Mark Chisnell – And They're Off – Leg 1 Week 1

Mark Chisnell – And They're Off – Leg 1 Week 1


Girl Power into the Lead

Scary Spice may be doing a pretty dreadful job on the UK’s X Factor, but it was Girl Power all the way in the opening round of the Volvo Ocean Race. Team SCA’s navigator, Libby Greenhalgh hit one out of the park, with a gorgeous move that saw them first out into the Atlantic.

Picture 1


The action opened on Sunday evening (12th October) with the fleet bunched together on starboard tack, in a solid south-southwesterly breeze. The wind was coming from a little low pressure system centred near Lisbon (Pic. 1). MAPFRE were leading, with Team SCA just on their hip (to windward and astern) and in third place.

The sun went down, and the breeze backed a little more to the south and dropped. Team SCA and Dongfeng Race Team both tacked to port, everyone else stayed on starboard with the Straits of Gibraltar about 100km to the west – a narrow funnel that heavily influences the wind on both the northern and southern shores, further complicated by the roaring current.


Picture 2


Lights, Cameras… Action!

Dongfeng Race Team then tacked back to stay with the bunch, and by 22:00 on 12th October we had the first serious split of the race (Pic.2) – yay, action! The separation opened fast – as it tends to do when boats are on opposite tacks. Two hours later, when Team SCA tacked back to starboard off the coast of Spain, the main pack were on port and about 40km away, and closer to the coast of Africa.


Picture 3


At this point, Team SCA were in the lead and smoking – they had picked up a north-westerly off the coast, presumably a night-time drainage wind from the land, and had turned it onto a big gain on the leaderboard (Pic 3). They were still well separated from the fleet though, and a gain is not in the bank until you can close down the leverage (leverage is the distance you are from the opposition, measured perpendicular to the course to wherever you want to go next).


Pretty Ugly

It got pretty ugly for the next few hours. Team SCA were first to suffer as they hit a hole off of Gibraltar and sat, stuck with no wind. Fortunately for Libby and co., the rest of the fleet had seen on a previous leaderboard report that Team SCA had made big gains off Spain. Unsurprisingly, they wanted some of that action, and proceeded to close the leverage down by sailing over to the girls… then sailed off the cliff in the dark… and into the same windless hole. Oh well.

In this instance, natural justice prevailed… and first into the hole was first out. After a rollercoaster of gains and losses on the leaderboard, Team SCA got it going and escaped to the west, as the fleet took their turn in the parking lot.


Picture 4


Dusk ‘til Dawn

It took almost till dawn before everyone got moving, but by 05:00 on Monday 13th, Team SCA had turned their gain into a proper lead – they had closed down the leverage and got their boat between the fleet and where they wanted to go (Pic 4). Nice work, Libby – backing your insight, and turning a position in the middle of the pack into a 15km lead, after gambling on a separation of 50kms. This move could win the $1,000 B&G Navigator’s Prize for this leg – way to go, girl.



Unfortunately, from there it unraveled a little for Team SCA. The low pressure I mentioned earlier was still blocking the trade winds from setting up. And it was this low that was controlling the strategy for the exit from the Straits and into the Atlantic.

If we go back to the first general weather image (Pic 1), we can see that the low pressure system trails a weather front from its centre, out to the south-west, and behind that front the wind switches to the north-west. Once into the north-westerly, the teams would be reaching on starboard tack, and the miles are easy money. So there were big gains to be made by the boat that broke through the front first – the question was… how to get there?


Annoyingly Perfect Hindsight

It maybe that hindsight is perfect, but it seemed a reasonable bet that the south would pay – the weather image shows stronger breeze to the south. But coming out of the Straits, Team SCA put the hammer down and went due west, rather than keeping the boat more on the wind, like the rest of the fleet.


Picture 5


The leverage slowly opened and by 11:40 on Monday morning (Pic 5), Team SCA were west-northwest of the pack behind them, eventually setting up to leeward of the fleet, as everyone settled onto port tack in the south-westerly wind ahead of the front.


Picture 6


It was the boats to windward and to the south that won this one – today’s final fleet image from 22:00 Monday night (Pic 6) shows Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing moving into the lead as the fleet negotiated the front and finally started to head south in the northwesterly wind.

Of course, they still aren’t in the trade winds and it doesn’t look like they will be until they are south of the Canary Islands, so there’s everything to play for in the coming days…. but that’s it for this week. I’ll see you back here next Tuesday to see who handled the next hurdle best.

Written by Mark Chisnell

  1. For this casual, but very interested, observer, this commentary and analysis was spot on. Thanks.


  2. Just once a week 🙁

    You are on the spot and so should be your estimates: DAILY 🙂

  3. Mark,

    V interesting, this is exactly what I want to learn and understand better whilst watching the Volvo. Its far more interesting reading about the tactical game rather than hearing superlatives about ‘massively dangerous ocean swells’, which Volvo has a tendency to go on about. Thanks.

    I don’t suppose you want to go into understanding and assessing gribs/polars and their tactical implications?

  4. Great post, thanks !
    Can’t wait for the next one.

  5. Very insightful !
    Can’t wait for updates.
    The more weather graphics the better.

    Paul Cayard

  6. I’m concerned that heading down the coast wont bite them later, there is a scheduled wind shift in 24 hrs. Remember they still have to hit the mark south of the equator

  7. I will be looking forward for your next analysis and comments, grat stuff!!

  8. Great Analysis and very educational for this round the can racer. Thanks a lot and
    smooth sailing!

  9. thanks for the clear analyses of what helped the boats sail into the Atlantic and the difference in performance of one Boat to the Other. I would prefer, especially as your blogs come in a week frequency, a little more expectation based on the weather forecast for some days. Next weeks analyses can review then what came out of what was expected.

    Mark , your blog is way more informative as the whole VOR site, that btw is for me a very irritating one compared to the VOR 2011-12 website. 🙂

  10. Thank you so much for your analysis, Mark. It wish it was daily instead of weekly though… or as ard said, that you offer some predictions for the following week based on the weather forecast.

    And ard, I wholeheartedly agree: the new VOR website is awful, not to talk about the game which was a lot better and more fun two editions ago and has only gone downhill from there.

  11. Dear Knud,
    Your evaluations of the last editions of the VOR have led to a tremendous format, which promises close and exciting racing. The VOR website however has been overlooked somehow and the one thing I’m surely missing is the reason why I think you will be reading this very page too: it’s Mark Chisnell’s unbeatable analysis. In former VOR’s it was THE piece to read every day to get a grip on it all. How about boosting the hitrate by giving him a call; the race only just started…

  12. Brilliant Mark
    thankyou for the commentary
    I think your assembled audience for the most part would really enjoy your read on the situation – and for me it helps get my own thinking straight – presents as a fantastic learning opportunity – weather situation – which side has the best options – strength of the judgement call – and ultimately how this plays out
    fantastic allround

  13. Thanks for all the kind words – I’ll try and provide a bit of a look forward at the end of the next article on Tuesday… 🙂

  14. great post – very educational. I agree with the other posters who would like your analyses to be more frequent.

  15. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail. I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

  16. Excellent. Really intelligent, informed and a pleasure to read.

    Many thanks.

    PS: I hope that the people who run the VOR read these comments and make sure that you are in the “commentary box” hopefully for the remainder of this race and certainly for the next one.

  17. Das kann ich verstehen und glaube mir, Du bist nicht der Einzige
    und garantiert nicht alleine damit beschäftigt dies zu ändern !