Author’s Note: I am often criticized about the points of view that I take with my posts and sometimes that criticism is warranted. I often get praised for what I write and sometimes that praise is not warranted. At the end of the day I try and do my best and I am grateful to those who take the time to read what I write. This post should come with less hate mail, let’s just put that out front.
At the end of Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag took a punt and went from dead last to the winner of the leg. I called it dumb luck and I stand by that. It was dumb luck. It’s a long standing strategy in sailboat racing that if you are in last place and have been for a while your only option really is to take a chance and take a flier. That’s what they did and it paid off and I congratulate the crew for doing what they did. They won the leg.
So if I am happy to call something dumb luck, I am also happy to call tactical brilliance when I see it and I think what we just witnessed in Leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race is just that and it again involves Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag as well as the Dutch entry Team AkzoNobel. The fleet was hard on the breeze facing a tactical minefield ahead of them. There really was not a good way forward but the tacticians on these two boats saw an opportunity which they figured would pay dividends. Instead of following the rest of the fleet they tacked off to the north and at times were sailing away from New Zealand where the leg finishes.
It was heartbreaking to see them dumping miles to the leaders and at one point they were trailing by over 120 miles. But they persevered and then at just the right time they tacked to the south. Their timing was perfect and both boats went from the back of the pack, to the front. As this is being written Team AkzoNobel is atop the leaderboard with the Hong Kong entry a scant 2.9 miles astern. Third place boat Team Brunel is 45 miles off the pace.
OK tactical brilliance might be a bit of an overreach because all sailors know that luck is a big part of things and maybe they got lucky. Or just maybe they played a perfect hand. Dee Caffari, skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic grumbled, “They have been dealt a lucky card, annoyingly,” she wrote. “They made a mistake, really.” Perhaps Dee, or perhaps you are sorry that you didn’t follow them.
The best part about sitting on dry land watching the VOR tracker is that it’s very easy to be a Monday morning Quarterback. You are not out there up against it trying to figure out the best strategy. It sort of reminds me of a funny story that took place in the ’89/90 race back when it was called the Whitbread Round the World Race. I was racing aboard a boat by the name of Fazisi which was the first, and by happenstance, last entry from the Soviet Union. We were dead last on the first leg trailing the fleet by a healthy margin as we approached the doldrums. All the other boats had the very latest instruments to receive satellite weather information. We had an old fax machine and were getting our information from a weather station in Dakar, Senegal. In the words we were not getting much. Instead we did what all good sailors should do; we looked out the window, looked for breeze, played the shifts and went from 15th, where we had been languishing, to fifth. Tactical brilliance or dumb luck? You decide.
But here is the funny part of that story. We were so excited to be back in the game and up with the leaders we called our Race Headquarters in Moscow. “We are no longer in last place,” we told them. “We are in fifth place.” The response we got was dry and succinct.“That’s good news but it doesn’t make any difference. Russian press has been reporting you in first place since the start of the race.”