May 19, 2012
ABU DHABI MAKE IT AN IN-PORT HAT-TRICK AS TELEFÓNICA FEEL MIAMI HEAT
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
May 21, 2012
GROUPAMA LEADS THE FLEET NORTH ON GULF STREAM CONVEYOR BELT
After a light airs start to Leg 7 yesterday, Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA) has the lead today as northerly winds blowing against the Gulf Stream kick up a choppy sea in the opening stages of the transatlantic leg to Lisbon in Portugal.
The fleet’s progress north is being helped by three knots of positive current from the Gulf Stream conveyor belt, but has made for an unpleasant and bumpy start to the 3,590 nautical mile (nm) leg.
“There’s nothing like going upwind in the Gulf Stream and slamming into a big swell,” said PUMA watch captain Tony Mutter. Already the fleet has made good progress on what all crews expect to be an exhilarating and predominantly downwind ride back to European waters.
At 0700 GMT today Groupama led from Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) by 1.2 nm as the fleet passed Cape Canaveral on the east coast of the United States.
Meanwhile PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA), CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) are tightly bunched, while Mike Sanderson has chosen to take Team Sanya two miles to windward of the pack.
Ahead of the fleet to the north lies Tropical Storm Alberto, which will provide a big advantage for the team which finds the strong winds first.
According to Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, the tropical low could propel the fleet east almost as far as the Azores Islands.
“The storm is the source of pressure for us to get north and east on, so it’s important to try to feed into that pressure first,” explained PUMA navigator Tom Addis.
“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that low, because the current against wind in the Gulf Stream would give quite a heinous sea state.”
Leg 7 is predicted to take the fleet 11 days to complete with the leaders expected to arrive in Lisbon on or around May 31.
May 22, 2012
ALL CALM AFTER THE STORM
It’s all gone a little bit quiet out on the Atlantic race track for the Volvo Ocean Race fleet after tropical storm Alberto swept across all but leg leader Franck Cammas/FRA and Groupama yesterday. The six-boat fleet has had a more satisfactory day today, clicking off miles downwind towards the Lisbon finish at speeds of around 19 knots. However, a patch of lighter airs is slowing the fleet, allowing the pack to close on Groupama, as they chase an easterly moving low-pressure system. At 1900 GMT tonight, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG had gained four miles and closed to within 8.10 nm of the leader, with Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) in third, just a fraction of a mile behind PUMA, having made a gain of 10 nm in the past three hours.
In contrast to yesterday’s storm, today has been pleasant downwind sailing as the remnants of the storm moved away to the north and the fleet extended to the east. As the wind eased, so did conditions onboard. Hatches that had been tightly closed were thrown open to air out the boats and the crews have been able to rest and eat, and mentally prepare for the next hurdle. However, the calm after the storm is temporary. Ahead, the low will provide exhilarating sailing once more, provided the fleet can reach it in time to reap the benefits.
“We are quietly slipping along,” reported Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. “However, the weather is very complicated up ahead. It is hard to know which option we’re going to take as there are a lot of pitfalls in front,” he said, fully aware that the chasing pack will catch Groupama tonight. “We are fortunate that everyone is following the same course at the moment,” Cammas added. The Frenchman is preparing to use the full range of sails onboard Groupama on this Atlantic leg to Lisbon, Portugal, which could even throw in some upwind sailing mid-Atlantic.
The fleet has a lateral separation of approximately 38 nm as the drag race towards the front continues. Telefónica have taken the high road north and are to windward of the fleet, while CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand are to leeward in the south.
Franck Cammas has positioned Groupama just under two miles to windward of CAMPER, but 23.8 nm ahead, but tonight will be an anxious time as the fleet continues to make better speed than Groupama, which at 15.4 knots was over a knot slower than CAMPER and four knots slower than the hard-pushing crew on board Telefónica.
May 24, 2012
TELEFÓNICA EXTEND LEAD AS POTENTIAL SPLIT LOOMS
Overall race leaders Team Telefónica extended their Leg 7 advantage to nine nautical miles on Thursday, as a pair of high pressure systems threatened to create a north-south split in the fleet.
However at 1300 UTC both Telefónica and second placed Groupama were being closed down by rapidly charging third and fourth placed Abu Dhabi and PUMA, 18 and 21 nautical miles (nm) behind respectively. Fifth placed CAMPER were the biggest gainers, taking 41 nm out of their distance to lead total. Sixth place team Sanya also closed up significantly, moving to within 66 nm of the lead.
Having missed an opportunity to hook into an easterly moving cold front, the crews now have no option but to head north to swerve around the semi-permanent Azores High weather system, Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said.
The split could come as the teams negotiate a new high pressure that is also moving east from Newfoundland, with PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Team Sanya looking more likely to choose the northerly option, skirting closest to the ice exclusion zone put in place by the race organisers.
“They will likely head around the top of the new high, mostly in downwind conditions,” Infante said, adding that Telefónica, Groupama sailing team and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were more likely to stay south and sail upwind through the bottom of the high before the boats converged again in around five days' time.
Telefónica navigator Andrew Cape said that given the unpredictability of the weather, the Spanish team had been focusing primarily on maximising their boat speed.
“It’s been a funny old weather pattern out here,” Cape said. “It’s been pretty patchy, so we’ve just sailed the boat as hard as we could.
“We did have to do a lot of sail changes. I don’t think there was a watch where there wasn’t a sail change, but the guys are just so keen to do whatever it takes to get to the front and they’ve been rewarded for that. It’s all good news.”
Cape said the coming days could easily undo all their good work but declared himself content with their positioning.
“There’s too many little tricks up ahead to know what’s going to happen but we’ll keep pushing, and we’re very happy,” he said. “It will be very interesting. We’re certainly where we want to be and hopefully it will all come together from here."
Team Sanya watch captain Richard Mason believes the northerly option to be the safest route through the high pressure systems and expects his team to head that way for around a day and a half to avoid the clutches of the light wind zone.
“There was a chance that on the easterly route we’d have been able to nip through the high, but that chance disappeared,” Mason said. “So now we have to find a safe way to get north, wait for the high to redevelop and scoot round the top of it. Anyway, that’s what we think is going to happen.”
Mason said the Sanya crew welcomed the onset of unstable conditions which could give them a chance to steal a march on the fleet from behind.
“It does present plenty of options and we have managed to pull a few miles back on the guys in front which is always heartening,” he said.
“We don’t see the forecast as a problem as such as it creates a lot of opportunities. We just need to pick our way through and turn them to our advantage.
“The guys at the front are constantly looking over their shoulders and will be looking to cover one another. They’re not going to be too worried about us if we go off in a different direction and bang the corner.”
Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker said hopes of a direct route to Lisbon had now evaporated with the arrival of the new high pressure from the north.
“It was a dream scenario -- a very direct and downwind route that avoided the ice gates to the north,” Walker said. “Sadly, reality is now being faced by the fleet as we gybe north one by one.
“Ahead of us we face a very light wind high pressure zone to cross, a day of upwind sailing, much colder temperatures and a few more days at sea.”
Walker said there could well be a leg leaderboard reshuffle coming.
“I suspect we could see a real shake up in the standings with some big gains and losses,” he said. “The navigators and skippers will have their hands full as this tricky and rapidly evolving weather unfolds in front of them.
“All of a sudden Lisbon feels a lot further away from us than it did 24 hours ago.”
Latest estimates have the leading boats arriving in Lisbon on or around May 31.
May 29, 2012
GROUPAMA MOVE UP WITH MENACE AS LEADERS CONSERVE STRENGTH
Groupama surged back into contention on Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Tuesday, joining a fast-moving pack of teams threatening to make it a tight finish for leaders Abu Dhabi.
The Emirati team skippered by Ian Walker have managed to keep their lead over second-placed PUMA steady at around 30 nautical miles since 0100 UTC on Tuesday.
They have also been at pains to preserve a war chest of energy in anticipation of a frantic finish once the teams have entered a zone of light winds lying in wait outside Lisbon.
With less than 1,000 nm remaining Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have remained coolheaded at the front in consistent southwest winds averaging speeds in excess of 20 knots, notching more than 480 miles in the past 24 hours.
It has not all been smooth sailing for the longstanding leg leaders, however. They lost around 60 nm before stemming the tide, allowing PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG to close to within 29 nm at 0100 UTC.
Groupama sailing team have been the biggest movers, improving from fifth to third to take a prominent position in a new power pack in the southwest, along with CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and Team Telefónica.
Groupama navigator Jean-Luc Nélias said his team were hopeful that they could continue to ride the low and make gains all the way to the ridge.
"We are surfing ahead of this front in 20 to 25 knots of southwest winds,'' Nélias said. "The danger is the front could overtake us and the winds behind the front are lighter and less stable.
"For the moment we are pushing hard, we keep changing sails to sail at the maximum speed. We're lucky because the sea state is good. The boats are sailing well
"We have 24 hours left in these conditions before to enter the high pressure ridge off the Portuguese coast. Once in the ridge it will be a different game."
Having successfully fended off attacks overnight Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker said his team were now focusing on preparing for the next serious engagement -- the massive ridge lying about 100 miles off Lisbon's coast.
With relatively flat seas and decent winds Walker said there were few sail changes, which meant he could rest his men ahead of what would be an around the clock effort to protect their hard fought lead in the final day's sailing to the finish.
"We are approaching 1,000 miles to go and our plan is to rest people up while the going is easy so that we have fully charged batteries for what will certainly be a frantic last 36 hours,'' Walker said.
"If that means everyone on deck then so be it – there will be time to rest in Lisbon."
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said he expected the fleet to reach the 200 mile wide ridge at about 1200 UTC on Wednesday. It should take the teams between 12 and 15 hours to cross it, before they reach the Portuguese trades.
"The ridge will be very difficult to navigate, with plenty of light and variable winds,'' Infante said. "Whoever can best navigate it and reach the Portuguese trades first will gain a major boost that will see them stretch from the fleet a lot."
Despite dropping to sixth place overnight Team Sanya's skipper Mike Sanderson has had plenty to celebrate, marking his 41st birthday with a candle-topped Snickers chocolate bar and a verse of Happy Birthday from his two children.
"Where would you rather be for your birthday than out on a Volvo Open 70 with a bunch of your mates doing 25 knots,'' Sanderson asked.
At 1300 UTC Abu Dhabi were leading by 32 nm over PUMA, followed by Groupama, CAMPER, Telefónica and Sanya, 70 nm behind.
Four of those teams are in contention for the overall prize, with Telefónica guarding a seven-point lead over second-placed Groupama, and CAMPER and PUMA poised respectively 13 and 14 points off the pace.
The latest ETA for the first boat in Lisbon is about 1800 UTC on Thursday.