“For sure, I like not being one of the sheep – or lemmings,” says Will Oxley, standing on deck, as the sun burns and fizzes into the sea behind him.
“This race is so close, and everyone is so terrified to make a move, that there are moments when you have to try and be bold.”
Some might call it bold, others brave, smart or even stupid – but the navigator, who turned 50 years old just two days ago, spotted an opportunity, and his skipper went for it.
They took their chips, and went all in. In other words, the homecoming boat bet the pot.
The result? It’s Day 5 of Leg 6, and his boat, Team Alvimedica, currently sits way out west – all alone, and some 60nm from the rest of the fleet.
As we watched the boats prepare to tack yesterday, we knew that it would be a gamble – a lottery – but we didn’t quite expect such a one-sided split.
In truth, neither did the sailors themselves. As Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bailed on the western option, tacking over to join the other four boats in the east, it left caught the orange team a little by surprise.
“I think that two hours ago we were all pretty down to be honest,” admits Mark Towill, helming the Turkish-American boat.
“The last sked didn’t look too great, but this one looks a bit more promising. I think it’s important not to get too low and not to get too high, everybody seems to be in really good spirits.
He smiles. “We’ve got wind and we’re moving towards Recife, so hopefully we’ll have another good sked and things will look up for us.”
Check out the tracker right now and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, Alvimedica sit in first place at the 1240 UTC position report, with a 6.2nm lead over second placed Dongfeng Race Team.
But in that context, the tracker can be a little misleading. Those distances are calculated to the next way point, which in this case is in the northest of Brazil – Ponta de Olinda.
“Twelve hours ago it was like the sky was falling in, and now it looks like – maybe – it’s not,” says skipper Charlie Enright, topless in the sweaty hum of the nav station.
The sked has arrived, and for the first time in six hours, Alvimedica can see the competition. It’s good news.
The light from the monitor illuminates his bearded face – and there’s a renewed, burning optimism in his eyes.
“It’s tough when you’re alone,” he adds. “Whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing, if you’re with the group you have some control over how you position yourself, but now we’re kind of on an island.
He gestures towards the tracker. “We’re in a position to sail less distance, we’ve got out of a sticky spot of light air and as we get north it should become a little bit more solid, and we could have a better angle into the corner.
“But again, it’s a tenuous situation, we’re monitoring it closely. It’s better than it could have been but we’re by no means out of the woods.”
The challenge for Alvimedica is to continue to keep pace with the rest of the fleet as the boats take that corner – and if they can do that successfully, then they may well hit the jackpot.
“It won’t always pay off but it’s the only way in a race like this – unless you’ve got superior boat speed – that you can get ahead,” says Will.
“The chances for splits are so small now. We’re either first or last. It’s that simple.”
© www.Volvoocenarace.com Text by Jonno Turner