Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing launched an 11th hour comeback in the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race to take their tally of in-shore successes to three, while Groupama scored a strong second to pile the pressure on overall race leaders Telefónica.
Ian Walker’s crew were rewarded for sailing a near-perfect race on Saturday when they snatched the lead from Groupama on the penultimate leg and went on to seal a dramatic victory.
Although they were pipped at the post, Groupama’s result moves them to within just seven points of Telefónica, who had yet more in-port disappointment when a penalty for touching one of the turning marks relegated them to last place.
In a thrilling finale, PUMA came from behind to rocket past CAMPER into third just metres from the finish line.
It was a fourth successive podium finish in the in-shore series for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew, and it brought them to within a point of third-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard.
Team Sanya, the only team not racing in a new generation boat, were unlucky not to finish higher up the leaderboard, having to settle for fifth after a brave battle with their rivals.
“It feels great,” said a jubilant Abu Dhabi skipper Walker moments after crossing the finish line.
“We’ve had a tough time of it. We had no time at all to prepare for the last in-port race and we made a special point of having two full days’ training here. We wanted to show the world that Abu Dhabi hasn’t given up. We’re a good team, we’re determined, and it feels great to win a race.”
With the Volvo Ocean Race entering a critical stage with just three offshore legs and three in-port races left, just 14 points split the top four boats.
Telefónica still lead with 165 points but snapping at their heels are Groupama on 158, while CAMPER and PUMA are dangerously close on 152 and 151 respectively, bolstered by the results of the PORTMIAMI In-Port Race.
In a nail-biting contest peppered with position changes, Abu Dhabi capitalised on a strong start along with Sanya but it was Telefónica who led round the first mark, showing off their blistering speed on Leg 1.
The action couldn’t have been any more intense with Abu Dhabi and Groupama overhauling Telefónica on Leg 2. Meanwhile, after paying the price for heading offshore, CAMPER and PUMA were left desperately chasing the frontrunners.
While the front two stretched their lead, a fierce battle for third developed, climaxing on Leg 6 with Telefónica hitting the mark and the rest of the fleet piling in behind.
Telefónica were penalised by the on-the-water umpires, adding to their in-port misery and ending their hopes of consolidating their overall lead.
Sniffing a chance to pick up crucial points, PUMA, CAMPER and Sanya put pedal to metal and launched an extraordinary comeback that brought them back in touch with then leaders Groupama and second-placed Abu Dhabi with just a few legs left.
Abu Dhabi’s defining moment came when they hoisted a bigger sail than their French rivals, making the most of the smallest of speed advantages to pass Groupama despite having to dodge a spectator boat.
With the breeze fading, race officials chose to shorten the course and Abu Dhabi hung on to claim the win, all the more sweet due to the fact that just a few weeks ago their stricken boat Azzam was on a container ship en route to Brazil.
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for 3,580 nautical mile Leg 7 from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal, starting on Sunday at 1700 UTC (1300 local time).
PORTMIAMI In-Port Race results:
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 74:09
2. Groupama sailing team, +00:33
3. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, +02:02
4. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, +02:11
5. Team Sanya, +2:35
6. Team Telefónica, +6:28
Ken Read and The PUMA Ocean Racing Powered By BERG team win Leg 6,American skipper Ken Read led his PUMA team to a second consecutive leg win on Wednesday, arriving on home soil in Miami triumphant following an epic 17-day match race with closest rivals CAMPER to confirm they are back in contention for overall victory.
Since the heartbreak of the first leg, in which their yacht Mar Mostro dismasted, PUMA have been on the up – and after scoring their first offshore success in Leg 5 from Auckland to Itajaí, Brazil, they made it two in two with glory in Leg 6.
After coming off best in an intense battle for first place with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who at one point closed the gap to less than a mile, Read said his team were back in the fight for the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 trophy.
“That was about as stressful as it can get, believe me,” Read said. “It was touch and go, and the guys on CAMPER sailed very well, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team — they did an unbelievably great job.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the finish line at 18:14:00 UTC, 17 days after leaving from Itajaí, Brazil, with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand around an hour behind PUMA and on course to take second.
PUMA dominated the 4,800 nautical mile leg from the start, only surrendering the lead on two occasion to CAMPER and for no more than 48 hours.
A fast start to the leg in fresh conditions saw PUMA lead out of Itajaí and into several days of fast sailing up the Brazilian coast.
As winds eased the fleet split into three groups, with CAMPER and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing closest to the shore enjoying two days at the head of the pack, while Team Telefónica and Groupama sailing team opted to head east in search of better breeze. PUMA split the difference and it paid as they got a jump on their rivals that would lay the foundations for their eventual win.
With the south-east trade winds providing near-perfect conditions for the Volvo Open 70s, a drag race began up to the Equator and through the Doldrums, which presented little problem for the fleet. But 10 days into racing, PUMA were nearly undone by storm clouds which stalled the leaders, allowing CAMPER and Telefónica to reel them in to just six miles.
Into the Caribbean Sea they enjoyed fast sailing once more until they hit tricky weather systems that once again saw the leading boats compress. Despite coming under fire from CAMPER right up until the very last minute, faultless sailing saw PUMA defend their lead to claim the win.
It’s the fourth time in six legs that PUMA have finished on the podium, and they pick up an invaluable 30 points for the leg win to take their overall tally to 147.
CAMPER will be awarded 25 points for second place, their best result in the offshore series since Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi when they finished second behind Team Telefónica.
“It’s been a long leg and PUMA have sailed very nicely, they have defended very well, but I think we have attacked well too,” CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson said as his team closed in on the finish line. “I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone. We’re in better shape now for the next leg.”
Both teams will close the gap on overall leaders Telefónica, who were still scrapping it out for the final podium position with Groupama sailing team.
The current ETA for the arrival of Groupama and Telefónica is 0300 UTC, with fifth-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing expected to arrive at 0800 UTC.
A trough of low pressure blocking the fleet’s path brought light winds on Friday and a tactical split in the trio at the front. Leaders PUMA have stuck doggedly to their north easterly course, while CAMPER and Telefónica gybed to the west in search of stronger winds closer to the Caribbean Islands.
By 1200 UTC today Team Telefónica had resumed a northerly track, putting pressure on CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, who must decide to follow suit or press on with a higher risk westerly strategy.
With up to 30 hours of slow sailing likely before the leaders break through into steadier winds, the pressure is well and truly on for the skippers and navigators on the top three boats.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG navigator Tom Addis said leading into such a scenario was always tricky as it raised the threat of being caught by the boats behind, but was nevertheless confident in the short term strategy.
“A front has come through to the north and disturbed the trade winds so we’ve all compressed again,” Addis said. “It is unfortunate for us but it’s just how it goes.
“It’s hard to say when the breeze will pick up again. We’ve still got about 10 knots of breeze but it’s going to be a good day and a half before we’re into decent breeze again.
“When the wind goes light and you compress, especially for a good solid day, anything can happen. If someone gets a squall and picks up some wind for a few hours that could easily turn the fleet inside out.
“That makes things more tense on board, no question.”
Addis said PUMA’s current plan was to skirt around the eastern side of the Caribbean to avoid the additional threat of wind shadows in the lee of the island chain.
“The next 1,000 miles is going to be pretty light and tricky and it’s going to be ‘heart in the mouth’ stuff for the majority of the rest of the leg,” he said.
“We think we’ve got a solid plan and most likely we’ll go round the outside of the Caribbean islands,” he said. “Through the Caribbean there’s plenty of water but it’s fraught with lees.
“Those islands are very tall and they create big wind shadows so you’ve got to be very careful going through them.”
On second placed CAMPER, Media Crew Member Hamish Hooper said the mood was equally tense with skipper Chris Nicholson and navigator Will Oxley spending long hours together at the navigation station, deliberating on the best plan.
“It is certain to be a nerve-wracking few days for sure,” Hooper said.
“It has been said from the start that this last 1,000 miles will be where the leg is won and lost, and it’s looking about as tricky as tricky can be, with light fickle breezes throughout.
“It’s a maze. One boat will come out looking famous and it could be one of any of the five boats in the fleet.
“Abu Dhabi and Groupama who are still 100 miles behind are still right in this leg and in fact they are in the sometimes enviable position of having nothing to lose, so able to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble.”
Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape described the final push to the finish as “a bit touch and go”.
“There’s going to be a lot of changes, put it that way,” Cape added. “It’s going to be a tricky one. There’s going to be opportunities both ways but certainly the team that gets it right will be the winner.”
Cape said he was happy with the Spanish team’s positioning at this point but said there would be plenty of other key decisions to agonise over before the finish.
“We’re where we wanted to be, but this is the very first stage of about 25 that we need to get right,” he said.
At 1300 UTC PUMA still led the fleet, from CAMPER in second, Team Telefónica in third, Groupama sailing team in fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth.
Latest estimates show the leading boats arriving in Miami on or around midday on May 9.
PUMA held firm in the face of a relentless attack from Telefónica to clinch an epic Leg 5 victory on Friday, crossing the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil with a winning margin of just 12 minutes after the Spanish team had threatened to complete one of the great sporting comebacks.
After more then 7,500 nautical miles of racing from Auckland, starting with a first-night battering as bad as any in the race’s history and on through brutal conditions in the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, PUMA’s Mar Mostro finished in brilliant sunshine at 19:09:51 UTC.
Telefónica, who had been a constant threat to them, followed her in at 19:22:29 UTC for a second place that strengthens their position as overall leaders with five of nine offshore legs now complete.
Both boats were roared home by dozens of spectator boats and thousands of fans lining every possible viewing position on the way in.
It was an extraordinary finish to the battle for first place in a leg that saw five of the six boats forced to stop for repairs.
Telefónica were 400 nm behind the leaders when they resumed racing following a pit stop to work on structural damage to their boat. They quickly began to reduce that gap and when Groupama sailing team were forced out following a dismasting they were suddenly in a two-way battle for first.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG score 30 points for their win, taking their total to 113 points. It means they are just 34 points behind overall leaders Team Telefónica, despite having been forced to retire from Leg 1 because of a broken mast.
Groupama will reduce the Telefónica lead to 20 points if they complete the leg in third place under jury rig, as planned.
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, currently carrying out repairs in Puerto Montt in Chile, can get back to within 28 points if they complete the leg in fourth.
As it became clear that PUMA were doing enough to hold off Telefónica, the team’s Media Crew Member Amory Ross handed out chocolate treats to the crew, before skipper Ken Read took back the helm to take his team over the finish line.
“We’ve never seen such an amazing welcome,” said an overwhelmed looking Read, who took time to sympathise with his five rivals and their problems over the course of the leg.
“I’ve never done such a tough offshore leg in my life. It’s been pretty intense. Our hearts go out to the crews who have suffered damage. We know what that’s like and it’s even worse when it’s in a place like the Southern Ocean.”
Telefónica had been written off after suspending racing for 17 hours for structural repairs inside the Cabo de Hornos National Park on March 31. The team resumed racing at 2133 that same day, more than 400 nm behind the leaders.
Nevertheless, a powerful South Atlantic front that rose from the south propelled Telefónica to within striking range of PUMA within days. Anxiety levels were rising on board PUMA, even after Groupama’s dismasting on April 4, but Read’s men were able to steel their nerves in a long match-race to the finish line for their first leg victory in this edition.
PUMA have had a steady rise since the devastating blow of their broken mast on Leg 1. In the past four scoring events PUMA have finished second three times and now first, with real momentum with the American-based team as they head towards Leg 6 to Miami in the United States.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing will ship their boat to Itajaí for Leg 6, while Sanya will rejoin the race in Miami after losing a rudder while leading earlier on Leg 5.
06/04/2012 19:48:37 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 PUMA FIN 019d 18h 09m 50s
2 TELE FIN 019d 18h 22m 29s
- CAMP Suspended Racing
- GPMA Suspended Racing
- ADOR Did Not Finish
- SNYA Did Not Finish
Local heroes CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand stormed to victory in front of tens of thousands of ecstatic home fans in the Auckland In-Port Race on Saturday, giving them a first Volvo Ocean Race victory and ‘flicking a switch’ on their campaign.
Chris Nicholson’s men produced a dominant performance on the waters of Waitemata Harbour, taking the lead on the sprint to the first mark thanks to their decision to tack way out to shore and out of the strongest current, and then refusing to let go.
Fifty-four seconds after they heard the gun – and huge cheers from the crowd — PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crossed the line in second place ahead of Groupama sailing team following a terrific battle for the podium positions.
Behind them, Auckland-born skipper Mike Sanderson was also celebrating as Team Sanya finished the race in fourth, having out-manoeuvred Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in fifth and overall race leaders Team Telefónica in sixth.
Tens of thousands of people lined Auckland’s shoreline and packed hundreds of spectator boats to watch Auckland’s first Volvo Ocean Race action in 10 years – and a win for CAMPER, the Spanish-sponsored team who count Auckland as one of their two home ports, made the day all the more special.
“The one thing we said all week is how do we thank everyone who has supported us and I hope this goes a long way to doing it,” said CAMPER’s Australian skipper Chris Nicholson as his team moved back to within 18 points of the leaders. “It’s been a huge week of support and it’s helped.
“Now we’ve flicked the switch and we want this on the next leg.”
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG got off to a flying start leading the boats over the line in 15-20 knots of easterly breeze but by the first turning mark CAMPER had snuck in front.
Groupama moved up into second but PUMA clawed their way back on the second upwind leg, overtaking Franck Cammas’ men to claim second and bank a vital five points.
“It was a lot of fun,” said PUMA skipper Ken Read. “We had a good start but CAMPER got the first shift and that’s all they needed.”
With Telefónica picking up just one point for sixth place, their stronghold on the overall leaderboard weakened.
“We had a pretty bad race,” said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. “We didn’t sail well, so it was a headache for us. It was pretty difficult. We didn’t have much room to play with out there.”
Groupama moved to within 15 points of the overall leaders as they took home four points from the in-port race.
“Third is not so bad,” said Cammas. “We had a problem with the keel which lost us the 20-second advantage which we had over PUMA and PUMA took advantage well to overtake us. But apart from that we are happy with the race.”
Team Sanya scored their best result since the Iberdrola In-Port Race in Alicante, the first competitive racing of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
“That was awesome,” said Sanya’s local boy Sanderson. “We’re just so stoked to be in the race but that was one step better because we had a couple of boats behind us.”
The fleet now faces its biggest challenge yet when they set sail from Auckland at 1400 local time on Sunday – the Southern Ocean.
The 6,705 nautical mile sprint around Cape Horn and on to Itajaí in Brazil will see the teams dodging icebergs and huge storms.
“The Southern Ocean is a fearsome place and deserves a great deal of respect,” said Telefónica watch captain Neal McDonald. “Climbing Everest is not particularly risk free or glamorous but people want to do it for the challenge and it’s the same with the Southern Ocean.”
Waves of 12 metres and winds of up to 60 knots are forecast and teams will use night-vision goggles to try to spot icebergs at night.
Three new sailors join the fleet for Leg 5. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing trimmer/helmsman Justin Ferris, Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over for the leg from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps up for Leg 5 on Sanya for Ryan Houston who picked up a kidney infection.
The Leg 5 start will be broadcast live from 1400 local time (0100 UTC) on Sunday. The leg should take the fleet around 17 days to complete.
Watch the action live at www.volvooceanrace.com or at the race’s Livestream page HERE. Coverage starts 15 minutes prior to the leg start.
Auckland In-Port Race results:
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (60min 38sec) 6pts
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (+0:54) 5pts
Groupama sailing team (+1:26) 4pts
Team Sanya (+2:20) 3pts
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (+2:52) 2 pts
Team Telefónica (+3:27) 1 pts
PUMA CLINCH SECOND PLACE AFTER MIGHTY THREE-WAY TUSSLE
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG won an epic battle for second place on Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Sunday, clinching the runner’s up spot on a rainy morning in Auckland to complete a memorable comeback and secure their first offshore podium place in 2011-12.
Team Telefónica followed them in just under 50 minutes later for third after holding off CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand in a scrap that continued gybe-for-gybe all the way to the finish line.
Just around 93 seconds separated Telefónica, winners of the first three legs, and CAMPER — a tiny margin after a leg that took the teams over 5,220 nautical miles from Sanya in China to the sailing-mad city of Auckland in New Zealand.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing came in just under 34 minutes later for fifth, with Team Sanya the sixth boat in just over 35 minutes after that.
“I don’t really know what we could have done better to improve our position,” said Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker. “We got up to third place at one point. It was disappointing to finish fifth and now it’s time for some downwind sailing.”
Thousands of fans jammed into spectator craft to welcome the boats in and thousands more packed Auckland Viaduct Harbour after a drag race through the churning water completed a fantastic set of arrivals to mark the race’s return to the city after a gap of 10 years.
“My God, I feel good to be in Auckland,” said PUMA’s American skipper Ken Read after the team had received a traditional Maori welcome into the harbour.
“From day one of this leg, ever since we sailed into the South China Sea, it’s been tough. I know that’s what we signed up for but man this was a challenging leg. This result is something we can build on. We just wish we had a couple more weeks to hang around in Auckland.”
While Groupama sailing team were making a triumphant entry into the City of Sails on Saturday night, PUMA were nursing a slim advantage over the pack, with just 40 nautical miles separating the five boats as a tense, tactical race for the best way to play the currents and to avoid wind holes raged through the night.
PUMA managed to protect their lead, coming in at 10:33:47 UTC for a total elapsed time of 20 days 3 hours 57 minutes over the two stages of Leg 4, which began back on February 19 in Sanya, China with a short race around the bay and a delay to keep the fleet from the worst of the conditions in the South China Sea.
Telefónica now lead the overall standings with 121 points despite losing their perfect record offshore. Groupama have 103 points and take over second place from CAMPER, now back in third on 98, with PUMA fourth on 78.
“It’s a really good result,” said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. “The level is so high that to get on the podium is very difficult. The teams are so strong.”
CAMPER skipper Chris Nicholson was not too downhearted after just failing to overtake Telefónica in a race that was as close as their run in to the finish in the Maldives on Leg 2.
“It was a really close race but we just ran out of runway at the end,” said Nicholson, whose CAMPER team count Auckland as one of their two base ports. “It was the toughest leg so far. Now we’re really tired and we’re just looking forward to being home.”
Sunday’s result confirms that PUMA are back in business after the broken mast that saw them forced to retire from Leg 1, and gave them little time to prepare for Leg 2.
Second place into Auckland marks their first podium finish in an offshore leg and it came courtesy of a terrific comeback.
They started the leg with a 39 minute deficit after being hit by a windless patch while leading on Stage 1 and watching the fleet sail past them. It looked like ill luck was set to stay with them as they were forced on a more and more northerly course.
Their strategy worked, bringing them back in touch with the fleet after days of ever more lonely sailing towards Japan, before Groupama took control in a strong easterly position on day seven.
CAMPER hopes of challenging for the lead suffered a devastating blow when they tore their vital J2 headsail, losing 60 miles to Groupama in the process, and it became increasingly clear that this was all about the race for second.
The three boats behind Groupama stayed neck and neck all the way through to the finish, as behind them Abu Dhabi and Sanya closed the gap significantly.
Sanya, stranded 393 nm off the pace on day 17, were within 30 nm of PUMA by the final morning — not quite close enough to challenge for a podium place but satisfied to have been part of a terrific scrap.
“It’s very cool to be home and to have everyone out supporting us,” said New Zealand native Sanderson. “I couldn’t be any more proud of the leg we sailed. The fact that we kept up with and finished so close to the new boats just shows that we can be competitive.”
11/03/2012 0:57:25 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 GPMA FIN 019d 15h 35m 54s
2 PUMA FIN 020d 03h 57m 50s
3 TELE FIN 020d 04h 45m 22s
4 CMPR FIN 020d 04h 46m 55s
5 ADOR FIN 020d 05h 20m 35s
6 SNYA FIN 020d 05h 55m 43s
Overall Leg 4 Total
1 Team Telefónica 20 121
2 Groupama Sailing Team 30 103
3 CAMPER with Emirates Team NZ 15 98
4 PUMA Ocean Racing by BERG 25 78
5 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 10 53
6 Team Sanya 5 22
The fleet crossed the equator this Friday morning, but the danger zone is still in front of the six VO-70s. Indeed the Doldrums may not appear to be too developed, but they are lying in wait for them at the approach to the Melanesian archipelagos and the navigators will have to avoid cutting too tight a line near the islands, where the wind is very disturbed by the effects of convection. In the meantime, Groupama 4 has not only managed to hold onto her lead, but she’s also managed to get even further East than her rivals.
There was some concern at noon on Thursday when the tradewinds really began to drop away and especially when the squalls joined the playing field, causing very violent shifts in the north-easterly system, both in terms of strength and direction. Fortunately though, Franck Cammas and his men were able to quickly get back on the road which leads to the Coral Sea, between the island of San Cristobal (to the East of the Solomon archipelago) and the island of Nendo to the East (to the North of the Vanuatu archipelago). Though the breeze is now kicking out between 12 and 16 knots, it has also shifted round to the ESE (100°-110°), which is working against Groupama 4′s pursuers, and the boats further West in particular (Telefonica, Camper and Sanya).
This touchdown on the large volcanic and coral arc which stretches from New Guinea to New Zealand, passing through the islands of Bismarck, Bougainville, Solomon, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, is a zone full of pitfalls. Indeed it marks the transition between the Pacific High and the lows of the area around Papua New Guinea and Australia. These pitfalls include the isobaric gradient which is pretty low, the Coriolis effect, which diverts the flow of air to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere and has little influence near the equator, as well as the large number of land masses, some of which are high and cause vortexes. As such it’s extremely hard to predict the true situation more than half a day ahead and the local effects may only affect a zone spanning a few dozen miles…
“I’ve got my fingers crossed for this third passage through the Doldrums: all you need is one bad squall to lose a huge amount of ground as the experience of our previous two equators has shown. The latest system appears less screwy but, with these islands in the mix, things may be affected by convection, which doesn’t show up on the grib files… After that, there are some strategic choices to be had, particularly around New Caledonia, since there will be a disturbance to the North of New Zealand. The last three days of racing aren’t easy and we’ll have to line ourselves up nicely in relation to this depression, which we don’t yet know how it will affect the fleet. Furthermore we may well round off with breezy downwind conditions or a lighter reaching wind, as the models have yet to come to an agreement on that one. We’ve traced a positive trajectory since setting out from Sanya. And even though there haven’t been a lot of options up for grabs, we’ve rarely been in difficulty as we’ve nicely negotiated the evolution of the weather. I hope that we’ll have the same clairvoyance and the same success up to the finish!” commented Franck Cammas.
This Friday the fleet has split into two groups, which are going to be striving to get as far away from the island of San Cristobal as possible (to the East of the Solomon archipelago): as such Groupama 4, Puma and Abu Dhabi are the best positioned to aim for the middle of this strait some 180 miles offshore. Telefonica, Camper and Sanya (between 180 and 200 miles to the West of the top trio), will find it a lot tougher to enter this passage, which is now only 500 miles ahead (two days at sea) and they have the possibility of two options. Either they can begin to sail closer to the wind, thus losing speed, so as to reposition themselves in the wake of the eastern group with a delta which could then exceed 200 miles, or they could take the risk of traversing the Solomon archipelago by slipping between Malaita and Guadalcanal, or going even further West between the islands of Choiseul and Santa Isabel!
The danger there is that may end up in the blue `parking’ zone, where they might be parked up for a while depending on how much current they run up against: the `toll’ could cost them very dear, as there would be more than 200 miles through which to run the gauntlet in this zone, with high levels of evaporation between the highly wooded land masses and a very hot sea… As such there’s a lot of convection at play in this zone, where cumulonimbus tend to form and `suck away’ the surrounding wind and shed great torrents of water on the area below them. The phenomenon is all the more pronounced at daybreak and at sunrise and the further the boats are from land, the less they’ll suffer the effects of convection.
Early this weekend, the easterly tradewinds will gradually ease the further South the boats get and there is only likely to be around ten knots of breeze as they approach the archipelagos from Sunday (local time). Interestingly, Groupama 4 are likely to be further favoured by the fact that the prevailing breeze will be easterly, whilst it will be south-easterly offshore of the Solomon Islands. With a tighter angle to the wind, those boats in the West will find it increasingly hard to close down the lateral separation and it’s likely that they’ll be forced to traverse this `green zone’ of equatorial islands. Clearly the hypothesis is not designed to appeal to the navigators and crews, who will have to constantly have their eye on the radar to anticipate the squalls and make frequent manoeuvres to adapt the sail area…
This rainbow of zones (there are also likely to be some sublime colours over the next few days) look to be offering Franck Cammas and his men a good opportunity to shake off their pursuers, especially the Spanish, the New Zealanders and the Chinese. Let’s not kid ourselves though: the first to enter the “subequatorial turbulence zone” midway through the weekend will be Groupama 4, so we must expect a compression of the fleet in terms of distance to the finish. As such the 70-mile lead over the Americans will gradually melt away, but Puma would have quite a way to go before outmanoeuvring them!
Position of the competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race on the fourth leg from Sanya – Auckland at 1300 UTC on 02/03/2012
1. Groupama 4 some 2,256.50 miles from the finish
2. Puma – 70.10 miles astern of the leader
3. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 110.20 miles astern of the leader
4. Telefonica – 110.90 miles astern of the leader
5. Camper – 131.90 miles astern of the leader
6. Team Sanya – 193.80 miles astern of the leader
The very northerly course adopted by the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is somewhat surprising! Still in the wake of the New Zealanders, Groupama 4 is not closing on the goal: over 100° from the usual heading and 300 miles above the direct route… However, there’s no other way out just now: you have to gain ground to the North-East to latch back onto the normal monsoon system.
“We’re in a state of uncertainty because the weather models aren’t very clear! As such we’re having to make do with the wind we have. This Thursday morning for example, we’ve had 25-30 knots of south-westerly wind, which wasn’t forecast at all. It’s very complicated to form a strategy as it’s likely that the island of Taiwan, which has some sizeable land masses, has severely disrupted the monsoon. As such there is very little isobaric gradient right the way around. Gradually, between now and Friday evening, we’re going to shift our course round towards New Zealand, but prior to that, we’ll have to link back up with a steady air flow. We are beneath the tropics and fortunately the skies are overcast, which isn’t unpleasant as it’s very hot. However, we’re making the most of it to recover from the fatigue of the South China Sea, because it was very difficult to sleep with messy waves since we left Sanya,” explained Charles Caudrelier at noon this Thursday.
Letters from Iwo Jima
It’s towards this island lost in the middle of the North Pacific that the bows are currently heading: Iwo Jima was one of the last points of entrenchment of the Empire of the Rising Sun’s army back in February 1945 when battling against the American armada. This confetti of Japanese islands marks the western limit of the anticyclone responsible for dishing out easterly tradewinds… For the time being, it’s the islands of Ishigaki which the fleet will have to negotiate, followed by the Okinawa archipelago, which is sure to mark the breaking point in this rather atypical course. As such, there are still nearly 300 miles to go with the wind on the nose for Franck Cammas and his men. Groupama 4, which has really cut a dash through the tricky passage to the South of Taiwan, is managing to keep up with the steady pace set by Camper, which is the true leader given the route imposed by the weather.
“There was a lot of current in the South China Sea and I dread to think what it must be like when there’s 40 knots of wind! Right now, we’re not doing too badly as the boat hasn’t suffered any damage and we’re happy with our positioning as we prepare to launch into a long session of reaching in 24 to 30 hours’ time. Right now, to the great despair of our New Zealanders onboard, we’re distancing ourselves from Auckland… However, there’s no way out from the direct route which passes close to the Philippines as there’s very little wind in this zone: as such our goal is to latch onto the easterly tradewinds which are blowing a long way offshore of Taiwan and for now we’re still on a beat to the North-East on starboard tack.”
No man’s sea…
Around the Luzon Strait the situation is very complicated as the light southerly airs aren’t managing to hold their own, transforming the direct course into a no-through road. The Spanish tried to close on it last night, but quickly understood that this solitary option was going to hit a wall. Their move to reposition themselves in the North caused them to cross paths with the Americans, who have really made a great comeback after their delayed departure from China. However, just ten miles shy of Sanya and Abu Dhabi, Telefonica and Puma got trapped by a windless zone for a good hour. Ken Read managed to hotfoot it North but Iker Martinez took a lot longer to extract himself from the resulting gloop! As such nobody’s going to tempt fate with a course near the Philippines now so the routing is taking the crews towards Japan instead…
Taiwan has witnessed the fracturing of the fleet then and though the boats are heading roughly the same way, they’re now split into four groups: Camper is sticking to her guns in her position as true leader, very gradually extending her lead in relation to her direct rival, Groupama 4, which is proving to be a little less at ease sailing into the wind, but is still keeping her hand in thanks to her position to windward of the New Zealanders. Abu Dhabi and Sanya (polled as leaders because they’re closer to the finish) are in reality around fifty miles to the South-West of Camper, whilst Puma is continuing to strike out on her own along the coast of the Republic of China, formerly known as Nationalist China, but now commonly referred to as Taiwan. As for Telefonica, she’s in a rather difficult patch which could cost her very dearly for the next stage of the race… As such this is a very important stage of the race being played out this Thursday evening and we’ll have to wait till the weekend to have a clearer idea of the true hierarchy at the end of this Luzon lesson: there’s no Supreme Leader just a guiding line!
Position of the competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race on the fourth leg from Sanya – Auckland at 1600 UTC on 23/02/2012
1. Team Sanya 4,614 miles from the finish
2. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – 3.5 miles astern of the leader
3. Groupama 4 – 11.4 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper – 20.2 miles astern of the leader
5. Telefonica – 40.4 miles astern of the leader
6. Puma – 107.5 miles astern of the leader