Sailing: Justin Slattery’s Volvo Ocean Race Log

We’re back on track after a frustrating hiatus

Team Alvimedica making progress off the Brazilian coast during Leg Six of the Volvo Ocean Race from Itajai to Newport, Rhode Island. Photo: Amory Ross/Volvo Ocean Race/ Getty Images

A week ago, we were leading this leg of the race. This week, we’re again leading the race from Itajai to Newport. The bit in between has been a little bit tricky but thankfully we’re through it now.

A week ago, I said we still have the potential to deliver a shocker in the remainder of the 39,000 nautical-mile race around the world. Although we have a seven-point margin, our first place overall could easily be reduced to nil if we aren’t careful.

And then along came a great big cloud that seemed to park itself over us and only us.

Beneath the cloud – no wind so Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was becalmed. Everywhere else around us, including the other five boats – plenty of breeze. So off they sailed as we looked on and cursed the cloud above us as the others steadily built up a 15-20 mile advantage over us as the weak trade-winds carried them off.


With all one-designs sailing more or less for the same place, overtaking lanes were going to be few so it would be a question of slowly reeling them in until we could catch a break again.

Still, we were only days into the leg and with 4,000 miles or so remaining we weren’t panicking. But it was more than a little annoying.

Since then, we passed Recife and the eastern-most point of Brazil, sailed through the doldrums and over the equator for the fourth and last time in this race. We’ve completed the circumnavigation of the planet according to the orthodromic distance so now we’re into the closing stages with just two months remaining.

As the week progressed, we gradually caught the others who were swapping places as the fleet split into two groups: one to the East and the other including ourselves to the west.

When we hit the light winds, the pack reshuffled as our new position between the two groups paid off and we were back in the lead as the trade winds freshened once more.

Blasting along

We are blasting along again at speeds of over 20 knots and we should be able to keep this pace up for another few days until we start to feel the effects of the Bermuda High Pressure system.

Life on board has been hot and sweltering below decks but we’ve now switched back to wearing full gear on deck as the waves breaking hard over us mean we need to keep the salt water off bare skin or we’ll end up with painful irritations that can become infected.

The leading four boats are spread across 50 miles running west to east off the coast of French Guinea and all pointing towards Antigua. At this pace, we should be easily able to do 400-plus miles daily until the breeze goes light again.

With all four of us separated by a couple of miles, we’re still facing a possible battle by the weekend or at least a challenge for the lead. Our plan is to stay close to Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng, our closest rivals since leg two, who are back on form after the costly blow of incurring maximum points for losing their mast and being forced to retire in the last leg. .

We’ll need to cover them as we plough northwards towards the Eastern seaboard of the US and the sprint to the finish at Newport, Rhode Island.

Part of the new look of this race is the arrival of AIS – Automatic Identification System – that is mandatory for commercial vessels and for all in certain parts of the world. As we all have it fitted, it means transmitting our key performance data – position, course, speed – to other vessels around us. Of course, that means only ourselves for large chunks of the race but we can’t selectively switch it on and off even if we’re the only people around.

Early on in the race, the data allowed us to gain insights into how the others were sailing. Now we mainly just concentrate on our own performance and as AIS is only effective for short-range, every now and again as one of the others comes within 12 miles of us we see them electronically.

And every six hours, we receive the official position reports and standings for the current. It’s incredibly tight at the front and impossible to say any of us have a commanding lead until we reach the finishing line. As of now, that looks likely to be another week away and we’ll have a pretty short stop-over there before the final ocean leg to Lisbon on May 16.

To win this race, our gameplan hasn’t changed: we simply must finish on the podium for the remaining four stages to lift the trophy in Gothenburg at the end of June.