Marcel van Triest: Dongfeng is looking good on the northerly flank

As the battle to get out of the Doldrums in the western Pacific continues, Dongfeng Race Team meteorologist Marcel van Triest casts his eye over the final stages of an epic Leg 4 from Melbourne to Hong Kong. As it happens he likes Dongfeng’s position on the eastern/northern flank of the fleet. He also predicts that the last 200 miles of the leg will be “a bit sporty” in the freshening northeast monsoon.

So Marcel, are we almost out of the Doldrums at last?
Almost…the last position report suggests that Dongfeng and Vestas 11th Hour Racing finally have the wind from the other side…but anything could still bubble up. With the Doldrums, sometimes you have to compare it to a pot of boiling water and then try to predict where the next bubble is going to form. So, yes…almost out…

Dongfeng looks quite handily placed on the northern edge of the fleet no?
Yes. I think Dongfeng will be third on this evening’s position report and probably second overnight. But then I expect Vestas to overtake everyone except Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag, but then she will get ahead of her as well.

So being on the northern edge looks set to pay?
We shall see, but yes that is the idea. The problem is that once you are the first one into the new breeze, you have a limited time window to get back some of the miles you have invested because, eventually, everyone gets the new breeze and you are also on the outside of the curve. So you have to put the indicators on and go left towards Hong Kong and you have to get back those miles against the boats that did a shorter route. In the end everyone will end up gybing again because it will become downwind and at some stage it will no longer be an advantage to be in the east.

So what is the key in strategy terms for Dongfeng over the next 24 hours?
It is very important for Dongfeng to no longer be east of anyone in 24 hours’ time. Now is the time to overtake everyone from their easterly and northerly position. It has to happen in the next 24-30 hours. So I am fairly optimistic. I think Vestas has the best position and will stretch away a little bit, but it is not a complete disaster and there are still plenty of miles to go.

So they will be on a broad reach in the trade wind at last?
Yes it will be a reach at first which will be good if you are the northerly boat because you can try to sail a little bit lower and try to sail over the top of the other guys. But somewhere, about halfway between where they are and when they reach the northern tip of the Philippines, the breeze will become full-on downwind.

What sort of windspeeds will they see in the trades?
Well, the pressure will be increasing and winds will be 15-20 knots, becoming 20-25. Then it will go a bit lighter as they approach the Philippines when it will drop back to the mid-to-high teens. Then it looks like the northeast monsoon will be back at full force for the last little stretch to Hong Kong after Taiwan. It’s blowing really hard there now but that is going to abate over the next few days. Then it builds again as the boats start to approach the Asian mainland.

Will the sea-state be a worry for the crews?
It should be fine but the last 200 miles or so could be a bit sporty…

Like their rivals, Dongfeng Race Team is mentally pretty exhausted after the Doldrums – what is the key for them from now on to the finish?
I think the key thing now is deciding when you should really start to head for Hong Kong or the Philippines. At some stage you have to decide and say ‘we are now in the trades and let’s start going left – or do we still sail a little big higher? Do we still think there is better pressure to the north?’ So I think that’s going to be the complicated thing over the next 18-20 hours.

It will be good for them to be moving properly again.
Yes. They will be feeling the boat moving under them again and going back to all the technique about maximising boatspeed and drag racing. The last few days have all been about frustration and manoeuvring and trying to get some boatspeed out of very little wind. So it’s going to be very different and it will be a relief because they will be sailing again and sailing fast while still keeping warm and with nice angles – broad-reaching and downwind – pretty much champagne cruising.

Are there other obstacles to concern the navigators?
Yes there are lots of islands and reefs to deal with – Micronesia – between where they are now and Hong Kong, so the navigators have to be watchful.

MAPFRE is further west than Dongfeng – is that putting her at a disadvantage at this stage?
It’s too early to say. It could still depend on an individual cloud. If the group of boats with MAPFRE get the breeze in time, the distance for them behind will not be that bad. If there is one more cloud and they stay parked for another three hours, it could add 40 miles…so, as I say, it’s a little bit too early to say yet.

Thanks Marcel

Latest position report at 1900UTC:

1. Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag: DTF : 2,902nm.

2. Vestas 11th Hour Racing. DTL: 5.7 nm

3. Dongfeng Race Team. DTL: 16.5nm

4. Team AkzoNobel. DTL: 17nm

5. Team Brunel. DTL: 66.5nm

6. MAPFRE. DTL: 69.3nm

7. Turn the Tide on Plastic. DTL: 72.4nm