For the sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race fleet who signed up for shrieking winds and waves the size of houses, the weather forecast for the fourth and final stage of the Leg Zero qualifying series will be a test of patience and concentration.
Just like the Rolex Fastnet Race and stage three of Leg Zero from Plymouth to Saint-Malo, light winds are the predominating feature; indeed, only 5% of the route will be sailed in more than 16kts of wind!
At start time, Saint-Malo will be sitting in the middle of a high-pressure zone just behind an old frontal system, so light and variable winds are assured. This stretch of coastline is notorious as a navigator's nightmare and they're not going to get a break as the wind will shut off completely shortly after the start and the tide will be rushing against them in the early evening.
The first night could be the defining moment in the race, like the shutdown of Start Point in the previous leg that MAPFRE negotiated better than everyone else, setting them up for an unchallenged win.
On Monday, the Volvo Ocean 65 fleet will escape the French coast and head due west in the search of more stable wind. This big dog leg (identified in the third weather chart in the gallery above) in search of wind is the principle reason that the boats will sail over 900 nautical miles, a lot farther than the direct route of 768. As we'll see later in the race around the world, it's often faster to sail more distance in better conditions than to minimize distance sailed with less than ideal wind.
On Monday afternoon the boats will finally tack to the south and the wind will shift so the passage of the Bay of Biscay will be made in light downwind sailing. This will be the moment that David Witt, skipper on Sun Hun Kai/Scallywag will be dreading as he identified this as his team's weak point upon arriving in Saint- Malo. They might be painful miles but it will be welcome practice for new teams like his and Dee Caffari on Turn the Tide on Plastic.
We’ve got a massive problem with VMG running is what we learnt, and we’ve got to work out how we are gonna fix it. We don’t know what we are doing wrong yet.
The approach to the north west corner of Spain, Cape Finisterre, will be a flurry of activity as the yachts will be forced to gybe down the inside of the TSS off the headland (a conduit for cargo ships and thus out of bounds for our fleet). The steep cliffs of Cape Finisterre often accelerate the local wind but the benefit will be short lived as the fleet will likely head offshore again on their way to Lisbon, again sailing more miles than the direct route, in search of stronger winds.
Estimated time of arrival is early afternoon in Lisbon, but with such an unstable wind on order for this leg, it could probably be 12 hours either side!
The arrival in Lisbon marks the end of the Leg Zero qualifier for the Volvo Ocean Race. The teams will then embark on individual testing voyages and the crews will go through a series of rigorous training sessions in ocean safety, offshore medicine and refresher courses for all the mechanical systems onboard.
The fleet will regroup for the start of the prologue warm-up race from Lisbon to Alicante on 8 October before the Volvo Ocean Race starts for real on 22 October.