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
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.
Franck Cammas and his men rounded Cape Horn this Friday at 1255 UTC and are leading this fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. They still have 1,700 miles to go before they reach Brazil and the Americans are putting increasing pressure on them as Puma is just an hour astern of Groupama 4.
“Puma is now our most dangerous rival so we’re sailing according to what she does. For the overall ranking it would be good to keep the Americans astern of us into Itajai, but I think Telefonica will be able to hang onto third place in this leg. Ken Read and his crew aren’t making many mistakes and they’ve negotiated the South Pacific very well. It’s certainly going to be a fine race to Brazil! We’ll have to make sure we don’t fall asleep on the job…” stated Franck Cammas before Cape Horn.
Indeed the Americans made up a vast amount of their deficit last night due to the series of gybes Groupama 4 had to link together to adapt to the north-westerly wind shift. Puma was able to benefit from a more gradual shift to gain nearly forty miles in one night and the two boats were close to each other as they rounded Cape Horn, early this Friday afternoon: Franck Cammas and his men caught a brief glimpse of the legendary rock at 1400 hours, followed an hour later by Ken Read and his crew. This island to the extreme South marks a radical change, not just in terms of the sea state and the cold, which has reigned over recent days, but also the degree of intensity of this leg, which has transformed into a Franco-American duel. However, the weather situation after Drake’s Passage isn’t the easiest to understand…
In fact the solid twenty knots or so of north-westerly wind, which was blowing as they rounded the legendary rock, will ease considerably offshore of Isla de Los Estados. Added to that, the warm front which generated the mist at daybreak this Friday, will give way to less cloudy skies. It would seem that two major options are possible for the climb up to Brazil: a route along the Argentinean coast in a moderate westerly air flow with the emergence of a mini depression to the North of the Falklands, or a more easterly trajectory, leaving the Falklands to port so as to distance themselves from the influence of the Andes cordillera and skirt around the outside of this barometric minimum. However, what’s vital in all this is their positioning around Rio de la Plata in three days’ time, as a zone of high pressure is blocking the way to Brazil. For the French, the decision about which way to go will also depend on how the Americans react to the situation…
The Cape of Good Deliverance
“For over ten days, it’s been very full-on physically, with some very big waves pushed along by a big southerly swell, with some strong winds and speeds which reached thirty knots at times in the troughs… The proximity of Puma would seem to suggest that the coming week isn’t going to be exactly restful! We can feel our rival breathing down our necks and clearly they don’t want to get left behind after Cape Horn… We’ll respond to them by showing that we’re capable of taking up a challenge and going faster than them. There’s some psychological game playing here and it’s revived with each new position report every three hours. Up till now, we’ve been dealing with the Southern Ocean at our own pace, but now, as we make Cape Horn, we’re getting back into race mode with all the fatigue that we’ve accumulated. This is the point I call “the Cape of good deliverance”: this is where the race really begins! It’s an imposing rock and it always gives me a special emotion” commented Thomas Coville, before rounding Cape Horn for the ninth time.
In this way, the first of the next 36 hours will see them make fairly quick headway towards the North-East and the crew of Groupama 4 will very quickly latch onto some less extreme weather conditions: the seas are likely to be smoother and the cold decreasingly harsh, but the wind may well be more fickle. The ETA in Itajai currently stands between the evening of Wednesday 4 April (local time) and noon on Thursday…
Standing for the 5th leg from Auckland – Itajai 30 March 2012, 1300 UTC
1. Groupama 1,920.3 miles from the finish
2. Puma 16.3 miles astern of the leader
3. Telefonica 303.3 miles astern of the leader
4. Camper 1,347.6 miles astern of the leader
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1,696.8 miles astern of the leader
6. Sanya DNF.
Leg 5 leaders Groupama throttled back to preserve man and boat as the fleet saw a return to the classic Southern Ocean conditions of huge, confused seas and gale-force winds on Tuesday.
Despite a lead of just 37 nautical miles (nm) Franck Cammas’ crew chose safety over speed to avoid breakages to their Volvo Open 70 as winds hit more than 35 knots and waves grew to around six metres following a brief respite from the thrashing yesterday.
Four of the six-strong fleet have suffered damage so far in the 6,700nm leg from Auckland to Itajaí and Groupama skipper Cammas said in the Southern Ocean, survival must come before speed.
“We had to slow down during the night to nurse the boat and the men,” he said. “We are waiting for the day to come to put some more sails up again.
“It’s more about surviving than racing. For sure it’s been the toughest week since the start of the race.”
Groupama helmsman Laurent Pagès added: “We have been sailing this way since we got to this part of the ocean where the sea state is really bad.
“When we returned to boat breaking conditions we took our foot off the pedal. We gave some miles to PUMA but it’s all fine because we don’t have any problems on board.”
Despite slowing the boat down, Groupama were hurtling along at an average of 21 knots in the three hours prior to the 1300 UTC position report.
Hot on their heels were Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG as both teams passed the eastern ice limit, allowing them to dive south and take the shortest possible route to Cape Horn, around 1,200nm away.
Telefónica slipped to 314 nm off the lead after being forced to hold back to prevent damage to their bow getting worse.
Still in fourth but heading to southern Chile to carry out repairs to their damaged bow, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand celebrated getting to within 2,000 miles of their destination, Puerto Montt.
“It’s a milestone for us,” said helmsman Tony Rae. “Another step towards getting to land and making the repairs.
“Once we get to Puerto Montt and have a look at the damage we’ll know when we can leave again.”
1415 nm behind the leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were revelling in much less dangerous conditions than the rest of the fleet and looking forward to opportunities further along the course.
“We haven’t seen too much harsh weather since leaving New Zealand so we’re just chipping away and enjoying the downwind Southern Ocean downwind yachting,” said Abu Dhabi’s newest recruit, Australian Olympic sailor Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter.
“We’re happy to be stuck in lighter airs at the back of the fleet if the front guys are going to break their boats in hard core weather. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Nocka, who last competed in the Volvo Ocean Race on current CEO Knut Frostad’s Djuice Dragons in 2001-02, added: “We’re quite a long way off the pace with our delayed start time but you never know what could happen.
“The last time I did this race we passed three boats between Cape Horn and the finish.
“It’s like a totally new race after the Horn, it could be a restart.”
Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya reached Tauranga in New Zealand on Tuesday, five days after a broken rudder forced them to turn back.
Sanya will ship their boat to Savannah in the United States for repairs before sailing it to Miami to rejoin the race for Leg 7.
27/03/2012 13:06:25 UTC
DTL DTLC BS DTF
1 GPMA 0.00 0 21.3 3112.3
2 PUMA 37.00 7 19.8 3149.3
3 TELE 313.90 13 15.8 3426.1
4 CMPR 856.60 45 5.9 3968.9
5 ADOR 1415.40 35 17.8 4527.7
- SNYA Did Not Finish
Team Sanya led the fleet out of Auckland and into a likely battering from the weather en route to the Southern Ocean, as Leg 5 to Itajaí got underway with the second half of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 completely open.
Auckland skipper Mike Sanderson enjoyed a dream start to the leg as his underdog Sanya outfit led the fleet around the inshore course on his home waters.
Sanya smoked their five rivals off the start line, enjoying better breeze in a commanding position to round the first mark ahead of Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG followed them around the televised section, followed by Team Telefónica, CAMPER with Emirates Team Zealand and Groupama sailing team.
With 6,700 nautical miles of ocean racing ahead of them, no team will be placing any significance on the leaving positions, especially with such a trial by the elements in prospect.
According to race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante a low pressure system to the north east of Auckland is set to intensify as it moves towards the colder waters of the Southern Ocean.
“It’s a heat machine right now,” Infante said. “As it interacts with the cooler air off New Zealand it could generate some big winds — 30 knots up to maybe even 50 or 60 knots.”
PUMA skipper Ken Read said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority, with gales likely in the first few days.
Read added: “It’s going to be boat-breaking and person-breaking weather, and I think the smart will prevail.”
As the leg goes on, the fleet will sail through the notorious Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties where the winds consistently blow above 40 knots and conditions are more than capable of breaking boats.
Three new sailors have been added to the crew lists in Auckland. Anthony Nossiter from Australia is joining Abu Dhabi to replace the outgoing Justin Ferris, while just for this leg Finnish Olympic gold medal winner Thomas Johanson takes over from injured Kelvin Harrap on PUMA and Danish Olympic gold medallist Martin Kirketerp steps in on Sanya for Ryan Houston who has a kidney infection.
With the weather forecast to batter the fleet in the opening day of the leg, it will be a baptism of fire for the new crewmembers.
“Right now all our focus is on the weather forecast, which looks absolutely diabolical for the first 36 hours,” said Ian Walker, skipper of fifth-placed Abu Dhabi. “We just have to prepare our boat and our people as best we can.”
Despite having three leg wins and two in-port victories under their belt, Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica sit just 15 points clear at the top of the overall leaderboard, with less than 40 points separating the top four boats and fifth-placed Abu Dhabi still determined to fight their way back into the reckoning.
And as the 39,000 nautical mile race hits its mid-point with Leg 5 to Itajaí in Brazil, with more than half the points still to be awarded, it is anyone’s to win.
“The door has always been open for any team to win,” Martínez said. “The teams are very close and there will be some more boats winning legs for sure.”
CAMPER, currently ranked third overall behind Telefónica and Groupama, started the leg riding the high of victory on home waters in Saturday’s In-Port Race.
And with just 18 points separating them from the leaders, skipper Chris Nicholson said his team were still very much in the race.
“It’s still well and truly game on,” he said. “I see the future for the overall podium results for this leg as wide open — as wide open now as they were in Alicante.”
“I’ve been watching this race since 1981 and never before got this far and not really known what’s going to happen going forward,” added Sanderson whose sixth-placed Sanya are showing their best form of the race.
After second place finishes in Leg 4 and the Auckland In-Port Race, PUMA are also on a roll – but skipper Ken Read, who skippered PUMA to third place in the Southern Ocean leg of the 2008-09 event, said keeping the boat and the crew in one piece was the top priority.
“Quite frankly this is not a leg to be talking about wins and losses right now,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to talk tough but the reality is this is not the most hospitable part of the world and we have to make sure we’re smart.”
Leg 5 is expected to take around 18 days to complete.
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