Scoring gate points while nearing Panama

Neah Bay-WashingtonTeam UNICEF are going from strength to strength with not only second place in the race across the Northern Pacific but also scoring three points for passing first through the Scoring Gate this week.

The boats are nearing the dreaded Doldrums where boats can be without any wind for days or weeks, but the Race Office has a strategy to ensure that all boats will reach the Panama Canal on time.

As the fleet are sailing south along the west coast of the USA, temperatures increase and the winds are decreasing. It is warm enough to wear shorts and T-shirts even during the night.

Earlier this week UNICEF managed to pickup another three points by being the first to pass through the Scoring Gate. The Scoring Gate consists of a line set by two GPS waypoints. The first yacht to cross that line gets 3 points, the second two points and the third one point. Often the Scoring Gate is set well off the Rhumb line  but in this race it has been placed closer to the line.

The next challenge is the Ocean Sprint. The winner of the Ocean Sprint is the yacht that finishes a section between two lines quickest. Not the first to do so but the fastest. The yacht with the shortest elapsed time for the Ocean Sprint will be awarded two points. So although UNICEF is at the front of the pack they could still lose out to another boat that covers that distance quicker.

Getting to the Ocean Sprint line has not been easy as the winds have been “Fluky”. Some boats have gone more west in the hope of stronger winds. This can be a dangerous strategy, it has resulted in some spectacular wins in past races but a disastrous failure in others. You may remember how some boats were becalmed in past races as a result and had to abandon the race and motor sail to port to make the ETA window. Ichor Coal has so far set the fastest Ocean Sprint time but a few more boats have to finish or start the sprint.

The boats are nearing the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) often called the Doldrums which are parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. In January we were trapped in the Doldrums in the Southern Pacific when the winds disappeared altogether for days. I have copied the following from the Clipper website which describes the strategy the Race Office has to ensure that all boats arrive on time to pass through the Panama Canal.

Given the unpredictability of the wind patterns in the Doldrums and the effect they can have on the length of time it takes to reach the finish line, the Race Office outlined a strategy to all the Skippers and crew before the start of the PSP Logistics Panama Cup in Seattle. As it is important that all the teams pass through the canal by a certain point, several potential finish points have been identified.

Race Director Justin Taylor explains: “The final stages of this race down the coast of the Americas have historically been characterised by light winds. The resulting reduction in boat speed can jeopardise the Panama Canal transit which needs to be organised quite some time before the fleet arrives there. For this reason we include a series of gates that the fleet must pass through. Therefore, if the race is shortened due to a lack of wind, each of these successive gates would actually become the finish line.

“Of course this has a tactical effect to the routing decisions made by the Skipper and crew. The actual position of the gates are not shown on the Race Viewer so as not to confuse things. If a decision is made to employ one of these gates as a finish line it will be added to the Race Viewer at that point. We feel this is a much better method of determining final race positions than just measuring the distance of a yacht to the finish line in Panama. Although obviously we are hoping that all the yachts will carry enough breeze to get them all the way,” he concluded.

I am still in Cedar Rapids Iowa getting used to the “9 to 5” office routine. A very different lifestyle from the one I was getting used to the last five months.

Till next.