After a night of light airs sailing which saw the top three boats close to within 11 nautical miles of each other, the leading trio have picked up stronger breezes in the 10 to 12 knot range.
While this fresh breeze suggests the leaders exited the worst of the Doldrums this morning, race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says there is still plenty of convection activity in the area likely to spawn clouds and squalls to make life difficult for the teams.
“The water temperature close so close to the Equator is around 30 degrees Centigrade, adding to the chance of convection,” Infante said today. “The crews will have to be both smart and lucky to negotiate their way out into the trade winds and the first one out will get a jump on the rest.”
Adding to the complexity of the situation is a west moving tropical wave which is passing over the fleet, a factor which Infante says each of the three teams may be setting themselves up for differently, based on their boat’s individual performance.
“This system is shaping the Doldrums activity -- in the eastern edge of the wave the trades will be pulled more south east than east, meaning more down wind angles for anyone positioned there,” Infante said.
"Maybe that’s why Telefónica has set up further west and to leeward, to be able to maximize their performance by sailing hotter angles to reach the fresh trades sooner.”
After leaving the squally area, Infante says the crews will face two slightly different scenarios -- downwind or broad reaching -- depending on their positioning.
“Downwind might suit CAMPER who has in the past struggled to match the close reaching performance of the two Juan K boats, PUMA and Telefónica,” Infante said. “However, unfortunately for CAMPER, reaching or broad reaching is more likely than down wind sailing."
Infante expects the boats to be into fast sailing conditions by tonight, with boat speeds around 20 knots in winds ranging from 16 and 22 knots at angles between 110 to 130 degrees.
“This fast sailing could take the fleet as far as the Windward Islands in the Caribbean before a developing North Atlantic low pressure system disrupts the trade winds and slows the fleet,” he said.
With the top three teams likely to extricate themselves from the Doldrums for good today, Infante says the chances of a comeback from fourth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and fifth placed Groupama sailing team have been diminished, at least for now.
“Looking some days ahead, by the time the leaders reach the Windward Islands, weather models show that the trades are set to shift from east north east to east south east,” Infante said.
“If this happens, there won’t be any help for boats that are late into the trades as they will have to sail slower down wind angles rather than reaching, making it hard for them to make any gains in a drag race. Worst case they will have to end up gybing coming back from an eastern position”
Infante says all is not lost however, as with more than 2,000 nm left to race on this leg, the final positions are far from certain and another potential patch of light winds on the approach to the Bahamas could yet shuffle the rankings before the finish in Miami.
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