Team AkzoNobel leads Volvo Ocean Race fleet
Team AkzoNobel leads Volvo Ocean Race fleet as Leg 6 enters crucial final phase to Auckland
[Friday, February 23, 2018]: Team AkzoNobel has emerged in the lead from a prolonged light wind Doldrums zone that has significantly slowed the six-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet over the second week of Leg 6 from Hong Kong to Auckland.
After positioning themselves as the most westerly boat in the fleet several days ago the team AkzoNobel sailors have been living on their nerves as the more easterly teams - Turn the Tide on Plastic (UN) and Team Brunel (NED) - leapfrogged ahead of them in the official standings based on the relative distance to the finish line in New Zealand.
This stressful situation was made all the more testing as even their nearest rivals Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (HKG) who had also stayed well to the west at one point managed to creep past too, relegating team AkzoNobel to fourth place for a while.
Over the last 24 hours however team AkzoNobel strategy to be the most southerly boat began to pay dividends again.
The crew has managed to make small but steady gains at each position report and at 0506 UTC (0606 CET) the Volvo Ocean Race tracker showed they had retaken the lead.
"Of all the six boats in the fleet I would rather be on this one right now," whispered Cécile Laguette from her vantage point on the foredeck of the team AkzoNobel yacht as it ghosted to the west of the large island of New Caledonia in a gentle but gradually building breeze.
"We are in a good spot - looking at where the breeze is coming from right now and where we need to be positioned in the next few days," Laguette continued, before adding with a note of caution:
"But there is still a long way to go and until we get to North Cape [the northern tip of New Zealand] with a good lead then we probably shouldn't talk about anything!"
At 0700 UTC (0800 CET) today was in first place sailing south west at 14 knots (26 kilometers per hour), 14 kilometers ahead of second placed Sun Hung Kai Scallywag, with Turn the Tide on Plastic a further 10 kilometers back in third.
Fourth-placed Team Brunel will not show on the tracker for the next three six-hourly positon reports since going into stealth mode earlier in the day very shortly after beginning what looked like a breakaway move to the east.
The sweltering conditions and fickle winds that have characterised the second week of Leg 6 have tested the mental strength and personal will of the team AkzoNobel sailors - almost to breaking point at times.
More than once hours of painstaking sail trimming and concentration to eke out a few miles of advantage was negated in just a few minutes when thunderclouds ensnared the team in a windless vacuum and allowed their rivals to sail gleefully away.
In an email from the boat today Australian helmsman and sail trimmer Luke Molloy admitted losing his cool after receiving a bad position report after just such a scenario.
"The relentless heat, lack of wind and pressure from the tight racing all boiled up," Molloy wrote.
"All the damage we received in this report came from my watch - which is an even harder pill to swallow. One bad cloud is all it takes to ruin eight hours of solid fast sailing.
"The other boat gained on us for only 30 minutes, but it was enough to put them nine miles in front and put our strategy into tatters.
"It's hard to keep taking these knocks day after day after day," Molloy confessed. "Luckily for me I have a great watch partner in Brad Farrand [bowman, (NZL)] and a crew of solid team members to pick me up."
A week ago the team AkzoNobel sailors led the fleet into the secondary Doldrums belt with a 90-kilometer advantage over the fleet after previously picking their way through the first set of Doldrums with considerable aplomb.
When that lead was quickly eroded the team had to dig deep into its collective mental reserves so as not to crumble as three of the chasing pack first drew level and then overtook.
In an email from the boat on Monday February 19 Australian watch captain Chris Nicholson pragmatically categorised the losses as: "the shoe being put on the other foot".
"Even when we made the gains in previous days we knew this could/would happen," Nicholson wrote, before signing off with what seemed to be a rallying cry to his fellow crewmates.
"Why can we not now use this opportunity to show that we will not simply get rolled but will take it to the end?" Nicholson asked.
"[It] will be a fascinating week or so to the finish and perhaps one of the mentally more taxing legs, [we're] looking forward to it!"
Now, with a little over 2,000 kilometers - an estimated three or four days - of Leg 6 remaining the team AkzoNobel crew has fought its way back to the front of the fleet as the crew prepares for the final push to Auckland.
The weather scenario ahead looks complex after a tropical storm named Gita cut a swathe through the southern Pacific Ocean in recent days causing structural damage and flooding in New Zealand and snuffing out the normal trade wind system the crews had planned to ride to Auckland.
Nothing is certain, even at this stage, but the team AkzoNobel crew can take some pride in its resilience it has shown on what has arguably been one of the most challenging legs of the race so far.
"It's incredibly close, closer than ever," commented team AkzoNobel boat captain Nicolai Sehested (DEN). "There's three weeks of work behind this [position] and you can lose it all in one bad cloud.
"It's been a long journey for us as a team but it's coming together as we get more time together, experience, speed - small things that add up to a greater picture."
Latest estimations suggest the leading boats will complete Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 from Hong Kong to Auckland on Monday February 26 or Tuesday February 27.
Team AkzoNobel crew list for Leg 6:
Simeon Tienpont (NED) - skipper
Brad Farrand (NZL)
Justin Ferris (NZL)
Martine Grael (BRA)
Cécile Laguette (FRA)
Luke Molloy (AUS)
Chris Nicholson (AUS)
Jules Salter (GBR)
Nicolai Sehested (DEN)