Three key moments to look out for as The Ocean Race fleet charges to Cape Town and how to ensure you’re not fooled by the tracker.

If you have read our Leg 2 preview, you will know this is very much a leg of three parts; pre-doldrums, doldrums, and post-doldrums. 

Now, the first two phases are behind us, however the third and arguably most critical phase lies ahead. According to 11th Hour Racing Team Strategist Marcel Van Triest, there are three key moments to look out for in the lead in to Cape Town arrivals that could potentially be game-changers for any of the teams. 

As it stands 11th Hour Racing Team is currently in 4th place. But what does this actually mean with over a week left of racing? 

The Ocean Race tracker measures the Distance to Finish (DTF) of the boats with a direct line to their next destination, in this case, Cape Town. However, don’t be fooled by the initial rankings of each sched*. First doesn’t mean first, and last certainly doesn’t mean last. There’s a lot more to this leg than meets the eye as we discovered from our chat with Marcel. 

As many of you will know, the direct route to Cape Town is blocked by a large transient light wind high pressure system* known as the St Helena High which will force the fleet to push deep into the South Atlantic, maybe even in this instance, the Southern Ocean, before making the easterly turn towards Cape Town. 

So between now and the Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) of February 10, 2023 – what are the defining characteristics of this final hurdle of Leg 2? 

East or West? 

Ah, that classic-yet-crucial decision. As the fleet sails south over the next 24 hours, the individual teams need to make the decision of whether to sail west towards Brazil or east towards Cape Town. Beneath the fleet off the coast of Brazil, there is a fast moving low pressure storm system* that spins up off the South American landmass before hurtling south eastward over the ocean. Sail west and you will be the first ton a strong and consistent breeze but losing miles with a detour away from the finish line without a guaranteed return on investment – all in the hope of a speedy passage once you have jumped on the ‘train’ of the winds around this low (which if miscalculated, you could miss completely). 

Sail east and you  risk running into light breeze where your competitors could fly by. An excruciating position to be in after eight days at sea in a 24/7 competitive environment. The flip side of the coin is that if you calculate it perfectly you could leave your competitors in the west as you jump on the ‘train’.

What’s the destination of this train, and how long do we stay on it? 

As the St Helena High is transient, and at the moment unusually far south, the teams need to decide how long they stay on the ‘train’ of the low which is looking like it will inevitably take them extremely far south. In fact, it could even take them as far as the ice exclusion zone* in the Southern Ocean. 

It’s likely the teams will far pass the latitude of Cape Town and continue to point south towards the antarctic. Another moment where fans could be disillusioned by the tracker, as it will only be the boat furthest east that will appear to be in the ‘lead’, as opposed to the boat with the most tactical advantage in the south. 

So the big question here is, when do the teams start pointing towards Cape Town, who will turn left first? 

The risk of compression 

The transient high pressure system that is moving around and under Cape Town looks like it could cause a final compression of the fleet as they could get bump into its light winds. The leaders first…..

Incredibly frustrating for the team who will be in the lead at this point. After 12+ days of racing you’d like to believe that if you have a strong lead, it would stay that way. But this is sailing and nothing is ever that straight forward. 

This will be a real moment of highs and lows emotionally for the sailors as (assuming the forecast remains the same) as the team who gets out of these light winds first will be the team most likely to win the leg. Anything could happen. 

The final approach to Cape Town can often be a windy affair as the hot air rising over the African interior sucks in strong thermal winds from the ocean. The city’s iconic Table Mountain makes a spectacular backdrop but the teams will need to be wary of its wind shadow as they negotiate the final miles to the finish line off the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.

So there you have it. Interestingly, one of the big questions is whether the teams will sail their ‘own race’ which is what our Navigator Simon Fisher (Si Fi) firmly stated we would be doing. Or if we will see a herd mentality develop on the tracker over the coming week? What do you reckon? Would you sail against the fleet or against the weather?


*Sched: the latest positions report from the tracker. Download the tracker here.

*Ice exclusion zone: an exclusion zone marked out by race control on the route. A no-go zone through risk of encountering icebergs. 

* Low Pressure System: In a depression (low pressure), air is rising and blows in an anticlockwise direction around the low (in the northern hemisphere). As it rises and cools, water vapour condenses to form clouds and perhaps precipitation.

* High Pressure System: In an anticyclone (high pressure) the winds tend to be light and blow in a clockwise direction (in the northern hemisphere). Also, the air is descending, which reduces the formation of cloud and leads to light winds and settled weather conditions.