Brad Baker, perennial Vic-Maui winner and owner of Swiftsure Yachts, is sitting on shore for this year’s race. But of course his navigator’s mind is out there working its way around that Pacific high, and he’s graciously volunteered his take on how this year’s race is going. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll get some more updates before it’s done. Take it away, Brad!–KH
Vic Maui is now in full swing and I find myself in the position of spectator this time around. The first start was July 3rd with the quicker boats starting on the 5th. Having been away celebrating the fourth of July Holiday weekend, I haven’t paid to close attention to the race until yesterday.
Looking back at the race so far, the YellowBrick Tracker shows the boats in the first start getting off to a quick start out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, only to come to a screeching halt in lighter winds as a weakening high pressure ridge settled over the fleet. Then light SW headwinds filled in as a weak trough passed by (which by the way gave the cooler conditions for the 4th). With the passing of the trough, NW to N winds have filled in as the weak amorphous high has caused a pressure gradient (pressure gradient = wind) over the fleet. The catch is the weak ridge of high pressure is centered fairly close to the coast. Right now the boats more to the east should have more wind and there is a large decline in breeze as soon as you reach about 130 degrees of longitude.
For the short term I believe the boats that have positioned themselves more to the East will make out better. They will be able to sail hotter angles in more wind. Longboard in Class A, a very quick boat, well suited for a race like this, did a good job of staying east, taking a more southerly course down the coast. In Class B the current leader is Kahuna who has taken a more westerly route. It will be interesting to see if both Anduril and Kinetic make some money with their more easterly positioning. In class C both Passepartout and Turnagain had worked hard to stay east and have made it pay over the more westerly positioned Turicum. This is a fun one to watch as both Passepartout and Turnagain are very close and probably can see each other.
Looking to the Future
The GFS weather model has been reasonably consistent for the long term pattern. The Pacific high currently centered at about 41N and 146W has shifted a bit west and strengthened. This has allowed the boats further to the west to at least stay in the game with the increased pressure gradient as the high builds and moves west. The model has been consistent in showing a low pressure system with a trough and associated cold front coming from the west which is forecast to push the high pressure system east, also causing it to flatten out and weaken considerably. The end result is weak high pressure and lighter winds right into the path of the racing fleet. This should be in full swing by this Friday.
This definitely presents some navigational challenges. I see two choices. The first is to keep working south and sail the very long way around. This will end keeping sailors in more wind, but it’s likely to get light regardless, and the distance sailed will be considerable. The second choice is to stay on starboard tack, heat up as the wind gets lighter and lifts and try to punch through the ridge of weak high pressure to better pressure gradient further west. The upside is much less distance sailed and will put you on a much better sailing angle for the second half of the race. It’s risky though, as there is the potential to park it in no wind for an extended period and there will likely be some upwind sailing once boats do get to the other side of the ridge.
I’ve been running Expedition Routing Software for the last two days to see what is comes up with. Expedition has been consistent going with the second option, routing a course turning the corner relatively early and sailing more west to take advantage of the shorter route and much better sailing angle later in the game.
What will the racers decide? It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next 5 to 6 days. There is huge potential for big gains and losses. The race is definitely not decided yet, not by a long shot!