The Ocean Race 2022-23 - May 07 2023, Leg 4 Day 14 onboard 11th Hour Racing Team. Malama going upwind at sunrise in a messy sea state. © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race
The Ocean Race: brutal hours ahead for the fleet
As the leading boats get within 600 miles of the finishing line off Newport, Rhode Island, the crews are preparing for a brutal afternoon and evening at sea.
There is a weather front approaching with southwest winds forecast at 40 knots, gusting as high at 50 knots. If this weather comes through as predicted, it will be some of the strongest winds the teams have faced in the entire race.
11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia are beginning to feel the impact of this system already (1400 UTC). Adding to the stress is the current the boats are starting to see as well, due to the Gulf Stream. Fortunately, the wind direction - southwest - is largely in line with the current, which should keep the sea state manageable.
"I've been trying to get my head around the forecast for the final couple of days... it's hard," said Francesca Clapcich on 11th Hour Racing Team. "Leg 4 is not over! It's going to be pretty messy."
"I think the whole fleet will get tested," said on board reporter Amory Ross. "We're making sure we're prepared going into this and the boat is in good shape. This will be the most wind we have seen all leg. We haven't even had a reef in since we left Brazil... It's just one more significant obstacle between here and Newport."
11th Hour Racing Team has eked out to a 25 mile lead over Team Malizia heading into this weather front.
"We are going into a small low pressure, with very strong wind, probably around 50 knots at one stage. Not for very long, but quite extreme," is the view of Nico Lunven on Team Malizia. "The sea state should not be too bad, I think, because it's a new system so it shouldn't have had time to develop."
For the pair behind - Biotherm and GUYOT environnement - Team Europe, this system will also be an obstacle.
"The forecast has evolved. The low pressure is deeper and stronger than previously forecast," was the description given by Alan Roberts on Biotherm. "There's possibly 50 knots, gusting even higher, to the south of the low. The optimal route takes us that way but in terms of boat preservation it's not ideal. We have to decide whether to keep heading north towards it, or to tack and invest in the west in order to pass a bit further south of the low. It's not easy."
His team on Biotherm has made one little hitch to the west in the past 12 hours, sacrificing a little bit of their lead over GUYOT environnement, who now trail by less than 30 miles on the leaderboard, but are in a tactically more difficult position out to the east.
"We are being welcomed to America with a big low pressure," said skipper Ben Dutreux. "Some forecasts predict 60 knots of wind. It is not a light one. Biotherm has already set a tack. I think they probably don't want to go into the storm."
But this last obstacle can't be avoided entirely. It will be a leg-defining 24 hours on the North Atlantic.
The ETA to Newport remains Wednesday May 10. Following the passage through this storm, the wind fades again quite rapidly, meaning another go slow period, before more moderate reaching conditions power the fleet towards land.