December 11, 2011 -1900 UTC Leg 2 Day 1
BENIGN BREEZE FOR LEG 2 VOLVO RACERS
The six-strong fleet, which started Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race earlier today, is making painfully slow progress towards the Cape of Good Hope approximately 17 nautical miles (nm) south-southeast of the fleet. The first night at sea, after a hectic stopover in Cape Town, looks set to be spent inching along the coast, just four nm from the shoreline, in little or no breeze.
At 1900 UTC tonight, race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) leads Franck Cammas/FRA (Groupama 4) and the chasing pack by 0.20 nm, the slimmest of margins and in the most difficult conditions, almost no wind at all and with boat speeds of less than two knots.
However, once clear of the Cape, the teams should be able to crack sheets and enjoy some quicker reaching conditions, although the Wind Gods will be testing the fleet with a complex set of weather and currents and Leg 2 will be no walk in the park.
The Agulhas current, which runs south down the eastern coast of South Africa, meets the cold water of the Beneguela current and turns back on itself about one kilometre east of the Cape of Good Hope. The result, the shallow area of the Agulhas Bank, is a notoriously rough piece of water to be negotiated. Here, the westerly winds along the African coast collide with the typical three - five knot easterly Agulhas current and can potentially produce boat-breaking conditions. By hugging the coast, the worse effects could be avoided.
Two of six teams in the fleet stepped new masts for this leg having dismasted on Leg 1 and both Ian Walker/GBR (Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam) and Ken Read/USA (PUMA’s Mar Mostro) will be cautious of the conditions they expect to find here.
Speaking earlier today, skipper of Team Sanya, Mike Sanderson/NZL said, “It’s looking like the issue is going to be sea state rather than wind speed. Down by Cape Agulhas there are still three - four metre waves but only 20 knots of wind.
“One of the things about 20 knots of wind is that the boats are already going as fast as they can go upwind, so it’s almost worse because you want to sail upwind at 13 knots but if there’s a leftover sea state left over from the big low out there we could be launching off some beauties.
“Although we were cautious even when we ran into something [the boat was seriously damaged in the early part of Leg 1 and retired], I think the fleet is very conscious of getting through these first couple of days. I think you might even see a whole new level of people buttoning off,” Sanderson said.
December 12, 2011
DILEMMA IN NAV WORLD, WHILE GROUPAMA 4 LEADS FIELD
Tonight at 1900 UTC, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet remains tightly bunched, with no clear strategy at this stage of the 5,430 nautical mile (nm) leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi. The decision to split from the pack and take the low road to the south has yet to be taken and, as always, the weather Gods are in control. It will be conservative sailing until the crews are forced to declare their plans, perhaps overnight, or tomorrow morning.
“Our weather strategy is in pieces now as the fleet has failed to catch the low pressure as planned and I suspect we will all sit waiting for a new westerly wind to pick us up in the next day or two,” explained Ian Walker/GBR, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam earlier today.
Onboard Sanya Lan, skipper Mike Sanderson/NZL and his Norwegian navigator Aksel Magdahl are closely huddled, considering the dilemma of adopting a more southerly route or continuing to hug the African coast before hooking into a little low-pressure system and then charging south. “Fingers crossed we aren’t parked for as long as last night,” Sanderson said hopefully.
However, in contrast to the last 24 hours, the sentence of no wind has been lifted and the frustrating drifting conditions have been replaced by a positive southwesterly breeze, allowing the six teams to crack sheets and reach nicely at between 16 and 17.5 knots.
Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) leads the field by just over one mile from CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), however this pair are only 17 nm offshore and the chasing pack is seven miles to leeward. Overall race leader, Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) is 21 nm astern in sixth place, but has gained four miles over the past three hours, while Azzam records the highest average speed of 12.9 knots.
December 13, 2011
TACKING AND STACKING AS CAMPER LEADS THE WAY
At 1000 UTC this morning it was back to tacking and stacking as all six boats racing in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race to Abu Dhabi were in sight of each other as they clawed their way up the South African coast towards Port Elizabeth in an eight to 10 knot headwind. CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) is leading the field from PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) and Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA).
On board today’s leg leader, CAMPER, there is a quiet air of concentration as the crew pushes the boat in conditions to which she is well suited. MCM Hamish Hooper reports lots of moving things around for perfect boat trim, lots of tiptoeing and almost no casual talking as the crew focus on making the boat go fast and retaining their slim lead over Mar Mostro. The fleet is split over 18 nautical miles from CAMPER in first place and overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) in sixth place.
The strategy for today will be to stay close to the coast and sail east-northeast as fast as possible to connect with a new low-pressure system building close to Durban, which will create fresh westerly breeze close to the coast. The backmarkers will have to push hard to prevent being left behind, as every mile of separation will be multiplied by a factor of two or three once the leaders get closer to the low.
Currently, the fleet is just off Cape St Francis, 70 nm west of Port Elizabeth where critical decisions will need to be made. It is here where the fleet will have to contest with three to four knots of adverse Agulhas Current, and this combined with the effects of 25-30 knots of breeze generated by the building low, will create a confused and potentially dangerous wind against tide sea state. The crews will need to cross the current, identifying its narrowest point and strength to ensure the least amount of damage to the boats.
December 14, 2011
EXCITING TIMES IN UNCERTAIN WEATHER CONDITIONS
After a difficult night traversing the Agulhas Current, four of the fleet of six boats are now free of it, while Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) and Sanya Lan (Mike Sanderson/NZL) have yet to make their escape. With the weather in the Agulhas zone set to worsen these two should complete their crossing in the next few hours.
According to weather experts, the fleet will continue to battle with the effects of a thermal low-pressure system south of Africa, which is being intensified by a cold front moving from the west.
The fleet has split in two around this new weather system. New leg leader, Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is positioned to the north of the pack, theoretically well placed to sail fast angles should the two low-pressure systems merge to form an easterly moving cold front.
If this happens Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing along with PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA), CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA could enjoy strong west southwest winds which will propel them quickly in the right direction.
However the low-pressure system is proving sluggish and unstable and has not moved as predicted to the southeast. Instead it has remained quite static and last night the fleet was close to the centre of this system that produced huge gusts and big rainsqualls.
Further north if Telefónica gets ahead of the system before it starts to move, Iker Martínez and his team will have strong north-northeasterly winds which could give them a perfect angle to power over the southern pack.
December 14, 2011
Telefónica take the lead as fleet fractures
It is a nervous time for Team Telefónica’s navigator Andrew Cape having “rolled the dice” and laid his bet on a course that has placed his team in the lead, but also at one end of a major split in the fleet.
Telefónica took the lead from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing this afternoon as the fractured fleet spanned more than 100 nautical miles across the Indian Ocean heading east.
The Spanish team remain further north along with Abu Dhabi, in the middle is Team Sanya and PUMA Ocean Racing Powered by BERG, while CAMPER and Groupama sailing team are the most southern.
The overall race leader’s northern exposure is not so much the result of a “super plan” Cape explained not long after steering his team safely across the notorious Agulhas Current on Wednesday.
It was more a result of the team having played the tricky shifts they were constantly dealt as they sailed around the bottom of South Africa, the five-time race veteran said.
“I think it’s just a matter of working exactly with the winds you have at the time and making the most of them,” he said. “There’s no super plan because it just changes so quickly here. You just have to make the best of what we’ve got.”
But as the gaping divide extended this afternoon to the greatest in the leg so far, Cape admitted he was sitting on the edge of his seat at his nav-station.
“It is tense. You have to be nervous because the outcome is uncertain, but I’m confident as well,’’ he said.
“There’s 130 miles between us and Groupama now, so that’s quite a big split. It’s going to be very interesting.
“These things can go either way. Really it’s a roll of the dice, and you place your bets.”
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman/trimmer Rob Salthouse said that while the split created nervous times, they were in a good position.
“Not a lot of nerves from our side of it,’’ he said. “But I can understand why the other guys have done it, sort of tried to sail in flatter smoother water for longer and use the breeze that was on the shore.
“Their trouble will come a little later on when they try to get east and they’ll struggle to get east and it’s normally the key to heading north up the Indian Ocean. They may have it right at this time, but it’s not telling us what we think it should be.”