VOR – It’s like taking a run-up, and pausing, before bungee jumping. Opening the door of the plane, and looking around, before your first attempt at skydiving.
A tropical depression is sitting smack-bang in the middle of the route to Abu Dhabi.
Ah, and it’s turning into a tropical storm.
La Réunion’s tropical cyclone centre raised a tropical storm warning last night, and Race Control immediately relayed the notice to the fleet.
And just like these last minutes right before a jump, there is a certain, stark mood of anticipation onboard the seven boats.
There is anticipation in Bouwe Bekking’s voice, as the skipper points at the map, crouched down inside Team Brunel boat.
“You can see that the storm is going towards the track that we’re on. It looks like it’s intensifying a little bit. The more red there is on the map, the more breeze there is.
“But it’s not the breeze that is the big problem,” adds the Dutchman.
“The biggest issue will be the sea state. In 30 knots of breeze, you probably get six or seven-metre waves. With a boat speed of 25 knots downwind, and a sea state coming from the front, you can imagine what happen if you sail straight into it.”
There is anticipation in his eyes, as he looks straight at the camera.
“Something will bust. It will be a balance between sailing fast, and keeping the boat in one piece.”
It’s all about the balance indeed. The fleet must now decide whether to play the storm on its west side, or sail further east to avoid it all together. But there are risks to both strategies.
If they decide to use this system, they must leave enough room to be able to manage its unpredictability, and avoid its stronger winds.
If they decide to swerve it, they run the risk of sailing further, only to be stranded in the void of no wind left behind it. That could add days to the leg – if not a week.
The first option is brave, and, most of all – faster. The storm winds will average 30 to 50 knots and blow from the south: they could propel the boats downwind in the right direction.
The second option is safer, but much slower – extending further east and battling upwind for a couple of days, rounding the storm.
There is one guy amongst the 66 sailors who’d pick downwind over upwind sailing anytime. Black, the Chinese sailor who jumped onboard Dongfeng in Cape Town.
It’s his very first offshore race, he is 21, and he imitates the slamming of the boat in the waves with his hands.
“Bam, bam, bam! I don’t fear upwind, but I worry. You see, I took the medicine. But now I’m not sick.”
His French teammate Kevin Escoffier teases him. “You ate too much Chinese food! It’s too spicy.”
“No, no!” Black laughs out loud. “I didn’t eat much. But it’s good practice.”
That fleet won’t lack practice, that’s for sure. By tonight, all seven navigators need to have a plan in place to tackle the storm, Dvorak. They will be riding the storm – or avoiding it – by tomorrow morning.
And as it gets closer, anticipation becomes expectation… for some, at least.
“I like breeze instead of no breeze,” smiles Jens Dolmer, the one they call the Great Dane onboard Brunel.