Feb 19 2012
STAGGERED START GIVES TELEFÓNICA EARLY ADVANTAGE ON LEG 4 STAGE 2
Team Telefónica led the fleet out of Sanya and into the most challenging stretch of the race so far after giving themselves a slim advantage to take into Leg 4 Stage 2 on Monday.
Race organisers split Leg 4 into two stages and held the fleet in Sanya for over 12 hours because of dangerous weather conditions in the South China Sea, with forecasts of waves breaking over eight metres.
Leg 4 Stage 2, which will take the fleet over 5,220 nautical miles to Auckland in New Zealand, got underway at 0700 local time on Monday (2300 GMT/UTC on Sunday) and was staggered according to finishing times in Stage 1 along the Chinese coast.
That gave Telefónica a two minute 32 second head start over Groupama sailing team, who placed second in the 43.2 nautical miles sprint, and an even bigger advantage over the rest of the fleet.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing started third, followed by Team Sanya, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and finally PUMA who set off 39 minutes and 17 seconds after Telefónica.
“No doubt there will be some very big leftover waves,” said Team Telefónica watch leader Neal McDonald. “Despite the wind being a more manageable breeze I suspect there will be boat breaking conditions and we’ll need to be careful.”
Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker said his team had been especially careful in their preparations to make sure they were covered for the expected tough conditions.
“We’re ready for this,” said the British skipper. “We’ve worked through what we think are our weak points and we’ve moded the boat a little bit differently for stronger air and upwind for this leg.
“We’ve also made our life jackets more accessible and all our personal gear is set up for easy access in difficult conditions.’’
The fourth leg’s second stage is likely to prove the most tactically challenging of the race so far. Up to three weeks of testing sailing lie ahead of the six crews as they navigate their way through the South China Sea, out into the Philippine Sea, through the Doldrums and into the Tasman Sea.
Summing up the leg, race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said, “It is going to be very tricky with many unknowns due to the dynamic nature of this section of the world’s oceans.
“From the tropics to the Tasman, the weather systems are fast moving and variable. It’s going to be one of the most tactical legs of the race so far with plenty of opportunities to reward bold tactical manoeuvres.”
According to Infante perfect timing will be required over the first three days to negotiate the tricky stretch of the South China Sea between Sanya and the Strait of Luzon.
Infante expects the extreme conditions of the previous few days to begin to lessen as the southerly located low dissipates over the next day or so.
However, this could leave behind a difficult sea state making it imperative that the fleet makes it through the Strait of Luzon as quickly as possible to hook into stronger steadier breezes from a newly developing low pressure system to the north east.
Infante says he sees a northerly route through the straits as the only viable option. “This way they can avoid the worst of the current, stay in the strongest breeze and avoid the chance of a wind shadow from the northerly tip of the Philippines,” he said.
Once out of the strait the fleet could have an opportunity to set themselves up perfectly for some fast sailing in the north east trade winds by making early rapid progress to the east.
"East is best," Infante said. "A well timed exit from the strait will enable the boats to take advantage of strong winds from a new, easterly moving low pressure system.
“If they get it right it will be like taking an eastbound train to line up perfectly for the north east trade winds.
"If they miss the train then they will be forced south closer to the island land masses of the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia where the trades are less stable and harder to predict."
The current ETA for the arrival of the six teams in Auckland March 8.
Feb 21 2012
DYING WIND AND CONFUSED SEAS EQUAL PAINFUL PROGRESS
The Volvo fleet, still led by CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS), is struggling in a dying wind, which has left in its wake a big, sloppy sea, and the exit of the South China Sea looks now to be a painful and drawn out affair.
Earlier there appeared several options open for the six teams in the approach to the Luzon Strait. Iker Martínez/ESP initially positioned Telefónica to the north, looking for the favourable wind flow that funnels through the Strait of Taiwan, but in the last hour the Spaniard has cashed in his northing and tacked back to cover the fleet.
Ken Read/USA in sixth place made the same decision, tacking PUMA’s Mar Mostro shortly before Telefónica and selecting the more conservative route. Only Mike Sanderson/NZL and Team Sanya, now rising to third place behind Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA), have chosen the southerly option. Sanya is a significantly slower boat, which forces Sanderson and his men to take a more radical approach.
Although Will Oxley, navigator with CAMPER, expects the seastate to moderate shortly, MCM Hamish Hooper reported this morning that currently this is far from the case. “I think I can speak for everyone in saying that we are looking forward to leaving the South China Sea behind,” he said miserably.
Tony Rae, one of CAMPER’s helmsmen, added: “This is like sailing in a washing machine without the soap suds unfortunately”. According to Rae, a mix of current, wind and the fact that the fleet is right where the ocean bed rises from 600 metres to only 200 metres all combine to make a pretty messy and confused ride. “Not what I would call smooth sailing,” the veteran round the world race campaigner said.
On board PUMA there is talk of canting the keel to leeward to induce heel to help avoid the belly flops that are making the crew cringe at every wave landing. “Our flat-bottomed girl aches with each flight and cries with each crash,” said MCM Amory Ross.
The first waypoint at the Philippines lies around 350 nautical miles to the northeast of the fleet. “Between us lie more of the waves we have come to hate, leftover swell from the monsoon, a few tacks, adverse current and gradually easing winds,” sums up Ross, who added that the conditions were well within early expectations.
Feb 23 2012
IN SEARCH OF WIND
There was short-lived euphoria last night when, for the first time in weeks, some fast downwind sailing was enjoyed and the six Volvo Open 70s were able to show what they are made of shortly after rounding the southern tip of Taiwan. As the fleet shot north in the fresh breeze, the order changed constantly as the fleet headed away from the waypoint used to calculate distance to the finish in Auckland.
At 1000 UTC today, the fleet was back on the wind in unstable conditions edging north in a breeze that is expected to veer very fast from northwest to northeast in the next 12 hours.
“We’re hoping we only need to go north for another 60 miles,” said Will Oxley, navigator on board CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS). Oxley said light winds to the south of the fleet blocked their path towards Auckland and instead they were forced to sail away from their goal in search of favourable northerly breeze.
“We are currently heading north towards Japan,” Oxley added. “This doesn’t seem quite right, but apparently this is the quickest way to get to New Zealand. It is somewhat comforting that the entire fleet has followed suit.
“It’s a bit like sailing the north Atlantic on Leg 1 where everyone with the exception of Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) ended up going west, waiting for an opportunity for the trades to establish. On this leg we know being east is generally better in the Pacific and there are no trades right now, so we’re using the opportunity to stay in the breeze.”
Unfortunately, that means more upwind sailing, heading away from Auckland, which does not produce a clear picture of the leaderboard at this stage. At the 1000 UTC position report Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya topped the leaderboard due to their position furthest to the south, closest to the finish.
The earlier respite from the upwind sailing allowed the crews to briefly dry out their gear and air the boat. Appetites returned as the sea state reduced, although there is some chance of a confused sea in the north where conditions are still influenced by the Kuroshio Current running against the wind.
Wind conditions for the fleet remain variable this morning. Speeds vary hugely from PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) averaging 11.2 knots in the far north, to Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) further south averaging less than seven. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) were the fastest boat in the fleet averaging 13 knots.
Feb 26 2012
GREEN MOSQUITO TAKES CONTROL
Groupama sailing team took up a strong position to the east of the fleet on Sunday, after a radical move that could give the French team a real advantage on Leg 4.
On a cold, dark day, heavy with rain, Franck Cammas' Groupama 4, the green mosquito that has been buzzing in the ears of leg leaders CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand for days, broke away at around 0100 UTC -- a move CAMPER chose not to follow.
The key to the leg will likely be how the teams cross a windless zone to reach the northeast trade winds, which will take them swiftly towards the finish in Auckland.
“We prefer to go away from this light wind area, but we won’t be able to entirely avoid it and will have to go through calm areas before we reach the trades,” Cammas explained.
Groupama may now have the edge over PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, 27 nautical miles (nm) to their north, as well as the rest of the fleet, including CAMPER, 103 nm to their south, all of whom have very unstable wind.
On board CAMPER, all is silent, except for the drumming of rain on the deck as the crew contemplates the anxious feeling that the fleet is roaring up behind.
“It’s really hard to know right now just how we are doing against the other boats, until we manage to get into the established northeast trade winds and turn towards home,” wrote CAMPER’s MCM Hamish Hooper. "The team studies the three-hourly position reports intently, working out the speeds and positions of the opposition, all the time hoping they are not doing better for too long. It’s a nervous time for skipper Chris Nicholson."
Meanwhile, PUMA have concluded their lonely detour to the north, which has brought them back within range of the fleet just 28 nm to the north of Groupama 4.
"The important thing is that PUMA has some swagger back," wrote MCM Amory Ross. "The guys are smiling, spirits are high, and we’ve mostly forgotten the last week of torture in favor of more recent reaching pleasantries. I say mostly because everyone owns some lingering bumps and bruises we tend to revisit now and again."
Skipper Ken Read came up with an original way of describing the relief on board at being back with the fleet.
“I think I have a splinter in my right hand,” Read said. “The term ‘touch wood’ has been used more times than I have ever heard. The little piece of wood mounted in the nav table is nearly worn out. The sentence, ‘if it works the way it is supposed to, we will be ok – touch wood’, has been used a thousand times.”
Overall leaders Team Telefónica, placed second on the leg leaderboard, are over 161 nm south of PUMA. Their position near the top is distorted by their position as the furthest boat to the south. However, Navigator Andrew Cape says it’s not all over yet.
“Without doubt we’re still looking at the number one position here," he said. "It’s not over, we’re not in the gutter being kicked in the head. We have our heads held high, a lot of fight left in us and a long way to go.”
According to skipper Mike Sanderson, fourth placed Team Sanya are not on the ‘front row of the grid’ either. “I can’t really blame our further loss on performance, although being behind in the first place has caused us to get held up in between two weather systems,” Sanderson said.
The new reaching conditions expected in about 48 hours will not suit Team Sanya, who will be hoping for a ‘restart’ in the doldrums area around the Solomon Islands. Their spirits, however, were lifted today by the appearance of a pod of dolphins hunting tuna and an eight-metre whale shark, whose body was just visible with a big dorsal fin breaking the surface.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are in fifth, tracing the wake of Groupama 4. “We’re pretty much in the hunt, but we’ve had a tough 24 hours,” explained bowman Justin Slattery. “When we start heading south and we get those blue skies, I think it will lift our moods considerably."
The fleet is separated by a weakening cold front, which is causing cloudiness and unstable breeze. While everything is looking good for PUMA and Groupama in the north, it could be a much more painful transition to the trade winds with a less favourable angle for Telefónica and CAMPER who are stuck in the centre of the front.
On the 1300 UTC leader board today, CAMPER showed a slim margin of 13.9 nm over Telefónica, although their real threat could be from PUMA and Groupama in the north. The current leg placings are distorted by the distance to finish calculation and it will not become clear who the winners and losers are until the transition into the trade winds is complete, which will be Tuesday at the earliest.
Feb 27 2012
GROUPAMA LEADS THE FLEET THROUGH PACIFIC RING OF FIRE
At 1000 UTC today as the fleet raced through the string of Japanese Islands that make up the Pacific Ring of Fire, Groupama sailing team (Franck Cammas/FRA) was top of the table and in prime position to control the rest of the fleet by moving north or south according to the wind pressure.
PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) are 47 nautical miles (nm) to the north of Groupama and both teams have passed the Japanese islands of Kito-lo Shima and Haha Shima.
PUMA is powering through a wind corridor between a low-pressure to their north-northeast and a high-pressure slightly to their northwest. Between the two systems, the accelerating wind is propelling both teams towards the northeasterly trade winds at average speeds of between 16-18 knots.
It’s Read’s plan to try to stay to the north of the French team and maintain their separation, keeping east of Groupama 4. When they reach the trade winds, probably in the next 24 hours, they could have a better angle than Groupama 4 towards the Doldrums which are situated around the Solomon Islands.
“If the weather models agree, we will face a continuous header, pin-wheeling the fleet around the inside boats further to the south, like Olympic runners arcing through their first turn,” explained PUMA’s Media Crew Member (MCM) Amory Ross.
However, as always, there is a risk. For Read’s plan to work PUMA will need their current weather system to move to the east with them so they can maintain good wind pressure but they will sail more miles too. There is also the chance, that from their position in the north, the team may have to sail dead downwind in the next 24 hours in slightly less breeze. If they can keep east of Groupama 4, 50 nm of lateral separation in reaching conditions can translate into an advantageous broader angle and one or two knots more speed.
Suffering light and fluky conditions in the south are Telefónica (150 nm south of PUMA), CAMPER (43 nm north of Telefónica) and Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) sandwiched between, while Ian Walker and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has been following in Groupama’s wake.
“The weather reports are saying we should be in far more breeze than we are, but it’s just not here right now and every minute of light breeze is hurting us and helping the others,” wrote CAMPER’s MCM Hamish Hooper today.
Navigator Will Oxley had warned the crew of numerous submerged volcano eruptions as they race through the Pacific Ring of Fire and today they passed by an active one, just 14 metres below the surface.
“We have found ourselves in a piece of water that we haven’t wanted to be in,” said skipper Chris Nicholson. “We are making the best out of it, trying to continue east without too much expense. It is now about minimising damage so that we can have more opportunities further down the track.”
Spirits were lifted onboard Telefónica by news of the birth of a daughter to João Signorini and his wife Lotta last night. The crew celebrated by having a few puffs on a Cuban cigar they brought along especially for the occasion.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing suffered some damage to their starboard dagger board lifting mechanism, which has been fixed temporarily. Permanently losing use of the board would severely compromise Abu Dhabi’s speed, but the crew is confident that a long term fix is possible.
Team Sanya remain well in touch with the fleet. The crew is pleased with the boat’s performance so far and looking forward to the seven-day sprint to the equator.
The drag race is about to begin and in a day’s time it will all be about maximising boat speed.