Justin Slattery: All our hard work gone with the wind off Sri Lanka in the Volvo Ocean Race

But with uncertain conditions in the Malacca Strait all could change utterly for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing

Justin Slattery of Abu Dhabi Racing checks the range and bearing to Team Alvimedica and Team Brunel as “Azzam” makes gains on the leaders at dusk during leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race. Photograph: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images

A single period of just six hours has left us more than a little annoyed on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing as we watched all our hard work disappear as we reach the halfway point in leg three.

Having turned southwards off the coast of Pakistan a week ago, all six boats stayed well offshore of India to stay in what breeze we had and sailed in a straight fetch towards Sri Lanka.

It's been warm and dry on deck and while we haven't been able to break Charles Caudrelier's constant grip with Dongfeng in first place, we have closed the gap on a few occasions, even getting into second place for a while.

But as we rounded the southern tip of Sri Lanka, we managed to find a parking-lot of no wind.


The three boats astern of us were able to carry the breeze and the leader avoided the calm area and extended once more. Now we find ourselves in a bunch of four boats spread across just five miles.

It’s been incredibly frustrating. You just have to keep plugging away and sometimes it doesn’t work out so we have to dig our way back out. It might take a few days to regain the separation that we had enjoyed with the other two front-runners.

However, after that complete shutdown we are moving once more and sailing quickly at 16 knots on a tight reach for the northern tip of Sumatra that marks the approaches to the Malacca Strait.

Small gains

The pressure has evened out between us all and we’re making small gains even if only at 0.1 knots at a time advantage over the opposition

None of the weather models agree on what’s going to happen over the coming days which is always a sure sign that it’s going to be a mess: that means another big shut-down coming again at the top of the Malacca Straits so the race is likely to be turned on its head again; all the signs point that way.

Meanwhile we’re enjoying having a guest appearance on board for this leg by our performance coach and race veteran Neal McDonald who I’ve sailed with many times before. It’s great to have him back on board as he brings loads to the table as a solid all-rounder.

As the his role demands he’s sailed on board in the pre-race training before this but it’s still good to have a fresh pair of eyes looking over the things you think you’ve been doing well.

Nevertheless, he does like to remind us regularly of the physical demands the race places on us and even sailing this leg was a surprise as he had ‘hung up his sea-boots’ after the last round the world race for that same reason.

I notice the physical toll as well and it’s definitely not got easier as each race goes by. With over 39,000 miles, it’s a very tough race and wears you down as you go on. Even the long hours on watch takes a toll. We’ll definitely feel like we’ve done three legs by the time we reach China.

Between the physical demands and the freeze-dried food diet, weight loss is a major challenge for all of us regardless of age. I’ve reached a point where I’ve had the initial loss that you get in the first leg or two (and I’ve probably fattened up a bit over Christmas) and I think I’ve reached my natural level so I’m not expecting to lose much more.

It really comes down to the length of the legs and even one or two extra days at sea longer than three weeks makes a noticeable difference.

Tactical options

But these are secondary issues for now. Reeling back into the leader is our main task and with these one-design boats it’s a much slower task and any tactical option is likely to be the same for all six boats compared to the more open designs of previous races that gave each boat preferred conditions and more or less favourable tactical options as a result.

That said, we do still see some small but exploitable differences between each of the three leading boats that are presently tied for the overall race standings.

Dongfeng certainly seem to have an edge in the downwind sailing while Brunel does well in reaching and ourselves have a slight advantage in the current close reaching angles where we feel very comfortable and fast.

It seems that each boat has it’s forte as such and it’s a matter of knowing the margins where the conditions aren’t yours.

There’s still more to learn and by no means have we reached the threshold of maximum performance.