Another stopover and another whirlwind of activity as the shore team have worked tirelessly to get the boat ready for the off again this coming Sunday. Leg 8 will see us heading from Itajai, Brazil to Newport, USA and we anticipate being at sea for around 18-19 days for this section of the race.
Looking ahead to the start conditions, it seems as though we will be leaving Itajai in light winds and then heading into some upwind sailing to Cape Frio. The coastline is peppered with oil platforms, research vessels, fishing vessels and pots, so we will need to be extra vigilant as we head out in reaching conditions to Recife – the furthest eastern point of South America.
The weather conditions to reach the doldrums will become typically tropical. Light winds, hot sticky temperatures and lightening squalls along the coast with the sea and air temperatures both very warm. When we reach Recife, we have a choice to either take the most direct route to Newport or bend round and follow the coastline a little further. The coastal route may provide more breeze due to local land effects and the mixing of sea breeze and land breeze, so this could be a good option to make some gains.
As we cross the Caribbean latitudes we face the possibility of Sargasso weed impeding our speed. The weed can be very thick and is a real menace as it can get stuck on our foils and will need to be removed if we want to keep moving. Once we have extracted ourselves from the clutches of the Sargasso weed, we will head north towards Bermuda where there is a high pressure that will want to suck us in. Careful navigation will be required here before we hit the next obstacle – the gulf stream flowing north along the continental shelf. Rather selfishly this stream does not follow a straight line but rather meanders, resulting in a strong warm water current against us. When I say warm, I really mean it as the sea temperature can be as high as 25 degrees here. However, once we emerge the other side, there is a drastic drop in the sea temperature which can dip as low as 7 degrees. In fact, just the other day, it was snowing in Newport which is almost as bizarre as the UK having its hottest day in April since 1949 this week. Yep – weird and wonderful weather is happening all over the world.
Such a contrast in temperatures often brings fog. There is also a great deal of wind sheer where there is no visible wind presence on the water at deck level but, at 15 to 20 metres up, there is plenty of wind to be harnessed. So we could find ourselves in flat water, sailing very fast in wind that is registering on instruments at the top of the mast. This feels counterintuitive and can therefore be quite difficult to work with.
As we approach the finish line in Newport, Rhode Island, the coastal traffic increases and there will be a number of fishing vessels and pots to be avoided. The final two days can also be quite cold but, once we round the headland at Brenton Point, the temperature changes and we will finish with a warm welcome in the US.
The Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8 departs Itajaí on Sunday 22nd April with stopovers at Newport, Cardiff and Gothenburg before a big finish in The Hague at the end of June 2018.
Follow the race here