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.

Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

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.

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