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Volvo Ocean Race / Leg 5

Scientific Evidence Reveals Suicidal Exocoetidae

jeudi 21 mars 2002Information Volvo Ocean Race

The crews of the boats sailing towards Miami in leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race #VolvoOceanRace have been studying the habits of Exocoetidae - that’s flying fish to you and me, while the racing continues day in, day out. What have the antics of suicidal flying fish got do with the Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race #VolvoOceanRace  ? Well, they are harassing boats and sailors in the fleet.

Flying Fish, the common name for members of the Exocoetidae, are a family of carnivorous fish of warmer seas. They average seven to 12 in. (17.5’30 cm) in length and have pectoral fins that compare in size with the wings of birds. They do not fly to catch insects as flying fish are largely oceanic and flying insects are rare over the open sea. It has been suggested that their flights (which are actually glides because flying fish do not flap their "wings") are energy-saving but this is unlikely as the vigorous takeoffs are produced by white, anaerobic muscle beating the tail at a rate of 50 to 70 beats per second.

Flying fish generally do not actually fly, but glide on their outstretched fins for distances of up to 0.4 km. Their velocity of up to 48 km per hour builds as they approach the water’s surface until they launch themselves into the air, vibrating their specially adapted tail fins in order to taxi along the surface. The usual explanation for flight in flying fish is to escape predation, particularly from fast-swimming dolphin-fish.

Our racing crews can now share their experience to verify scientific knowledge :

"Quickly into almost nudity, a rope around the waist and off I went, only to feel the rope go tight halfway to the sail, which was getting rather close to sinking. Then, halfway between the boat and the sail, in pitch-black darkness, the melody of JAWS came into my head. Du dah du dah du dah," wrote Stig Westergaard from djuice, suddenly afraid that a predator shark was nipping at his heels. Unfortunately it wasn’t reported how many flying fish left the water while Stig was swimming. Flying fish have corneas with flat facets, so they can see in both air and water. There is some evidence to suggest that they can choose landing sites.

"The normal problem with these winged wonders from the deep is, that prior to take off it seems that they don’t do very good pre-flight checks and often find a V.O.60 or more specifically a crewmember on a V.O.60 in their flight path ! one went completely unnoticed in a sail bag, which was right at the back of the boat to help trim the stern down in the fast reaching conditions, after landing,„ reported Steve Hayles from Tyco. However, some scientific assumptions about the Exocoetidae couldn’t be proven by the brave sailors, particularly the notion that the fish fly from food-poor to food-rich areas. The books say that convincing evidence of this is lacking.

"Yesterday, we were doing some power reaching, where the airflow on the windward side of the hull keeps the flying fish airborne to an altitude of up to three meters. Nocka [Anthony Nossiter], who was helming, suddenly screams up. We think it is some Australian Zen thing. No, he got hit dead centre on the forehead," wrote a terrified Stig Westergaard. There seems to be little doubt that escape from predators is the major purpose of flight, and this is why so many fly away from ships and boats which they perceive to be threatening. Or is it maybe the other way round, as experience by SEB ? "Flying fish are also joining the party, with one of our helmsmen, Magnus Woxen, copping a few in the chest last night. There is $100 bucks on offer for anyone who grabs one mid flight, with the catch being that you have to eat it on the spot."

Flying fish are offering some distraction and fun as well, as Dee Smith wrote in a message from Amer Sports One : "The most fun is dodging the flying fish at night. Nico [Chris Nicholson] got slimed twice last night. Sailing at 14 knots and the fish flying at eight knots the other way, can cause a bit of pain if hit in the wrong place."

In some instances they become a real threat to humans too. "The fact is that this specific sports injury is not too flashy. One could loose the eye in a wipeout, in a fight with lethal pirates or something else a little more macho than a flying fish. Not to a flying fish," is the common opinion on djuice. Chris Dickson, a skipper during leg one of the last race might share this opinion, as one hit him right in the eye and left him with a big blue spot. However rumours said that perhaps it was not the flying fish who was to blame for this one.

Aside from this scientific study, the positions of the boats on the racetrack remain unchanged since yesterday. Illbruck, ASSA ABLOY and Tyco passed Barbados and the Windward Islands in the early hours this morning, 200 miles to the east, heading straight for Barbuda, the next waypoint on the way to Miami. Barbuda is proximately 300 miles away.

After passing Barbuda the fast trade wind sailing could come to an end as the wind is expected to lighten and the fleet will become slowed down. As the wind is also expected to shift to the right it could allow the chasing yachts SEB and Amer Sports One, News Corp, Amer Sports Too and djuice to position themselves early to get better wind-angles to avoid for the downwind passage towards the Bahamas.

Over the last few hours the yachts had to sheet in the sails as the wind continuously shifted from the east-southeast to the northeast.

Volvo Ocean Race Position Report, Day 13, 0956 GMT

PS Yacht Latitude Longitude DTF CMG SMG TFHR DTL DTL-C ETA PO
- 1 ILBK 14 20.92N 057 36.80W 01470 303 13.4 306 0 +0 26 MAR 02 37
- 2 AART 14 05.12N 057 25.56W 01488 306 13.0 301 18 +3 26 MAR 02 27
- 3 TYCO 13 58.36N 057 29.08W 01490 304 13.0 303 20 +3 26 MAR 02 24
- 4 TSEB 12 49.28N 056 03.04W 01598 296 12.8 296 128 +6 26 MAR 02 17
- 5 AONE 12 45.24N 055 25.40W 01629 305 11.8 302 159 +10 27 MAR 02 26
- 6 NEWS 12 26.12N 055 09.60W 01653 299 12.0 307 183 +10 27 MAR 02 22
- 7 ATOO 12 22.56N 054 56.44W 01665 304 12.0 301 195 +8 27 MAR 02 9
- 8 DJCE 11 49.36N 054 35.04W 01703 306 12.7 313 233 +5 27 MAR 02 18

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