THE SEA OF PLAY
The 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race starts October 22 with a few new twists and turns along the traditional race route. Winning navigator Simon Fisher, of Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing, shares his insight into how this version can be won and lost.
Leg 1 Alicante to Lisbon (700 miles)
Straight off the bat, you have to decide how to play the Balearic Islands. That’s a big decision on the first night. Around Sardinia there’s a lot of coastal sailing, and then getting out of the Gibraltar Straits gives plenty of opportunity for things to happen. There’s lots of stop and go here, and it will be a pretty intense first leg, and everyone keen to put points on the board.
Leg 2 Lisbon to Cape Town (7,000 miles)
Exiting from Lisbon, we start farther north than in the past, which makes it easier to get west, which used to be the challenge. They’ve taken out Fernando de Noronha as a mark of the course, which presents the big new option of trying to cross the doldrums a lot farther east to cut the distance. There’s a chance that we could cross the equator and sail all the upwind to Cape Town.
Leg 3 Cape Town to Melbourne (6,500 miles)
No more left turns to the Middle East. It’s a welcome return to the Southern Ocean, and it’s worth double points. We’ll be looking to be the first one down into the Southern Ocean and picking up the front. Ice gates influence how far south we can get, and the final stretch into Melbourne is coastal sailing. This leg could be decided in the last 100 miles. There is ton of current in Port Phillip Bay, and either no wind or a lot of it.
Leg 4 Melbourne to Hong Kong (6,000 miles)
A new leg that warrants a lot more work from the weather team. There’s lot of coastal sailing, and as we go north, we might go east of the Solomon Islands, which opens up the course, but from a long way out we have to figure out how to get through the islands and the doldrums. There are essentially two bands of doldrums sailing in this leg, so it will be tricky.
Leg 5/6 Hong Kong to Auckland (6,200 miles)
It’s a straightforward leg, but the challenge is coming out of the Straights of Luzon in the Philippines to get east and south. Last time we went a long way east, but it depends on the trades at the time. The racing will be close and we’ll end up to the Doldrums close to each other, and then it’s about who’s managing the clouds well. Last time we finished in Auckland within minutes of each other, and that will undoubtedly happen again.
Leg 7 Auckland to Itajaí (7,600 miles)
This leg is about hard work and intensity. At this point, everyone is sailing the boats well and will be jibing on shifts every couple of hours if need be. It’s all about staying fast and making sure everyone’s rested and performing at a high level. Ice gates dictate the track and where you make a break for Cape Horn. The hard part, however, can come after the horn. It’s cold, hard and tricky. It’s a big decision: The end is near, so do you go for broke or look after the boat and finish?
Leg 8 Itajaí to Newport (5,700 miles)
One of the trickiest bits of this leg is leaving in the tropics and trying to get to the trades. It’s very easy to get caught under a cloud and lose a few miles straight away — the last cloud before the trade winds can hold you or release you. Once free, there are plenty of transitions and opportunities as you get north toward Newport, but like last time, it can be boat for boat right on into the finish.
Leg 9 Newport to Cardiff, England (3,300 miles)
There’s a lot of debris out there in the Atlantic, and the likelihood of hitting something is high. That could be a factor in the race. It’s a sprint leg that could be a week or less, so you don’t want any mishaps, such as breaking a rudder or having to back down, which will make you have to push harder to catch up. The end will be especially difficult in the Bristol Channel. There’s one of the biggest tidal ranges in the world and land on both sides.
Leg 10 Cardiff to Gothenburg (3,300 miles)
This will be the farthest north the race has ever gone as we go around the top of the British Isles. It could be a mixed bag, pretty rough and miserable, or a high could sit over the U.K. and make it a light, slow and tricky leg. This one has no hard-and-fast rules, and in the North Sea there are oil rigs, ships, fishing boats, wind farms and shoals.
Leg 11 Gothenburg to the Hague (700 miles)
Short as it might be, anything can happen with fast-moving highs and lows coming across Europe. There’s plenty of sailing on this leg, and all of it will be coastal sailing around Denmark. The fleet will be close together, and the last sprint down to Holland has a lot of obstacles and traffic-separation schemes, which had a dramatic impact last time on how teams sailed the leg. The current can be strong, but it’s not a huge tidal range, so this one’s about wind and fleet management into the finish.