Leg starts on:
7 February 2018
What’s the deal?
Leg 6 is another long one at 6,100 miles. Starting on the 7th February, it will take the fleet across the South China Sea to the northern tip of the Philippines. After that, it’s out into the Pacific and a long drag race to the south-east, dodging the many island chains of Polynesia until they reach Auckland.
It’s another leg that will be dominated strategically by the north to south transit of Climate Zones (the earth’s oceanic climate features distinct bands, lying horizontally and looping the globe, running out from the Equator to the Poles in a mirror image). And although Hong Kong is a new stopover, it’s not far from Sanya, which is where the equivalent leg started last time. So this one has some history.
What lies in wait for unwary navigators on this one?
North-East Monsoon: Leg 6 will start as Leg 4 finished in the North-East Monsoon (a wind created by the clockwise flow around a huge seasonal hight pressure over central Asia). The difference is that instead of a sailing downwind, they will be forced to go upwind, against the wind. This is what solo circumnavigator, Sam Davies said form onboard Team SCA while battling upwind in the North-East Monsoon in 2015.
“We have been out here for 24 hours now and finally we get what we came for -life at the extreme. Extreme angles of heel, extremely WET, extreme levels of difficulty in doing ANYTHING on board.” The opening section of this leg has the potential to be brutal. We’re talking boat-breaking stuff.
More Island Chains: Once they clear the northern tip of the Philippines, the boats will hold the north-easterly winds (now more normally called the north-east Trade Winds, moderate to strong winds that blow consistently towards the equator from the north-east in the northern hemisphere). The course is now south-east, so there, should be a few days of fast sailing. They will blast to the east of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, before the long stretch through the South Pacific, past Vanuatu and Fiji before landing in the City of Sails. All of these land masses can have an impact on tactics and strategy, depending on how close they end up to them.
The Doldrums: Yup, the Doldrums are back (a region of low pressure that envelopes the earth’s oceans roughly at the equator, famous for thunderstorms, light winds, rain and sudden unexpected gusts), and in this part of the Pacific they occur in a double belt, separated by a band of easterly trade winds.
In fact, the more precise sequence of global climate zones is actually north-east trade winds, Doldrums, easterly trade winds, Doldrums and then south-east trade winds (this is proper weather nerd bar talk). But in the Atlantic (and most of the rest of the planet), the easterly trade wind zone between the two Doldrums zones is very small and poorly defined. And so the term has come to mean the whole area of light wind and squalls between the north-east and south-east trade winds.
But in the Pacific, and particularly en route to Auckland, the easterly trade winds can be well formed, and that means that the fleet may well have to transit a second band of Doldrums. This section could easily decide the leg.
Trade Wind Drag Race: Once they clear the Doldrums, life should get easier, at least for the strategy department. If the south-east Trade Winds are well established (Trade Winds blow consistently towards the equator from the south-east in the southern hemisphere) they will be sailing towards the finish in sunshine and great waves.
The South Pacific High (a Subtropical High Pressure Zone, a stable, semi-static area of High Pressure lying between 30 and 38 degrees) usually lies a good long way to the east, closer to South America, and so they will definitely remain on its western side, and in wind from the easterly quadrant. And with Auckland just short of 37 degrees south with a sub-tropical climate, there’s a good chance the fleet will get close to the finish in great, steady conditions.
So what’s the casualty list like on this leg?
Pick your sport, pick your poison: in 2008-09 four of seven boats that took on the North-East Monson had to stop for significant repairs, two of them didn’t complete the leg, and one finished after the re-start of the next leg!
And that same year the Telefónica Blue and PUMA teams were forced to ‘thread the needle’ – going through Fiji rather than round it, leading to a famous email from Ian Walker to PUMA, “Nice one, but are you sure you can get under the new road bridge?” There was no road bridge.
And of course, the final run in to Auckland, down the east coast of New Zealand has seen many classic match races over the years, not least of which was the ‘blue on blue’ / Kiwi v Kiwi battle for home town honors in 1989-90. Peter Blake’s Steinlager edged out Grant Dalton’s Fisher & Paykel after the latter got flattened by a massive 40knot squall... it’s never over till it’s over.