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Scuttlebutt: Volvo Ocean Race Leg 6 Weather Preview
by Sailing Weather Services, Official VOR Meteorologists

(Thursday, May 4, 2006) Early on Sunday morning in Annapolis, the Volvo Ocean Race skippers and navigators will face some tough choices as they put together their strategies for the 400-mile Leg 6 sprint to the pit stop in New York. The weather forecast for this leg is anything but straight forward - but then again, when is it ever straight forward?

A cold front is expected to pass through the Chesapeake and off the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday evening. By early Sunday morning, high pressure will move across the Great Lakes and upper Ohio River Valley, headed toward New York and New Jersey by later Sunday. Meanwhile, the cold front will go stationary offshore and across the southeastern US. A low pressure area may develop along this stationary front and move across North Carolina and off Cape Hatteras on Monday morning. The pressure gradient between the high pressure south/southeast of Long Island and this developing low could create some lively breezes for the Volvo boats from very late Sunday night into Monday.

There is a considerable amount of uncertainty related to the possible evolution of a low pressure area along the stationary front. A small delay in the development or a positional change could make for a very different forecast. The crews will be closely monitoring the 6-hourly weather data transmissions Sailing Weather Services provides to the Race Office in order to adjust their strategies to match the evolving weather situation.

As of this writing, it looks like the start out of Annapolis will take place in a dying northeast or east breeze. Early morning puffs of 10-15 knot northerlies will ease quickly by race time. Light winds will veer from northeast and east toward the southeast and south with a weak thermal bay breeze developing by mid-afternoon. There may be an awkward transition between the old northeasterly and the new thermal breeze shortly after the start. Once into the southern half of Chesapeake Bay, winds will gradually increase from the south-southeast, perhaps building back up to 15 knots by Sunday evening.

Sunday night and early Monday- once out of the Chesapeake - a wind shift to the left will put the boats on the wind initially, until they can free their courses up once they get sufficient leverage offshore off Hampton Roads. The wind will build slowly early Monday morning, possibly reaching 20 knots and veering back to the southeast. This should allow for very fast reaching and then running angles until a little ways north of Cape May. Winds will be lighter to the north and for the arrival at New York where high pressure is expected to hold into later Monday and possibly early Tuesday morning. During Tuesday morning, moderate to strong southeast winds will build into New York Harbor.

In addition to the weather, the effects of tide and ocean currents are extremely critical on this leg. While there will be some local variability and changes, the tidal currents within the Chesapeake Bay are reasonably well known and understood. Prior to departure, the teams will have poured over the latest Chesapeake tidal models to identify areas of favorable and adverse current they may encounter on their race down the bay.

Once headed up the coast toward New York, the offshore currents will represent a bigger challenge. Here, the Volvo Ocean Race receives assistance from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory where scientists have produced detailed satellite analyses of the offshore current. The Race Office provides this data to the teams for use in their onboard routing software packages. The race coruse takes the boats well west of the Gulf Stream, so no benefit will be available from that. In fact, the prevailing current from Norfolk to New Jersey is flowing toward the south, so the crews can expect adverse current for much of the offshore portion of Leg 6.

(Monday, May 8, 2006) Click here for updated weather.

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