be doing this in 20 knots in the dark.”

Gough wasn’t wearing a harness or a lifejacket. Witt says he should have been tethered, or at minimum have told the driver what he was doing, before he went outside the lifelines on the outrigger.

“I was pretty stupid, but luckily the guys were on to it. They turned around bloody quickly,” Gough said. “I’m good. I’m fine. It was a bit scary… But off we go again.”

Behind, Vestas 11th Hour Racing lost miles when they were forced to gybe to avoid one of the dozens of coral reefs dotting the area.

"We are finally sailing in good wind again; the boat speed is back up around 20 knots and it finally feels like are closing on our destination," writes navigator Simon Fisher.

"The doldrums are doing their best though to hang onto its grip on us. Or that is certainly what it feels like. With an unstable atmosphere and a sea temperature of over 30 degrees it is prime condition for thunderstorms and our days have been punctuated by dealing with the towering cumulus clouds. That and dodging our way through the islands and atolls of Micronesia over the next 600 miles which will no doubt be heavy on navigation and light again on sleep!"

Sail-World: Update January 7, 2018 0700hrs UTC

Over the past 10 hours Scallywag has retained her position and lead on Leg 4. In the past two skeds 0500UTC and 0700UTC, she has recorded two rolling 24 hour runs of over 400nm (415nm at 0700hrs). Team AkzoNobel is the only other competitor to have done the same (401.4nm at the 0700UTC sked. Skallywag has the highest average speed of the top four boats over the past two hours (20.6kts). Her instaneous speed (ie at the time of the sked was 22.8kts).

While average speeds to finish - comparing Scallwag to her other three immediate competitors - are very similar on each of the four feeds used by Predictwind, the distance sailed is always shorter for Scallywag by 20nm - 100nm.

There does not seem to be any significant advantage to the boats to the north in additional windstrength or predicted speed. Therefore given that the boats will remain pretty well constantly on starboard - and all courses to the finish are almost direct with little tacking ot gybing there seems to be few options to pass.

The only real variable is what happens on the last day or so, when two of the projections show light winds, while the other two show an average wind of 27kts for the final dash for the finish line in Hong Kong.

And from the boats:

Latest from navigator Simon Fisher onboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing:

We are finally sailing in good wind again; the boat speed is back up around 20 knots and it finally feels like are closing on our destination.

The doldrums are doing their best though to hang onto its grip on us. Or that is certainly what it feels like. With an unstable atmosphere and a sea temperature of over 30 degrees it is prime condition for thunderstorms and our days have been punctuated by dealing with the towering cumulus clouds.

If you are lucky enough to be on the front side of them you get a good push some fast sailing and a little boost down the course. If you get bowled over by one however you have light airs, big lifts and a slow progress to manage.

Sometimes you get one, sometimes you get the other, frequently you have to deal with both but it never seems like the extra wind is ever enough to compensate for the light winds that follow. For sure it is frustrating but I have learnt that you must remain objective. To an extent, you make your own luck by sailing fast and smart when these clouds approach but at times you just have to make the best with the hand you are dealt.

To this end we have seen Dongfeng creep away from us in the last 24 hours despite getting with their grasp again last night. It seems though that there will be more opportunities still to rein them in though so that has now become our focus. That and dodging our way through the islands and atolls of Micronesia over the next 600 miles which will no doubt be heavy on navigation and light again on sleep!

Cheers, Si Fi.

Latest from OBR Amory Ross onboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing:

Lat/Long: 5.970N / 154.851E Wind: 25 kts Air Temp: 28c Sea Temp: 31c Boatspeed: 21 kts Heading: 273-degrees

I think it’s finally safe to say we’ve made it to the tradewinds. There’s a steady 23 knots of wind from the east and confidence is high that some devious cloud can’t come and ruin our day!

With that small victory we advance to the third stage of this leg: a downwind sprint to Luzon and the entrance to the South China Sea, about 2,000 miles away. We’re currently sailing due west at 20-24 knots with the first atolls and islands of Micronesia just 150 miles away. Dongfeng and AkzoNobel are to our north and have gotten a little further forward than we would have hoped, but it’s all very close. With almost a week of straight-line sailing in front of us a 10 or 20 mile deficit is minute. There will be small variations in course for obstacles along the way – like Micronesia – but our trajectory is northwest until we round the Philippines. It’s time to settle in and get comfortable because this will be life for a while.

There’s always a readjustment to high speed sailing after drifting for so long. The boat gets completely re-stacked, you have to re-familiarize yourself with wet weather gear, 22-degrees of heel, and the safe practice of firmly planting a hand and foot at all times. It’s all part of going fast on these boats - a welcome change after a week of going slow – but if it means we start getting to where we need to go, than everyone’s happy!

I’ll also add there’s a not so subtle change in attitude. I think the team has quickly shed the playfulness and good-humoured fun that comes with floating in the Doldrums for so long for a far more focused and driven attack at the remaining miles. Almost like the Doldrums were halftime, and now it’s back to the game. Everyone here knows this leg is still up for grabs and the objective is clear.

Amo.

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