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The Ocean Race: Rosco Monson on the 2021-22 route

Forensic performance analysis in the Volvo Ocean Race

To some people British sailor Rosco Monson may perhaps be one of the lesser known names in The Ocean Race community.

In the last edition of the race his role with team AkzoNobel was as performance analyst and on-shore navigator – a “back room” position to all intents and purposes, but nevertheless Monson’s forensic performance analysis and support for was key to the team’s overall performance.

We caught up with Monson recently to get his take on the route for the next edition of The Ocean Race which is scheduled to start from Alicante, Spain in 2021 and finish in Genoa, Italy in May 2021.

What was your immediate reaction to the confirmed route for the next edition of the race?

Well first of all it is great to see how the next race is taking shape. Looking at the course I can see there are going to be some interesting Equator crossings to deal with and plenty of difficult tactical decisions to be made by the competing crews.

My gut feel is that most important will be a team’s ability to stay in touch with the fleet while at the same time being able to capitalise on any evolving weather scenarios in what I think will be a sked-by-sked highly tactical race.

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What are the most notable elements of the course in your opinion?

There are three consecutive legs with very different challenges: Cape Town to Shenzhen, Shenzhen to Auckland, and Auckland to Itajaí.

Cape Town to Shenzhen will see the crews engaged in plenty of big breeze, high speed blasting type of sailing, until they reach the light winds of the Doldrums, after which there will be a tactical stretch across the China sea making the end of the leg difficult.

Then Shenzhen to Auckland will – like last race – see lots of variables off the cost of China, depending on weather systems. Then the fleet will have to traverse the ITCZ in light airs to get to Auckland. The gains here will be made by whoever is the first out of the light air on the south of the ITCZ.

Lastly there is the back-breaking blast out of Auckland to Itajaí. Going on history, numerous teams have lost their rigs and/or broken their boats in the push to get to Brazil first.

Having to cross the Mediterranean on the final leg means you would want to have the race won or be well on top of your competitors before taking this leg on – otherwise there are a lot of uncontrollable variables to be considered. It is not easy to make them all go your way and that means you are going to be in for a nervous time.

The race is shorter (estimated to be 38,000 nm) and has two less pitstops, what are your thoughts on that?

There may be less pit stops but once you take the fastest routing and weather scenarios into account I suspect just as many or more miles will be sailed as in previous editions. The way the points allotment for the legs is structured could make it a very interesting race.

What stands out for you as likely to be the most challenging leg from a sailor’s perspective? Briefly explain why?

It is The Ocean Race so there will be numerous challenges for the crews, but Auckland to Itajaí is a classic boat breaking Ocean Race leg: fast sailing, wet and cold for days, tough on the crew, the need to successfully balance the risk and reward between pushing hard but not so hard that you break the boat.

It is important to come out of the Southern Ocean intact, with your boat and team in good shape able to take on the next push back up into the Northern Hemisphere.

The Ocean Race
The Ocean Race route 2021-22

Traditionally the leg from Europe down to Cape Town has been popular with the sailors. How does the insertion of a stop in Cabo Verde impact the appeal?

How will this change things tactically? Well some historical weather scenarios had the fleet sailing close to these islands anyway. Stopping in Cabo Verde will keep the fleet in close proximity and you now can’t get any tactical leverage to the west in the North Atlantic.

It will likely be more of a drag race to Cabo Verde but being a pitstop means the teams will need to keep their boats fully loaded in terms of gear from the start, making it hard to get maximum speed. There will definitely be a need to get the loading right on this leg as any unnecessary extra weight in terms of gear will make the boats less competitive, but if you don’t take enough then the crew will suffer. So preparation before the start of the leg will be critical.

The leg from Cape Town to Shenzhen, China will be testing for the crews as is features plenty of Southern Ocean sailing as well as taking the fleet through the Java Sea for the first time. Can you briefly break the leg down into stages for us?

There is a blast out of Cape Town, this could be downwind or – as we have seen in the past – it could be a punishing upwind slog in big breeze for the first few days. The teams will want to push east with the breeze in any low-pressure systems they can find to set themselves up for crossing the ITCZ in easterly trade winds.

I think this will be a difficult leg in terms of weather strategy, as the teams will need to break through the light winds into the Java Sea where they will then need to navigate through the congested waters with commercial shipping traffic and the Southeast Asia fishing fleets – not to mention the pollution, debris and fishing pots.

Heading up towards China we will probably see a game of snakes and ladders between the teams with differing daytime and night-time conditions. This is one of the busiest stretches of shipping traffic in the world, so to race through this area will require the crews to keep alert and require a lot of gear changes in hot sticky condition to keep the boats moving fast.

Forensic performance analysis in the Volvo Ocean Race

The legs between China, New Zealand, Brazil and the USA should all be business as usual for the teams, but then the fleet has to get back to Europe from Newport with a transatlantic over to Aarhus in Denmark. How might this leg differ from the hell-for-leather drag race we saw in the last edition?

In the last edition the leg across the Atlantic was a sprint straight to Cardiff. But this next edition will see the teams navigating over the top of Scotland and around Denmark to Aarhus.

It will still be a drag race to the top of the UK, but then tricky tidal conditions with lighter breeze and the possibility of high-pressure systems could make this a very light and tactical leg with the crews navigating around oil rigs on the way down to Aarhus.

Then again, if there is a low-pressure system moving over the North Sea like last time, it will be a test of seamanship in boat-breaking conditions with land on all sides and a short steep wave pattern battering the already 33,000 nm-old boats.

We will have to wait and see how mother nature deals the cards here, but it made for some gripping viewing on the tracker during the last race.

We saw a nail-biting finish in The Hague in the last race but this time the final leg will take the fleet from there back into the Mediterranean to Genoa, Italy. How tough of a leg might this one be for the race weary crews? What do you see as some of the key milestones of this final leg?

No question about it, the final through the Mediterranean will be brutal on the crews.

It is effectively an all-out sprint to the finish. If the leading team has done its job and has enough of a points cushion then it will be about being conservative and protecting that lead against the chasing competition.

If you don’t have the points, it will be a high stakes run through the Med with very mixed conditions. Even getting into the Med through the Gibraltar Straits could be difficult if the boats have to pass through here in upwind mode in to 30+ knots of breeze, or even drifting around waiting for sea breeze to fill in.

The boats and crews will be light and tired, conditions will be hot and difficult – just the way any hardcore ocean race sailor likes it! If you can keep in touch with the opposition it could be all to play for in the Med.

To finish off, is there anything you would like to comment on regarding the course or the next edition of the race? Please feel free to answer any questions you think we should have asked!

This are uncertain times for the world but if there is one thing The Ocean Race demonstrates it is how we all are linked together by sea, by nature and by geography. These stopovers are along natural trade routes followed by mariners for thousands of years.

The next race is an opportunity to write a new chapter in offshore sailing. Getting your team to the start of this race and putting up a credible performance around the world is a great way for a brand to show to the world that it is back on track and leading the way as we all emerge from the effects of the pandemic.

I believe the next race is uniquely positioned to help brands promote positive messages. It offers so many great marketable streams of content with the sailors’ “never ever give up when faced with adversity” message at the core.

I sincerely hope that the right companies see this as an opportunity to position themselves globally as strong and in leadership mode with an entry in the 2021-22 race.

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