WEATHER AND SAILS: KEY ELEMENTS OF THE RACE STRATEGY
The weather plays a critical role in the strategy of a regatta: each skipper should choose the route he or she will follow in total autonomy, without external help and interference. The analysis of the weather is a crucial aspect of the regatta and it takes up several hours a day during an ocean crossing. These are key moments for the decisions to be made.
“Like many teams, we will start with a road book provided by a meteorologist. A road book is a document that, starting from the analysis of the latest forecasts collected before departure, indicates an optimal trajectory to follow, as well as the timing of the manoeuvers – namely, how many hours or days to sail following this route, with this wind, to then change tack on that particular day at that particular time, because the wind will turn in another direction. And so on, practically up to the finish line…”, commented Alberto Bona.
If in the first 2-3 days it is reliable, over time the weather forecast is less accurate, precisely because it is based on forecasts that look too far ahead, and therefore cannot have the same accuracy. During the regatta, the chartwork – i.e. plotting the route on the computer, with routage software – consists in comparing the expected conditions with those observed; updating the forecasts by downloading the latest weather models via the internet; comparing the data provided by the various models because they do not always match; and understanding the general evolution of the systems, in order to adjust and correct the route planned in the road book, with the aim of going fast, but always in the right direction.
“We are getting close to the departure, and by now it seems certain that conditions will be tough from the beginning. We will start with a strong upwind, and at the exit of the English Channel and in the North Atlantic the sea will be very rough. We also know that there will be a first front to cross. In the next bulletins, we will try to understand more precisely when this front will pass, and where one should be at that moment”, pointed out the skipper.
Another key decision within the race strategy concerns the sails. It’s an important decision, that – made by the team less than 48 hours before departure – is affected by the weather scenario of this Route du Rhum. But how many and what kind of sails are there on board a new generation like the Class40 IBSA?
Alberto Bona explained it to us: “The Class40 regulation limits the height of the mast and the sail area to 115 square meters upwind, with mainsail and solent. Furthermore, the number of sails we can have on board is limited to eight. We have the mainsail, which is the primary sail, fully battened and rigged on the boom; at the bow we have a solent, a smaller fore staysail and a storm jib for the strong wind. Then, for running and free-reaching, we have a gennaker mounted on a furler; we will evaluate whether to take the small or the large one. And finally three spinnakers: we will choose which ones to bring according to the weather conditions. For the Class40 IBSA, with designer Sam Manuard and the team we focused on the new, improved hull, that of the Mach5, without making major changes to the sail plan. We therefore remained on already validated shapes, surfaces and types of sails. We made a little different choices on spinnakers – we have two more – so we are still finalising the list”.