So weather news for the start of the Route du Rhum 2014 is that the first 24-36 hours are going to be pretty lumpy and upwind in 25+kts.
This is due to a well formed low pressure system that is passing over the north of the British Isles, with an associated cold front on its southern side that the fleet must cross. The Azores high pressure system (HP1) is also well formed, stable and is currently positioned over the Azores, helping create strong trade winds to the south.
The teams will be crossing the cold front early tomorrow morning, and will experience strong upwind conditions (gusting 40+kts) in the English Channel tomorrow afternoon/evening.
There are then 3 options for the skippers to choose from once crossing the front on Monday and they all centre very heavily around the activity and movement of the Azores high pressure (HP1) over the coming days.
Option 1 is the northerly option, and is the ‘upwind hog’ route. As you can see from the ensemble routing above for the IMOCA 60’s, only 3 of the 20 routings have the Northerly option paying. This northerly route will ONLY work if the trades don’t come in as strong due to an unsettling of HP1, AND if this coincides with a strong low pressure system forming off the north American coast. Creating Westerly, not Southerly winds in the North Atlantic allowing the teams to get south later. This is by far the riskiest option of the lot and crucially only has it paying over the southerly or rhum line options by an hour. Huge risk, for minimal reward. Hopefully someone will take the flier for our interest, but don’t expect it to be a favourite.
Option 2 is the middle of the road, or the ‘rhum line for rhum’ route, and is one most boats will follow at least initially. The GFS 1.0 ensemble forecast of yesterday afternoon has this play currently favoured with 12 of the 20 routings heading this way. This option has the Azores high moving very far West towards the coast of America, allowing the skippers to point their bows almost directly at Gaudeloupe while still passing to the East of the high pressure in downwind conditions. After crossing the front on Monday, this is the safest most conservative route by a long way. Sailing less distance, AND still with the option to go south without losing too many miles if more accurate forecasts later give HP1 moving back East.
Option 3 is the southerly route, or the ‘sunshine happy holiday’. Here the boats would look to slide down the corridor between the coast of Portugal/Morocco and to the East of the Azores high pressure (HP1). These forecasts have HP1 staying located over the Azores rather than heading West as in Option 2. Currently with only 5 of the 20 routings taking you this way, it again is a riskier option as you will be forced to commit early on to sailing more distance, with less ability to adapt your routing to the changeable forecast if needed. It will however be the most enjoyable ride, so expect some skippers to commit to this route early in the hope to make the most of the gains if it pans out this way.
So what should we be looking out for on the tracker?
Well following the location of the Azores high is going to be the biggest player for all the fleets here. A disbanding of HP1 favours the northerly route, a maintaining, stable HP1 moving West towards America favours the rhum line route and HP1 staying over the Azores favours the southerly option.
What we know for certain is the first night will be a long slog upwind on port for all the boats.. Getting away cleanly will be the primary objective for all the skippers here. There will be a huge amount of boats out on the water creating a lot of funky chop, which added to the tide which will be underneath them for the first 5 hours could cause a pretty nasty sea state. Finding a nice lane to get ripping along for the first 3 hours could be tricky, but hugely beneficial if you can get it. Expect the best skippers, especially in the packed Class 40 fleet, to be doing everything they can to achieve this.
We will get an indication on which option the skippers are looking to follow by when they choose to tack on Monday. A tack in the early hours of Monday would suggest the southerly route, where as a tack late Monday afternoon/evening would be for the Northerly ‘upwind hog’. Expect in the big fleets like the Class 40 a bit of cat and mouse action going among the lead boats as the skippers position themselves not only to the latest weather files, but crucially themselves amongst the fleet as well.
The first night will most likely be the hardest part of the race for the ULTIME class, certainly the most stressful. In particular for one man, a certain Mr Yann Guichard, where dockside rumours have it that he might struggle to tack the mighty 40m Spindrift alone and will be trying to gybe around instead to preserve the boat. The Spindrift story is going to be a fascinating one for us to follow, here’s hoping he can keep it all together and simply demolish the fleet.
In the next update we will take a look back at the start – who’s got their nose in front, and who’s fluffed it. As well as looking in more detail as to how the skippers will deal with the Azores high pressure, with more accurate forecasts at our disposal.