Volume 14, Issue 23 ~ June 8 - June 14, 2006

Following the Volvo Ocean Race

Leg 8: The world’s slowest fastest boats

by Kat Bennett

Struggling in the lightest, slowest winds so far, the Volvo Ocean Racers are rationing their food as Leg 8 lags, with its estimated finish moved forward from Thursday, June 8 to Saturday, June 10.

On June 6 the boats completed only 500 of the 1,500 nautical miles round the British Isles to Rotterdam. Speeds have been the slowest of the race. The same waters that were howling and churning during the end of Leg 7 now lie smooth and quiet.

With the course forming a loop around the British Isles and then a straight line to Rotterdam, there is really no way to shorten this leg. Motoring is not an option, since the boats sail faster than they can motor — though a sea gull was able to catch up and swim past ABN AMRO TWO as it drifted.

“This race is all about the extremes,” wrote Jerry Kirby of Pirates of the Caribbean.” I got the chance to spend a couple of hours up the rig spotting wind.”

Pirates’ skipper Paul Cayard explains that “Light air is difficult sailing. We are constantly stacking the boat one way or the other in order to induce heel. The good news is that we are not slamming the boat around and having her make scary noises.”

Another tactic is to place weight low in the boat by sending sails and crew below deck.

The light winds kept the boats bunched within visible sight of one another. ABN AMRO ONE and TWO were so close one night they pretended to send messages with their flashlights. Messenger pigeons have landed on Brasil 1 and ABN 2. The crew of Brasil 1 noted how plump their visitor was, while Jan Dekker of ABN 2 put their pigeon to sleep by tucking his head under its wind and cradling it.

The fleet had a brief bit of pleasant sailing at 15 knots, then back to the zero- to five-knot conditions. Despite the doldrums, all have enjoyed the rugged beauty of the Irish coast.

“With castles and towers stationed at each headland, it gives you the feeling of sailing through a scene out of Lord of the Rings,” wrote Simon Fisher of ABN 2.

Ericsson has been leading for most of the race, aided by its new navigator, Andrew Cape, formerly of Movistar. With another bout or two of wind, the race is open for anyone to steal.

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