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This image shows the erratic course of the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet as they fight light winds and strong tides

VELUX 5 OCEANS assistant race director and former competitor Alan Nebauer explains the weather scenarios currently facing the fleet


An unusual or at least unexpected challenge has faced the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers as they head into the southern ocean after the delayed Cape Town restart of ocean sprint two.

The route from South Africa to New Zealand takes the sailors deep into the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties with a deserved reputation to make any experienced sailor pensive at the beginning of the voyage – but our intrepid sailors are facing a different hurdle than the expectation of storm force winds and heavy seas that usually predominate in the area. Instead of strong gales that held the fleet back for four days in Cape Town they are in world of the proverbial ‘painted ships on a painted ocean’ dealing with extremely light air and calm seas.

A close-up of the routes of the skippers. Note the dog-leg section where the skippers hit the Agulhas Current

With boat speeds registering in the 0- 3 knot range these guys will be a little perplexed if not downright frustrated as their boats and current mindsets are prepared  for battling fierce winds while in reality they drift about in uncharacteristic smooth and clear seas.   Compounding this surreal scenario is the influence of the Agulhas current – one of the strongest moving ocean currents on the planet that can, when combined with the ‘typical’ heavy winds in the area, create huge and dangerous breaking seas. Today it’s not the big seas being forced up that the skippers have to contend with but the unrelenting river of warm current that is actually carrying them westward, away from the elusive mark that is New Zealand.

This abnormal calm spell is due to a band of high pressure that has extended across the fleet’s course and has hampered them from the start.  The high pressure has forced the prevailing westerly winds deeper into the Southern Ocean, bringing light headwinds from the south and south east. The elusive westerlies are down there and for the moment are an unreachable goal – it will remain a challenge for the next couple of days as the skippers work their way south, coaxing as much boat speed as they can, working their way into the higher latitudes of the Roaring Forties  where it is sure that soon the region will live up its reputation and provide some exhilarating and wonderful high speed sailing and surfing conditions that one expects - and indeed draws sailors to seek the majestic Southern Ocean swells.