Image © Thierry Martinez/team AkzoNobel
Ten days after arriving in the United States on Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race the sailors and shore crew of team AkzoNobel are making final preparations before the start of the ninth stage of the around the world race from Newport, Rhode Island to Cardiff, Wales on Sunday.
The team currently sits in fourth place in the overall standings – six points behind nearest rival Team Brunel. Prior to the Leg 9 start, on Saturday the sailors will compete in the American heat of the Volvo Ocean Race in port series in which they currently sit in third place.
In port race points don’t count towards the overall race score but the final series points would be used to split a points tie at the end of the race.
With three legs of the 11-stage, eight-month marathon left to race the crew know all too well that they need a strong performance in the upcoming double-points transatlantic leg to keep alive their hopes of an overall podium place when the race concludes in The Hague at the end of June.
After a disappointing fifth place performance in the eighth leg from Itajaí, Brazil to Newport, the sailors are hoping to make a return to form that saw them deliver three consecutive podium results on the previous three open ocean legs.
“We know what we need to do,” said Nicolai Sehested, the team’s Danish boat captain.
“Our backs are against the wall and we simply have to perform well for the rest of the race to be on the podium in The Hague. Leg 9 is a challenging leg and counts double – meaning there is everything to play for on the way back to Europe.”
Races across the Atlantic have an extra special kudos for global ocean racers and the competition amongst the seven professional crews is expected to be intense for the 3,300-nautical mile (6,000-kilometer) crossing which could take as few as eight days to complete.
Each team has its own individual motivation to be first into Cardiff – be it points or pride – and all the sailors will be pushing themselves and their boats right to the limit on the way to the United Kingdom.
“At eight days this seems like a short leg compared with the two or three-week stages we have been doing so far,” said Chris Nicholson (AUS) – one of team AkzoNobel’s two watch captains.
“But it’s still a huge ocean leg in many ways and potentially as challenging as any we have had up to now.”
The general weather synopsis for the route is complex with strong winds for the first few days likely to produce wet and wild downwind “hard running” conditions to whisk the fleet away from the east coast of the United States.
Later in the leg a high pressure weather system to the south could result in lighter winds for the middle section of the course, while the leg’s final miles through the swirling currents of the Bristol Channel to the finish in Cardiff could see the crews having to anchor to avoid being swept backwards.
Team AkzoNobel’s British navigator Jules Salter is looking forward to the Volvo Ocean Race returning to the United Kingdom for the first time since the 2005-06 edition when the transatlantic seventh leg from New York finished in Portsmouth, England.
“The race has a huge legacy in the UK so it’s quite special to be racing into Cardiff,” said Salter who as a youngster watched from his home on the Isle of Wight as the then-Whitbread Race (the pre-cursor to the Volvo Ocean Race) fleet left to race around the world.
Now a veteran of four Volvo Ocean Races – including a victory aboard Ericsson Racing in 2008-09 – Salter hopes to mastermind a winning strategy for team AkzoNobel across the Atlantic.
Two days out from the Leg 9 start Salter is still weighing his options between a northerly or southerly route from Newport to Cardiff.
“The northerly route has us making fast progress over the first 12 hours courtesy of one of the low pressure systems [storms] that track eastwards at this time of year,” Salter explained.
“The other option would be a dive down to the south to try to take advantage of the fast-flowing warm waters of the Gulf Stream that could push us towards Europe.”
There are pros and cons to both strategies and at this stage Salter is happy to wait for the various weather sources to align before making a final decision on which way to go. Either way, Salter says the crew will need to be prepared for whatever the Atlantic weather throws at them.
“We could see just about everything in terms of wind, weather and sea state,” he said. “Temperatures could range from chilly to warm and we could have firehose conditions and flat calms on the way to Cardiff.”
Leg 9 of the Volvo Ocean Race starts from Newport, Rhode Island at 1400 Eastern Time (1800 UTC/2000 CEST). Latest estimates suggest the fleet could finish in Cardiff on Monday May 28.