VOR Leg 1 – Doldrums for dummies

Last week the race was all about VMG downwind sailing, with Dongfeng being the star performer. After DFRT took the lead, they shortly lost it again 36 hours later after hitting something in the water and losing their rudder. 2 hours later they were up and running again with the spare in. Impressive stuff. What I liked most about this video below is Charles’, concise and clear leadership in the situation, made more impressive doing it in his second language. And how as soon as that rudder was back in, the main was being hoisted to get going in the right direction again, not a second was wasted.

Cape Verde’s was the next obstacle and it looked like all the boats came out in the wash fairly even to how they came into it in terms of distance to finish. Crucially however they were set up East to West for very different approaches into the doldrums. The boats who went through the islands, Dongfeng, Mapfre and Vestas all struggled to make good value ‘Westing’ in after their passage through these remote, mid Atlantic islands. Therefore paying a higher price to get West than Abu Dhabi or Brunel who went West before them at a much better CMG (course made good). This meant that while it looked good initially for the southern trio, it was only ever a short term gain.

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Southern option looking good for Dongfeng initially

As I type now the boats are crossing the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the ITCZ, the doldrums, ‘le pot au noir’. It is an infamous place to sail for all seafarers and in times gone by sailors have got stuck here for days. With stories of sailors going crazy in the heat and disorientation.

Teams will be hoping their decision on where to cross, East to West, will be the right one, and also for a little bit of luck I am sure! Traditionally ‘west is best’ here, so expect Abu Dhabi and Brunel to do the best out of this. On the tracker they certainly seem to be making better progress than their eastern counterparts.

Saying that however, the race isn’t over for those out East. The doldrums seem more settled and not as wide to the East as normal, and crucially the South Easterlies are well formed to the South of the ITCZ meaning the traditionally risky Eastern approach is less so this time around. If Dongfeng, Mapfre and Vestas therefore can break through the doldrums at the same time as Abu Dhabi and Brunel, they will have a much better/faster angle to Fernando de Noronha, the next waypoint of the course, compared to Abu D and Brunel who will be sailing more upwind.

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Game still on as they race South towards Fernando de Noronha

Because of this my latest routing at the moment actually has Dongfeng leading Abu Dhabi at Fernando de Noronha by less than 2nm, just a few minutes. Meaning the race for the lead would well and truly be on for the last 3,400nm as they drag race to the finish in Cape Town, traditionally in big 24hr record breaking conditions.

Bear in mind though that routing and GRIB weather forecasts that I have used are pretty unreliable in areas such as the ITCZ where clouds can give zero wind, or 25kts where 4 knots are forecast. If current leaders Abu Dhabi get stuck this afternoon under a newly forming cloud, which will suck all the breeze from underneath it, into it, they could easily get trapped for 2 hours, and pop out of the doldrums in 5th or worse, a really nerve wracking time for the teams, and for the navigators as well, but great for us!

All the navigators will be downloading satellite radar images of the cloud formations that could pass ahead of them to try and avoid this, but it is not a truly scientific and precise art! I am sure they will be silently crossing their fingers down at the nav station and be feeding Neptune their favourite food items on board as a sacrifice for a safe and speedy passage!

In the next blog I will talk more about the St Helena high, the traditional routes and potential short cuts available to the teams. For now, keep an eye on who can nudge themselves South the fastest and get out of the doldrums first. And be aware the teams to the East will have a nicer angle after the doldrums, even if the teams to the west look more advanced along the road for now.

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VOR Leg 1 – Getting South, and West…

So the start of the mighty Volvo Ocean Race is well and truly under way now and I have to admit I have been a bit of an addict since the start, watching, reading and listening to every bit of media that comes off the boats! Some of the content is just fantastic and it makes interesting viewing too as there is a lot we can learn from the pictures and videos sent off the boats about how the sailors are sailing the boats. This photo here for example shows how much emphasis Dongfeng are putting on stacking their gear. Coiled ropes on deck, and piling up the stack twice the height of the guard wire. Losing a sail over the side in the practice ‘Leg 0′ is clearly not phasing them as they push the boat as hard as they can now that the race is on proper.

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Stacking hard in the flat water with the stack twice the height of the guard wire

There has also been lots of talk about the watch systems being run on board, and how the role of skippers and navigators will fit in. From this screenshot from on board Mapfre you can see Nicolas Lunven, navigator on board Mapfre, getting stuck in on the bow in a sail change. In years gone by I am certain some navigators barely ventured on deck, let alone the bow! This is a sign of how the smaller crew numbers are forcing the sailors to be more flexible in their roles.

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Nicolas Lunven, Navigator onboard Mapfre getting stuck into a sail change on the bow

So looking back at the race so far the big move in the Mediterranean was all about SCA. Breaking away from the pack and going with what proved to be the right option, impressive stuff. The most interesting thing for me though with this was how the other teams reacted to this move, and it reminds me a lot of the way you sail in the Figaro. This race is long, and while other teams may have favoured the Northern approach, they stuck with the pack. Dongfeng, filled with sailors who cut their teeth in the Figaro for example, Charles, Pascal, Eric, Thomas, started heading North initially with SCA, most likely wishing the fleet would follow with them. When it turned out they weren’t, they cut back to go with the pack, not wanting to give away too much leverage to so many boats so early on in the game.

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Fleet at 0730UT 15th October 2014

After exiting Gibraltar the fleet headed West, crossed a front and then tacked, turning their bows South towards warmer climes. The whole fleet besides Vestas are still within 10nm of each other and are currently VMG running, with British Skipper Ian Walker of Abu Dhabi currently doing the most consistent job holding a 1.7nm lead over Dongfeng.

The next 1000 or more miles are going to be all about VMG downwind sailing. There is a high pressure to navigate and at the same time the Canaries Islands too. Navigating the HP will be interesting, ideally you would pass best by sailing into the center of it, taking the right shift and then gybing away, careful not to get caught out by the light winds in the center. Example here seen in the screenshot below.

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Navigating passed a High Pressure system

In order to nail this shift, overnight last night we saw the boats gybing down the Moroccan coast to position themselves for their final approach into the high. Approach the high to early and you will not get the shift, and be sailing into lighter winds, too late and the boats inside you will get to the shift first and make gains as they gybe back at you. Remember too that the center of the HP is always moving, so its a tricky decision to make. The navigators will be pouring over every piece of information they can to make their best educated guesses. Small gains and losses will be made here by the team that does this best.

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The routing of lead boat Abu Dhabi over the next 5 days as they head south to Fenando de Noronha

After dealing with the HP the boats will then be sailing downwind in predominantly Northerly winds, meaning they will be going back to basics, gybing on the shifts, as well as staying in the best pressure. At this time, the navigators will also start looking at the best times to get in some Westing where possible, in order to get into the more Easterly trade winds which is a better angle for getting South and into the Doldrums. At the moment I have them sailing through the Cape Verde Islands in order to do this Westing, which would give them an acceleration of the wind through the islands too, and some nice footage for us too!

So keep an eye on the boats today as they slide to the Eastern side of the HP and then also as they race downwind for a few days. Who is the fastest downwind? Mapfre are reportedly 150kg lighter on personal kit for this Leg than all the other teams, will this make a difference here? Small gains over the next few days could turn into bigger gains later on as the first boat into the stronger trade winds to the South West will inevitably increase their lead further. No let up for the crews yet then it seems!

And no let up for me either, this week I am training with Nick Cherry. And today we are doing a little offshore race of our own from Torquay, round Eddystone lighthouse and back to Dartmouth. About 12 hours in total, expected into Dartmouth around 0400 tomorrow morning.

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Torquay, Eddystone lighthouse, Dartmouth.

My playbook for Leg 1 VOR

So the start of one of the greatest races/adventures in the world got under way yesterday, the Volvo Ocean Race. As a Figaro sailor the Volvo this time around has got a whole lot more interesting with the introduction of one design boats. The racing will be closer, and tactical options will most likely make one of the biggest differences out on the water. In this blog I am going to look at the first leg of the race from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa and look at the different options on offer to the teams.

Captujre

The leg can be broken down into 4 stages:

1) Exiting the Mediterranean

2) The Mid Atlantic

3) The Doldrums

4) The South Atlantic

Interestingly for this race the first two nights are spent exiting the Mediterranean, which provides additional challenges for the sailors and especially the navigators. With huge coastal effects, and thermal influences too, even at this time of year, meaning there can be huge holes out there on the race course.

Capture

On the first night it appears Team Vestas, who made a move away from the fleet at 0130, heading inshore by themselves, are the only boat to have not got trapped last night, seeing them hold a 2nm lead over 2nd placed Mapfre as it stands at 1100UT this afternoon. Abu Dhabi and Brunel got the worst of the shut downs being the most offshore, both losing heavily at 0300 this morning. Abu Dhabi cut their loses earlier than Brunel however and headed back inshore and are now up to 3rd as of this afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest decision of the leg will be once they exit the Mediterranean and pass through the Gibraltar straight and into the Atlantic. Last time around Groupama lost big by going South alone, and the first boats West, Telefonica and PUMA, did best. Although it looked good initially for Groupama, as you can see from Screenshot 1, a few days of fast reaching by Telefonica and PUMA out West and Groupama were eaten up as they sailed VMG downwind in the light. Check out how Leg 1 played out for last time around for yourself here – http://volvooceanrace.geovoile.com/2011/?leg=1

VOR Leg 1 2012Screenshot 1 – Groupama advanced nicely South intially

VOR Leg 1 2012 2

Screenshot 2 – How it played out last time, West was best

As it stands at the moment, I don’t believe a Westerly option will pay this time around (NOTE! As it stands at the moment!) and reckon all boats will follow a Southerly route sticking East of the ridge extending North/South and sailing downwind through the Canaries and Cape Verde’s. As you can see from the routings below getting West is made very hard work due to sailing directly upwind for 1000nm before being able to point the bow South. A too bigger price to pay I feel. Compared to last time when Telefonica and PUMA got West sailing downwind in South Easterly winds, able to head South after only 800nm of Westing. I ran a pivot (green) to see what the best Westerly option I could achieve was and as you can see it isn’t that pretty, after a week of sailing you will be 550nm further West but 800nm further North to the current optimal routing in blue. With Green having to come back East at some point in its the near future as well.

Leg 1 Volvo

So the trick will be when to head South. In what looks to be VMG downwind running in 10-15kts of breeze at around 130-140 TWA sailing both through the Canaries and the Cape Verdes for most likely increased wind as it funnels through the islands. There will be gybes to do and shifts to play, as well as always having ‘getting west’ on your mind to line yourself up nicely for the doldrums.

Leg 1 Volvo canaries

Sailing through the Canaries, sticking East of the Ridge HP for NE’ly winds

Leg 1 Volvo cape verde

Sailing through the Cape Verde’s, heading West here currently see’s a nicer reaching angle South

Every team in a weeks time will be looking to find the thinnest transition of the doldrums as well as line up their exit with a nice reaching angle South before executing the long slow turn around the St Helena high pressure. By the time they reach the doldrums I am sure some gaps would have appeared, with some teams defending positions, lining up directly South of your closest competitors is generally considered the safest approach for this, but some teams will be looking to take a gamble. With the prize of being that the first boat out will find the stronger winds first, and able to extend on their opponents, perhaps gambles will be taken here. It is all to play for and for sure I won’t be able to keep my eyes off of the racing!

Till next time,

H

VIDEO: Sailing towards a twister/waterspout in 40kts

Yesterday Nick Cherry and I got back into some serious Figaro training, heading offshore in 40kts. It is always good to get out there in these conditions as we often have to endure them during racing and it helps to build your confidence in handling the boat too. As we hammered our way upwind in big seas with wind against tide we came across one particularly nasty looking black cloud with this twister/waterspout on its trailing edge, check out the video below.

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Twister the video from Henry Bomby on Vimeo.

September Update

The last month has seen a mixture of activities on and off the water. September started off with 10 days of boat work in order to carry out as much work as possible in this relatively quiet time of year to ensure the maximum amount of reliability next season.

Red was taken out the water and put back in her cradle and the mast taken out in order to carry out general maintenance jobs as well as replacing the spreader base which broke during Dartmouth Regatta towards the end of August. With money being low as we reach the end of the season, work has also started back in the ‘actual office’ towards raising the finances for next year. We are also looking long term in order to create stability in my sailing projects which has been exciting – in order to not only compete once again on the Figaro Circuit next year, but to be in a position to put larger projects together in the future.

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It has been great to have the time to go over the boat with a fine tooth comb and identify the jobs that need doing, and carrying out the smaller ones which don’t cost any money, just take time! Doing jobs like going over every wire in the boat and soldering the ends to ensure a better connection, not only increases reliability, but also your confidence in your boat and its systems which is vital when competing out on the water.

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Towards the end of September fellow Figarist Nick Cherry sailed ‘Redshift’ over to Dartmouth where we carried out a weeks training out of Darthaven with Shane Hughes as coach, who came along with a rib from the ‘Red Sailing Team’. We managed to work a lot on tuning and settings and focussed on upwind and downwind settings. Our sails are designed differently to most boats as we do a substantial amount of reaching too, not purely upwind and downwind, making them generally deeper and more powerful. Therefore one of the interesting topics we discussed was how to make them more efficient for sailing upwind, in terms of sail set up, but also adjusting the mast tensions.

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Nick and I then did a 70 nautical mile race from Dartmouth to Poole to do some long speed testing upwind before heading off for a weeks training out of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It was great to catch up with the guys at the OC Sport office while we were there too. To make plans for the all important, but potentially less interesting, off the water stuff for next year too. As much as we would like to sail every day of the year, unfortunately we do have to do a few days in the ‘actual office’ each week!

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Passing through a rainy and aggressive little squall en route to Poole

October will see a big training block, with 3 sessions throughout the month. I will also be popping over to Alicante next week for the start of the Volvo Ocean Race to catch up with a few friends before they set off to race around the world which I am very much looking forward to! It is hugely exciting to be getting completely stuck into doing everything I can to do great things in the Solitaire next year. I currently have the best start to any of the 3 campaigns I have done previously, thanks to the continued support of the Artemis Offshore Academy and use of a boat for the season, enabling me to get her reliable and out on the water training 4 months earlier than previously. So here’s to the hard yards put in now paying off next summer!

Bye for now,

H

Post Solitaire blues

The Solitaire is not easy. At times I found myself not only fighting with my competitors, the boat and the conditions but also with myself on a scale I have not yet experienced in my life before. It was a hard one was the 45th edition of La Solitaire du Figaro.

As many of you know the Solitaire 2014 didn’t go as I planned, dropping 4 places from my 2013 performance finishing 28th overall of 38. Dealing with poor performance on board was one of the hardest things to deal with during the race this year. For sure there were high moments during all of the legs, but I never managed to finish well or be well place when it mattered and that was hugely, hugely frustrating.

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The Figaro and the Solitaire itself is addictive though, while in 2014 it has kicked me down hard and made me seriously question for what must be over the 100th time ‘what the hell am I doing here?!’ there is still a burning desire to come back next year and do a good race. I know a Top 20, Top 15 even is within reach for me and I feel like it will bug me and be a horrible itch until I have managed to achieved this goal.

Right now I have had 2 weeks since the finish in Cherbourg to rest, recover and catch up with friends and family. Last weekend I took junior sailors from my local club RDYC out on the boat which was an awesome day for me. To see the enthusiasm of kids learning to sail, asking endless questions and just simply wanting to learn was great to see.

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But I have definitely been feeling the post Solitaire blues. We work so hard for just under a year with just one goal and objective and now it is all over, what am I meant to do now?! I admit I feel a little lost and am looking forward to getting a sense of direction back again. This week my head is slowly starting to look ahead to the 2015 season. I have a good list of training objectives for what I want to improve on, and I have started the process of going over the tracker in great detail to look back at every decision I made to analyse what affected my decision making process’s and how the process itself can be improved.

The Figaro is a fickle old game that takes time we know that, and I have had the amazing opportunity from so many to start out incredibly young at it, under the premise of ‘potential’, but at some point I know I need to prove that the investment in me both by the Artemis Offshore Academy and my family of sponsors back home has been worthwhile. And perhaps this is one of my biggest driving factors right now.

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Training for 2015 for me will start in September out of my home port of Dartmouth. I have a boat, sails and some fantastic local support which is going to help me get off the ground again for 2015. Each year though is like starting a new company, it all starts again, the fundraising, the sponsorship deals, it is a tireless task but luckily one I enjoy.

Thanks again to all for your incredible support this year, and I look forward to catching up with you all over the coming weeks and months.

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Bomby announces 2014 season

Henry Bomby is delighted to announce that he will once again be participating in La Solitaire du Figaro for the third time after securing enough funding. The top Devon sailor will be one of 8 Brits taking part, all have passed through the Artemis Offshore Academy. Henry will also, for the first time, be competing in the whole of the ‘Championship of France’, racing on board his new boat, ‘Red’.

Henry Bomby, Red: “It is an honour for me to be racing under the name ‘Red’ of Joe Woods ‘Red Sailing Team’. I have raced with Joe for the last two years and last year Joe stepped in at the last minute, 2 weeks before the start of Solitaire to purchase 3 new sails for me, transforming my campaign. Spending £20-25k a year chartering a boat isn’t ideal if you are competing on the circuit for more than a year and so Joe agreed to buy a Figaro for me to use over the coming years, helping to massively reduce my campaign costs.”

Henry also sails with Joe’s team on the Melges 32 Circuit.

Henry Bomby, Red: “We have already sailed 2 events out in Miami this year as we build up to the Worlds in December which has been fantastic. Getting to sail with guys like Chris Draper, Alister Richardson and Shane Hughes is fantastic for me to learn. Their attention to detail in all aspects of the campaign is something I am trying to take into my Figaro campaign.”

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Bernard Gergaud

The ‘Championship of France’ is made up of the Solo Le Havre in May, the month-long Solitaire du Figaro in June and the Lorient-Horta-Lorient in September. The top 10 boats at the end of the championship win the right to compete with that number on their boat for the following season, which holds high prestige among the sailors! No British sailor has ever achieved a top 10 finish overall for the season before.

Henry Bomby, Red: “It is effectively a cheap year for us with no race in the Mediterranean and no single-handed Transat which are both equally as expensive as a Solitaire du Figaro campaign. The new solo race to the Azores and back from Lorient is a great new race and will deliver a great return to sponsors. It is also a great next stepping stone for me – 10 days racing alone at sea against the very best skippers in the world is ideal preparation for me as I hope to build towards the single-handed transatlantic race next year and ultimately a Vendee Globe.”

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“Achieving a top 10 position overall at the end of the year is not going to be easy and for sure it is a hugely ambitious goal, but I am excited to be able to have a fair crack at it this year thanks to the support of my growing family of sponsors around me.”

RockFish is also supporting Henry again this year. Owned by the celebrity chef Mitch Tonks they have been backing the young sailor since 2010.

Mitch Tonks, RockFish: “We have supported Henry since his first venture a few years ago when he sailed around Britain, we loved his enthusiasm and vision to be one of the world’s best offshore sailors. His current form shows he is well on the way and we are hoping for a top result in this year’s Figaro for him…. From there who knows!”

Henry Bomby, Red: “Mitch is hugely passionate about sailing and racing and over the years has become a great friend, in fact we are planning to do the ARC together in 2016 with a bunch of his friends! It is great to continue our partnership together as his RockFish brand and chain of restaurants grows across the South West of England and my sailing ambitions get bigger and bigger! With a new restaurant opening in the coming weeks near to my home in Torquay and the ever flourishing flagship restaurant in Plymouth where the Solitaire will be coming this year too.”

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Bernard Gergaud

Championship of France Races

La Havre Allmer Cup 2014 – 21st – 28th May
Solitaire du Figaro 2014 – 29th May – 3rd July
Lorient – Horta – Lorient – September

Henry’s full list of sponsors:

Red – Joe Woods/SHS Drinks
RockFish – Seafood and Chips Restaurant Chain
Artemis Offshore Academy – British Offshore Racing Academy
Speciality Fasteners – Specialists in one-of components and fastenings
Corinium Care – UK leading live-in Care agency
Gate Insurance – Experts in high risk and non standard insurance cover
Valeport – UKs leading oceanographic instruments manufacturer
Kaywana Hall – Luxury B&Bs
Baltic Wharf – Boat yard Totnes/ Riverside revival housing project
Zhik – Clothing supplier
English Braids – Rope supplier

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For more information / high res images and to arrange interviews please contact Sam Joseph 07867 511989. samajose1@gmail.com