IT is the final act, the last push, the grand finale. On Saturday the starting gun will sound and the four skippers of the VELUX 5 OCEANS will race out of Charleston, USA, in ocean sprint five, signalling the beginning of a dramatic climax to the 30,000-mile race.
What lies between the solo sailors and the finish line in La Rochelle, France, is 3,600 miles of full-on drag racing peppered with tactical decisions, constantly changing weather and no time to rest. With the first yacht expected to finish around 12 days after the start this leg truly is a sprint – but by no means will it be easy.
“The first challenge the ocean racers will come up against is the Gulf Stream,” said David Adams, VELUX 5 OCEANS race director. “The Gulf Stream is basically a conveyor belt of warm water that runs straight up along the coast of North America and out into the North Atlantic. It is made up of a whole lot of eddies, swirling pools of water, which the skippers will have to wind their way through as they head north. The skipper that best navigates the Gulf Stream will get a jump on the rest of the fleet.
“Once out of the Gulf Stream the skippers will follow the Great Circle route which will take them past Halifax and Newfoundland and then out into the Atlantic. They won’t be going high enough for ice to be a problem, so they will be able to concentrate their efforts fully on going as quickly as they can without having to worry about the dangers of ice.
“These guys have already taken on the Southern Ocean which is regarded as the most dangerous but the North Atlantic can be as brutal. Different to the Southern Ocean legs where there are prevailing winds, on ocean sprint five the skippers will have to deal with whatever the North Atlantic throws at them. It could be huge storms, or it could be a massive high pressure system that becalms them for days.
“The first problem they will have will be about four days into the leg with a northerly wind, against the Gulf Stream current, will create some pretty nasty seas. The skippers will need to make the decision whether they stay on the conveyor belt and take on the rough seas or whether they step off the conveyor belt into calmer seas but risk losing speed.”
Vital bonus points are once again on offer for the fastest boats through the sprint five speed gate set between 35° West and 20° West. But just to throw in one last twist, the race committee have ruled that the skippers must enter the gate south of 48° North – a big diversion from the shortest course.
“That will make for some very interesting racing and some tough decisions for the skippers,” race director David Adams added. “If the skippers choose to go for the speed gate points they will need to sail further, potentially surrendering their position in the fleet. However, they might choose to disregard the speed gate and sail the shortest route but that would mean not winning any bonus points which could prove vital in the final scoring. It is certainly going to add another element to racing.
“The mentality of this leg is also hugely different to the other sprints. This is the big finish, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the end of a huge project which has drained them physically, mentally and financially. Having said that, disaster is always lurking just around the corner.
“On paper, Brad only has to finish this leg to win the whole event – but nature has a way of biting anyone who thinks like that on the backside. He’s got to decide whether he’s going to push for a clean sweep or whether he throttles back. Brad is also the only one leaving his home port to finish the race – Gutek and Chris are sailing home. Mentally that means a lot.
“Derek and Gutek are tied on points so they will be working harder than ever – for them, whoever wins this leg wins the race for second. They will need to hit the speed gate and work hard through it. Chris will be sat there waiting to pounce on anyone who makes a mistake. There is a lot to play for with a lot of implications!”
Ocean sprint five starts on Saturday May 14 at 1500 local time (1900 UTC).
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VELUX 5 OCEANS – The Ultimate Solo Challenge
The VELUX 5 OCEANS is the Ultimate Solo Challenge, the ultimate human endeavour. More than 500 people have been into space – less than 180 have sailed round the world solo. The VELUX 5 OCEANS is a series of five high-pressure ocean sprints within a marathon 30,000-nautical mile circumnavigation. The race, run every four years since 1982, has a rich heritage which has given rise to some of the world’s best sailors. The VELUX 5 OCEANS is not only the longest round the world yacht race but at nearly 30 years old is also the longest running. Always at the forefront of ocean racing innovation, the 2010/11 VELUX 5 OCEANS will see the premiere of the Eco 60 class of yachts, pushing a message of sustainability, accessibility and affordability.
About the VELUX Group
The VELUX Group holds the title sponsorship of VELUX 5 OCEANS for the second time. The spirit, values and nature of the race and its skippers are similar to those of the VELUX Group. As a manufacturer of roof windows, the VELUX Group employs creativity and an innovative approach to the development of new products and business strategies. In its mission to create better living environments with daylight and fresh air through the roof the Group has earned the reputation of being one of the strongest brands in the global building materials sector. The VELUX Group has manufacturing companies in 11 countries and sales companies in just under 40 countries, it has about 10,000 employees and is owned by VKR Holding A/S, a limited company wholly owned by foundations and family.