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
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 7 Boston, USA to Galway, Ireland
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