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
On crossing the finish line this Saturday at 1033 UTC, Groupama 4 secures victory in this fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. A very important result for Franck Cammas and his men after sailing over 6,500 miles between Sanya (China) and Auckland (New Zealand) in some tough weather conditions and one that came about thanks to a sound strategic option in the North Pacific.
It’s a very important win for the French team, who now have a chance of moving up a place in the overall standing (depending on Camper’s result). Most significantly though, Groupama 4 is the first boat to stand out on an oceanic leg after the three consecutive Spanish victories in Cape Town, Abu Dhabi and Sanya. Furthermore, Auckland is a city which is geared towards the sea and sailing is the national sport along with rugby. Indeed a number of Kiwi sailors are racing aboard the boats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, including bowman Brad Marsh on Groupama 4. To take this win in New Zealand, Franck Cammas and his men have taken 19 days and 15 hours to sail the 5,220-mile great circle route, though in reality, the prevailing headwinds on this leg have forced them to sail a total of over 6,500 miles across the water!
A paying strategy
It’s in the middle of the North Pacific that Groupama 4 took control of a fleet which had spent nearly a week battling against the easterly wind, forcing the six VO-70s to steer a course over 800 miles away from the direct route, before they could finally slip down towards the Solomon Islands. On 26 February at 2200 UTC, Franck Cammas and his ten crew found themselves to windward of the leading pack with the Americans hot on their heels. Having acquired this placing through some judicious repositioning, they were able to begin to bend their trajectory around to the South-East with over 200 miles of East-West lateral separation over their two most dangerous rivals in the overall standing, the Spanish on Telefonica and the New Zealanders on Camper.
This strategic investment translated into a lead of a hundred miles over the chasing pack during the passage through the Solomons’ nerve centre: Groupama 4, with Puma and Abu Dhabi in her wake, were able to pass outside the Melanesian archipelago whilst Telefonica, Camper and Sanya were forced to traverse them. The equatorial Doldrums didn’t affect the hierarchy and the French boat was able to continue her descent due South in a favourable position. Franck Cammas, with his navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, then decided to cover their rivals by slipping along to the West of New Caledonia to reposition themselves in front of the ‘western’ trio. What remained at that point was the obstacle of a depression situated on the direct route towards New Zealand: Groupama 4 got around its western limit to finish up by sailing into a stiff breeze and a very difficult sea state as far as Cape Reinga, in the North of New Zealand.
The final battle
Despite a leak in the bow which the crew managed to stem the day before the finish, Groupama 4 had a lead of over a hundred miles in front of the remainder of the fleet, which was very tightly bunched as they rounded the extreme North of New Zealand. At that stage all Franck Cammas and his men had to do was to complete the remaining 180-mile course to Auckland in a breeze which, in the end, eased to just a dozen knots or so. Welcomed in by thousands of French and New Zealand supporters, the winning boat crossed the finish line at 2333 hours local time (1033 UTC), boosting her position on the podium in the overall standing to bag a total of 103 points since the start of the event.
This overall podium will evolve according to the order in which Groupama 4′s pursuers cross the finish line, since there’s virtually nothing separating the Americans, Spanish, New Zealanders and even the Emiratis and Chinese, who are expected to reach Auckland midday on Sunday (local time). Grouped within less than fifty miles of each other, these five pretenders to the leg podium will have to deal with a breeze which is set to fade the closer they get to Auckland. If Puma finishes second, Franck Cammas and his men are assured of second place in the overall standing and above all, will make up at least ten points on the Spanish leaders! As such this victory in New Zealand is a very important moment in the Volvo Ocean Race. At the midway mark, the French boat stands a chance of making up its deficit in relation to Telefonica, since there are still five oceanic legs and six In-Port races left to race…
Thierry Martel, Groupama CEO :
“In the name of the Group, I’d like to congratulate Franck Cammas and the whole crew aboard Groupama 4 for their superb victory in Auckland, a favourite land for international sailing.
We are very proud of this success which rewards the whole crew’s relentless work and determination and sets a fine example to Groupama’s 39,000 representatives, both in France and overseas.
We thank them for carrying Groupama’s colours so high on the other side of the world.”
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
Sea sickness and waves as high as five metres are making life difficult for all six teams on the first day of the second stage of Leg 4 from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
Conditions on board have been brutal as the crews struggle to rein in their Volvo Open 70s to avoid teeth-rattling crash landings off the backs of the monster waves left over from several days of gale force winds.
A drifting start in the wind shadow of Sanya’s towering mountains belied the testing weather the crews found themselves in just hours later, after the wind and sea state quickly ramped powering them towards the Strait of Luzon at speeds up to 20 knots.
On Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Media Crew Member (MCM) Nick Dana said the unavoidable and relentless slamming made for a near impossible working environment on board.
“The airdrops we are experiencing off the backs of these sharp waves make it difficult to keep your feet below you let alone a sail or a steering wheel in your hands,” he said.
“We’re currently blasting along at around 18-20 knots with a J4 and reef in.
“Down below looks like a war zone. Several people have been sick already, and the rest just keep swallowing.”
Even Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker, a double Olympic medallist, confessed to feeling the effects of the punishing sea state.
“Today I had a hint of seasickness for the first time ever,” he said. “Fortunately I have kept the freeze dried roast chicken and mashed potato down so far unlike a few others onboard.”
Walker said the Abu Dhabi crew were not relishing the prospect of a fortnight-long battering but were settling into a normal offshore routine of grabbing sleep in between their four hourly watches.
“The snoring has started down below and the guys on deck are finding their rhythm,” he said. “Nobody is really looking forward to a week or two of upwind slog – especially in these waves, but we will cross off the miles and wait for better sailing somewhere further down the line.”
Race organisers split Leg 4 into two stages in order to prevent the fleet encountering conditions considered un-sailable in the South China Sea.
Conditions were light and fickle for the second stage start at 2300 UTC on Sunday (0700 today in Sanya), all but wiping out the effects of the staggered start sequence from the Stage 1 coastal race less than 24 hours previously.
Franck Cammas’ Groupama sailing team made the best of the early drifting to pick their way past overall race leaders Team Telefónica, skippered by Iker Martínez, and into the lead.
At 1300 UTC today Groupama had a lead of less than two miles over Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, with third and fourth placed Telefónica and Abu Dhabi positioned furthest north just over a mile and a half apart.
The near windless start had given CAMPER an immediate opportunity to sail round round the wallowing early starters.
“We had to wait nine long minutes and 13 arduous seconds as Telefónica, Groupama, Abu Dhabi & Sanya all started before us,” said CAMPER MCM Hamish Hooper.
“As it turned out it became a slight blessing in disguise for us,” he added. “We could see that they were all a bit parked up not long after the start so knew we didn’t want to go the way they did.”
CAMPER leave Sanya still second in the overall standings and Hooper says despite losing points to leaders Telefónica during the Chinese stopover the predominantly Kiwi crew have been re-energised by the prospect of a victorious arrival in New Zealand.
“At times you feel like a block of cheese being rubbed up against a cheese grater, slowly withering you away physically and mentally, but the guys are resilient and focused, and it feels fantastic to finally be heading for home to Auckland.
“Our short-term goal for sure is to be the first out of the Luzon Strait. No need to guess our long-term goal,” Hooper said.
Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, who started almost 40 minutes after Telefónica, were still in sixth at 1300 UTC, 14.5 nm off the lead.
Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya made a tactical break to the south of the main fleet and at 1300 UTC were fifth, 8.4 nm behind Groupama and averaging 11 knots.
The six-boat fleet will take around three days to cross the South China Sea to the Strait of Luzon and are expected to complete the 5,220 nm second stage of Leg 4 to Auckland around March 8.