Brad Baker Vic-Maui Analysis #5 – July 26, 2016
With the Vic-Maui nearly a done deal, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the 2016 race. I don’t know about you other armchair sailors, but I have had a tremendous amount of fun watching this year’s race. It’s had a little bit of everything. It’s had some drama with Crossfire’s early retirement from the race. I sincerely hope that after licking their wounds, and taking a few lessons from the experience, that they will be back in 2018. I suppose I was a harbinger of doom when in my third installment I said there would likely be boats with steering issues. I think it was the day after writing that the J-109, Mountain, retired with rudder bearing issues. Later, Forty had their steering quadrant fail. There were lots of reports of broken halyards and blown up spinnakers. Most recently the specter of tropical storm Darby made things interesting. What is foremost in my mind, though, was the weather pattern itself. It turned out to be a near perfect scenario for an elapsed time record breaking pace. And there were four boats in the race capable of breaking the record — a perfect storm.
Looking back to the few days prior to the first start, the forecast didn’t look all that promising for a quick race. The GFS weather model showed a broad ridge of weak high pressure extending nearly to the US west coast. Had this transpired the fleet would have had to make the choice between hugging the coast, sailing extra distance south, and faced with a nearly dead down sail the rest of the way to Hawaii, verses going shorter distance and trying to bust through the light air ridge of higher pressure. Either way would have made for a long race. The good news, if you can call it that, is weather models become much less reliable at more than four days out. Thankfully this was the case, because by the time the sleds started the forecast had flipped to a very different pattern. The new forecast was for building high pressure to move west, well offshore, and a bit north of where you would normally expect. This was ideal, as it would produce a broad wind field with average winds averaging just over 20 knots for thousands of miles! And from there, it would all be down wind for the fleet. The forecast confidence was high as nearly all the weather models from various agencies were showing basically the same thing. This forecast is what eventually came to pass. The beauty in this pattern was that with the high pressure located so far to the NW competitors could cut the corner early and sail a shorter distance and with the exceptional 1040mb high, there would be plenty of pressure gradient, i.e. wind, to spare. The stage was set for a record breaking race. Navigators still needed to get it right, but just as much of a premium was now on raw boatspeed, and holding it together for the long haul. With the above normal winds there was also a premium on managing breakages and wear.
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