December 15, 2011
TELEFÓNICA LEADS FIGHT FOR FIRST BREEZE
At 1000 UTC this morning, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet was still fighting to make progress through the trough separating two low-pressure systems. Split now across a north/south divide by more than 200 nautical miles, the exhausted crews are under pressure, but there is little they can do. Overall race leader Team Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) have maintained their overnight lead and pulled out 26 nautical miles over second-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Everyone is aware that the team that finds the new northerly breeze first will leave the others trailing, however the repetitive fluctuation of the breeze is making progress difficult and the trough is travelling east at roughly the same speed as the fleet.
Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam explains the situation perfectly: “A cold front extending north/south across the fleet containing rain, little wind and a 180 degree wind shift is moving slowly east at about 12 knots. Sadly this means that we sail into it at 20 knots, the wind dies, we stop until the front moves forward and we regain the wind from the old direction.
“All the time this happens, those boats behind pile into the back of us. Only when the front slows down or if we get some magic gust from a rain cloud or something similar will we be able to pop through to the east side and away.
“The only real question for navigators and skippers is where to position yourself on the north/south axis in the line-up. If you can get through it fast then north should be good, if it takes longer then south could be stronger. We are currently trying to slide south a bit to get in touch with PUMA and CAMPER and minimise any leverage they have over us.”
December 16, 2011
THE WAITING GAME
As the fleet racing in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi slogs across the Indian Ocean, the positions remain unchanged as the waiting game continues. Overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) is still topping the leg leaderboard, but there has been some place swapping on the lateral north/south divide as the fleet lines up for the new northerly breeze waiting just out of reach.
Overnight, Franck Cammas/FRA and his men onboard Groupama 4 briefly flirted with a more northerly option, changing places with CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA), but the Frenchman has dived south once again, convinced that this will be the best option to line up his team for the new breeze.
Around 1900 UTC on Thursday, CAMPER looked sweet as a northerly breeze filled in and the team thought they had reached the pot of gold, but it wasn’t to last. “We had a northerly of about 18 knots for about five minutes or so. We had our fingers crossed that we were through, but in the end, it was not to be. We were very, very close,” said skipper Chris Nicholson.
It’s a constant study of weather information for the navigators cooped up below, while on deck the crews wrestle with a plethora of sail changes on a boat that is shaking and crashing about, no doubt giving cause for concern, given the boat-breaking conditions.
In third position, Mike Sanderson and Team Sanya are fully charged and enjoying the challenge, but the crew is aware there is a big decision to make. “Do we take the more traditional route and push east into the high pressure, or go with what the weather router wants us to do and head north?” questions Sanderson.
At present, the fleet is herding towards the more easterly traditional route, with CAMPER the most easterly boat, but, as Sanderson says, ‘There is a potential race-winning move on the cards for someone." According to Sanderson it is highly likely to be a winning or a last place move, so a little more homework is required.
December 18, 2011
TEAM SANYA IS NEW LEADER IN NORTHERLY GAMBLE
Overnight Mike Sanderson/NZL and crew on Sanya Lan have jumped into the lead as all but one of the turn north towards the virtual waypoint used to calculate the distance to finish.
Team Sanya’s early move north is one that skipper Mike Sanderson and his Norwegian navigator Aksel Magdahl deliberated over for several days before finally making the call yesterday.
As a boat that has raced around the world in the previous Volvo Ocean Race, there is always the danger that Sanya Lan (Telefónica Blue in the previous race) will not be able to match the pace of the brand new boats in a drag race.
Their attempt to squeeze between the eastern coast of Madagascar and a tropical cyclone that is forming off its southeast coast could go one of two ways. Either a stunning victory, or a very definite last place finish is on the cards for this team.
“It’s quite a risky move, but if it comes off right they will probably end up two or three hundred miles ahead,” explains Azzam’s navigator Jules Salter. But, according to Salter, there could be a big problem if the cyclone forms too close to the coast for Team Sanya to slip through. “All they will get is the strongest headwinds in the dangerous part of the tropical storm,” he warns.
After seven days of racing but only a measly 1700 nautical miles covered since the start from Cape Town now over a week ago, Team Sanya spotted the black hull of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam (Ian Walker/GBR), which crossed about a mile behind. “It was as if we had just rounded the bottom mark a few minutes ahead of them,” said skipper Mike Sanderson, looking at the puzzled faces around him.
Meanwhile, PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA), CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) and overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) have taken a hitch north up to latitude 35 degrees south, while Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is still heading resolutely east at 36 degrees south.
This group appears to have now broken through the front which has been trapping them for days and now the race can begin again.
Further south again, at 37 degrees south, Franck Cammas/FRA and the second-placed Groupama 4 is making good progress to the northeast.
December 19, 2011
Team Sanya suffer rigging damage, head to port for repair
Team Sanya suffered damage to part of their rigging early on Monday and are heading to a port in southern Madagascar in order to assess the damage and make a repair plan. No one has been injured and the crew are all safe.
Sanya noticed the damage to one of the stays on the mast during a sail change on Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi and contacted Race Management.
The boat is fully under control with the mast still upright and is still able to sail to shore.
Skipper and team CEO Mike Sanderson said he was "gutted", with the incident occuring when the team was in the lead.
“We were just out of the major breeze and changing sails from the J4 to the fractional zero and were in wind speeds of around 12-14 knots when we noticed a vital piece of rigging loose from the mast (D2)," said Sanderson.
"We had had an awesome night’s racing and were totally hauling and making massive gains so we were very upbeat with our progress.
"The weather was turning for the better and so we were happy in our decisions and general progress. We had been due to tack an hour earlier in the darkness but had delayed that given the conditions and for sure if we had done that, the rig would have fallen over the side.
"As you can imagine we are totally gutted and can’t quite believe this has happened when everything was going so well.”
A spokesman for Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service said the port is not considered to be at high risk from piracy.
December 20, 2011
PEDAL TO THE METAL
After spending most of Leg 1 alone and with no opportunity to change the situation Franck Cammas and his men racing Groupama 4 are enjoying every moment of their well-earned lead, which could deliver a Leg 2 victory.
“We are coming back step by step,” Cammas said as Groupama sailing team pressed on this afternoon. “We are leading at the moment and it is great. There are lots of smiles on faces when the position report comes in now.”
However, it will not be a walkover. Cammas, competing in his first Volvo Ocean Race, is being pushed hard by race veterans who are nipping at his heels and ready to take advantage in any way they can. With still half the leg yet to complete and a widening band of Doldrums to negotiate, it is far from a foregone conclusion.
For most of the afternoon, Groupama 4 has been averaging just under 19 knots boat speed, rivalled only by third-placed PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) almost two knots slower. Wind speeds hover between 20 knots on the beam for the French team and up to 28 knots of headwinds for the chasing pack who are 135 nautical miles further to the west.
On board Groupama 4 it is wet and wild. Helmets are a necessity as the crew is constantly fire-hosed. For the four boats sailing close-hauled, it is much wetter.
Although Cammas is a newcomer to the Volvo, he is an experienced round the world racer and is not afraid to take radical tactical decisions, although those taken on Leg 1 did not play out in the way he expected.
"We did have some kind of complex after the first leg - we didn't want to go it alone,” Cammas explains. “When we saw that big gate in the south of the front, we went for it but no one else did.”
Ken Read, currently steering Mar Mostro in third place, said he took his hat off to Cammas for making the bold decision to break from the fleet and go south: “I give the French credit. They took matters into their own hands. They stuck to their guns and went for it and it looks like it’s going to pay off for them, at least for now.”
Read had flirted with both the northerly option taken by Team Sanya (Mike Sanderson/NZL) and the Groupama 4’s route in the south, but ended up on the safer middle ground together with Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), currently lying second, CAMPER (Chris Nicholson/AUS) in fourth, and, to a lesser extent, Azzam (Ian Walker/GBR) who now 161.2 nm adrift.
But Read is ultimately happy with where his boat is. “We’re happy with how the boat’s going in our little group of three with Telefónica and CAMPER and at this point we like our position,” the American skipper said.
Far away to the west in Madagascar, the racing crew and shore crew of Team Sanya, which suspended racing early this morning, is busy examining the state of the boat’s rig after the D2 part of the standing rigging was found swaying unattached in the wind on Monday.
Skipper Mike Sanderson explains what needs to happen to ensure the Chinese boat is back on the water and completing Leg 2 as soon as possible. “We’ve got our hands full because now there is an inherent issue with our rigging solution. It’s not as if we can just replace this one stay, we are replacing all the stays on the side rigging on both sides, so it’s no small task.’’