Monday, October 27, 2008

Portimao Race Into the South Atlantic

Visitor aboard Beluga Racer -

The yachts racing in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are required to honour a mandatory waypoint off the coast of Brazil. The waypoint, named the Recife Gate, was included in the Sailing Instructions for a number of reasons. The first reason being that gates are included to keep the fleet as close together as possible. This is good for racing as well as for safety. The second reason is that the gate serves as place to accumulate points for the race. While the points are not as weighty as those collected for each leg, they can make a difference in the overall standings. The third, and perhaps the most important reason, was to rule out any chance of someone trying to sail down the eastern side of the South Atlantic High.

The South Atlantic is dominated by a large area of high pressure that can at times extend from the coast of Africa to the coast of South America. The wind circulates around the high in a counter-clockwise direction and generates perfect trade wind conditions for boats sailing from Africa to Brazil. The problem, however, is that while there is wind on the edge of the system, there in nothing in the middle and should an unwary skipper stray into the centre of the high they could find themselves becalmed for days, even weeks.

As the boats exit the Recife Gate they will have to take a long hard look at their options for getting to Cape Town. The shorter, more direct route sailing to the east of the high pressure will no longer be a viable alternative. The fleet will be too far to the west to contemplate this tactic. Essentially the only option is to sail due south skirting the western edge of the High, tracking down an isobar that provides a consistent and steady breeze. It’s frustrating sailing to be sure. The sailors will be tempted to head on a more direct course for Cape Town thereby quickly reducing the miles, but this will only be fools gold. Instead it will be a procession south keeping a close eye on the movements of the high pressure.
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