Leg 1: Alicante to Lisbon pic.twitter.com/I7ERxJFw9f— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
The 13th edition of the Volvo Ocean Race begins with a sprint that promises fast, downwind sailing. It’s likely to be a volatile leg, with some key options, such as whether to choose an offshore or inshore approach to the Gibraltar Straits. It will provide the first true form guide after months of preparation and the best bet is to expect the unexpected. We’ve seen in recent editions that the Mediterranean certainly isn’t a place of light winds and flat seas. Just ask Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya, who took a first-night battering in the 2011-12 edition, forcing them to suspend racing and limp into port with serious damage within hours of the start.
... and onto Leg 2: Lisbon to Cape Town pic.twitter.com/PdQgzcbsUJ— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
Having welcomed the Volvo Ocean Race in 10 of the 12 editions previously, our sailors should know the way to Cape Town like the back of their hands– but this time, it’s different. Never before have we sailed to South Africa from Portugal, and the departure from Lisbon will see the fleet tackle North Atlantic conditions right from the off. As they plunge south through Doldrums, race over the Equator and even face the threat of piracy from the west coast of Africa if they venture too far east, one thing’s for sure – there won’t be much sleep during the three weeks it takes to reach the ‘Tavern of the Seas’.
Leg 3 now... Cape Town to Hong Kong pic.twitter.com/ZI3AWlGjuR— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
This almost 12,000nm monster leg will be one of the toughest and most exciting in the history of the Race. Let’s start with the Southern Ocean: strong winds, huge waves and icebergs make for some of the most challenging sailing conditions on Earth. If that’s not bad enough, when the boats race up through the Tasman Sea and along the eastern coast of Australia, they’ll have to contend with severe boat-breaking conditions, then negotiate tropical cyclones that form over the Philippines and in the South Pacific and head south west towards the east coast of Australia. Then further north they will encounter monsoons giving the fleet fast reaching conditions as they approach Hong Kong. Not only has it been over a decade since the Race spent this much time in the Southern Ocean, but it also marks the first time that the fleet will race up the coast of Australia and into Asia. There’s a lot of tactical opportunity there – and it will be interesting to see how the navigators approach that. As five-time Volvo Ocean Race sailor, Richard Mason, puts it, this will be one month of 100% yee-haa!
Guangzhou pic.twitter.com/CMTAujqp8Q— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
The fleet will make a non-scoring transition to Guangzhou, China. There will be a full stopover programme there, with an in-port race which counts towards the in-port race series. Don't forget, in the last edition, the in-port race series results split the podium places, so every point is vital!
Leg 5 Hong Kong to Auckland pic.twitter.com/zkLSA3iQLs— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
Strong breeze, big waves, heavy currents and long-term strategic decisions: at some point in the near-three week leg that is Hong Kong to Auckland, we’ll see all of the above. Exiting Hong Kong, the fleet will broad-reach across the top of the Philippines in the monsoon conditions, before plunging south, tropical cyclones will still be a factor waves, highs and lows, the changeable conditions of the Doldrums, and into the South Pacific and northern Tasman Sea – all the way to the late 36°S, also known as Auckland, New Zealand for a return to what many consider the Race’s spiritual home. Officially, they’ll be halfway around the planet - and after around 3 weeks at sea, they'll be more than pleased to arrive on shore.
Leg 6 Auckland to Itajaí pic.twitter.com/IrerPwbCBa— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
Back down south – and with strong winds, long swells and freezing temperatures to negotiate, while albatrosses fly overhead, this leg will present all the familiar features of the Southern Ocean. The first challenge will be to make it unscathed out of Auckland, where the start can prove dangerous if a tropical system drifts south and brings strong winds. Making it through the Roaring Forties in one piece before rounding Cape Horn and sailing along the South American coast is an achievement in itself. There are only around 500 miles between Cape Horn and the northern tip of Antarctica, which gives you an idea of just how bleak it is down there. After the Horn comes the return to civilisation, which means getting back to an aggressive strategy. Most teams will try to stay close to the Argentine coast before thunderstorms appear and threaten the fleet all the way until the arrival into Itajaí.
Leg 7 Itajaí to Newport pic.twitter.com/jv4xuKJDsg— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
This is a coastal leg, but one that is full of offshore options as the teams head back up to the northern hemisphere and on towards the sailing capital of Newport, Rhode Island. Leaving Itajaí, the weather is generally very stormy and variable, with warm currents close to the coast. Teams will be faced with some key decisions: offshore or inshore? Sea breeze or land breeze? Then, there are a number of climate zones to cross – the south-easterly trades, the Doldrums and back to the trade winds. On the final run up to Newport, the choice is between playing the Gulf Stream and staying offshore to play the weather systems until Rhode Island.
Leg 8 Newport to Cardiff pic.twitter.com/YityJh3TBF— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
This will be a traditional transatlantic leg, with the fleet heading much further north than in recent editions as the Race returns to the United Kingdom for the first time in 12 years. After leaving Newport, the boats will sail north pretty quickly – but first, they’ll be faced with several wildlife exclusion zones just off Boston. Then there are the ice exclusion zones. Potentially, this leg will be very fast. Last time the Race followed a similar route in 2005-06, Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard and became the fifth sailor to die at sea in the history of the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race. Three days later his crew mates on ABN AMRO TWO rescued the crew of movistar, after they were forced to abandon ship with water surging through their broken keel structure and a 50-knot storm in prospect.
Leg 9 Cardiff to Gothenburg pic.twitter.com/MF4WMmOFwl— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
The plan for the penultimate leg is to go north around the British Isles – in fact, the boats will race further north than Cape Horn is south as they round Muckle Flugga, the most northern point on the Isles. Currently, the routing suggests racing through the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and Scotland, but there is a big Traffic Separation Scheme there, which can be quite slow, and there’s also a huge amount of current. For that reason, some boats might elect to go around the west of Ireland, if conditions suit. It’s a longer course, but boats have sailed a longer course and still won this race in the past.
Leg 10: Gothenburg to The Hague pic.twitter.com/4ITe9NXZZT— Volvo Ocean Race (@volvooceanrace) June 29, 2016
The final sprint of a nine-month ocean marathon, this leg will be particularly interesting because of the amount of water the boats will have to sail in with wind farms and Traffic Separation Schemes. It will be very tricky, and anything could happen – boats have been forced into areas of no wind because of exclusion zones, so the navigator’s will earn their sleep here.