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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Close Race To Capetown - Volvo Ocean Race Update

It’s been 19 days and well over 3,500 nautical miles (nm) since the Volvo Ocean Race fleet set sail for Cape Town from Alicante, but the three leading boats are still within sight of each other with the fourth chasing them down just 18nm adrift.
Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
It could hardly be closer. The changing wind patterns are testing the navigators to the limit every day and there are issues from lurking icebergs ahead to electrical problems to keep each of the seven crews on their toes 24/7.
Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
No wonder the race is regarded as offshore sailing’s toughest professional test.
Photo: Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race
Such a close packing of the crews so long into the opening leg is unheard of in the 41-year history of the event with the sprint to be the first to sight Cape Town’s Table Mountain, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, still anyone’s to win.
Photo: Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing narrowly have their noses in front (Ian Walker/GBR), 2nm clear of Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) with Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS) just 4.2nm further adrift.
Photo: Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race
China’s Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) are by no means out of it either in fourth place on the tracker, nor even Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) in fifth.
Photo: Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race
At the back of the fleet, it is not such a happy picture. Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) are more than 300nm behind after suffering miserably through lack of wind, while MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) had huge problems with a broken water pipe on board and electrical problems.
Photo: Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race
The Spanish crew had to bail out in a hurry to avoid serious misfortune and Martínez was close to appealing for help from land to help them sort issues with the charging of their engine, which performs a number of key functions including water desalination.
Photo: Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race
To add to the other factors to contend with, there’s a possibility of food shortages in the fleet with the estimated time of arrival to Cape Town now pushed a couple of days back to November 6 and an ice gate to skirt in the Southern Ocean to keep the fleet clear of growlers (bergy bits).
Photo: Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter Matt Knighton (USA) explained, however, that the leading crews have learned to accept the close-quarter racing at the head of the fleet, a result of the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65. This is inshore-style racing played out hundreds of miles from the coast.

“One might think that after 19 days of racing and being a long way from land we’re surprised to see another boat so close. To be honest, we’re not,” Knighton said.

“The shock of how close this one-design racing is has worn off. After the earlier battle down the African coast, it’s not surprising to see one or even two sails keeping pace with you for a very, very long time,” he added.

Ahead still lie the Roaring 40s, four or five-metre waves, steady 25-knot winds and the likely drag race towards South Africa next week. Cape Town’s magnificent port and setting will never be a more welcome sight for these 66 sailors.

Volvo Ocean Race Media

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Team Brunel In The Lead - Volvo Ocean Race Update

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have finally given ground to Team Brunel after almost exactly a week at the head of the fleet but the new leader's thin advantage may well be very short-lived as the Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 turns into a game of hunt-the-breeze.
Photo: Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race
Ian Walker’s (Skipper-GBR) men edged ahead of the fleet on October 21 after leapfrogging past Dongfeng Race Team, having navigated the Cape Verde Islands. They kept their noses in front until Tuesday morning when Bouwe Bekking (skipper-NED) and his crew moved into a 59-nautical mile advantage.
Photo: Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race
But before Dutch race fans get too excited, their position only reflects their placing in the most easterly point of the fleet, closer to the opening leg finish in Cape Town. Team Vestas Wind have gambled by following a course to the west of the two leaders but it was paying slim dividends with markedly less breeze where they were.

Spain’s MAPFRE went even more for broke, heading 230 nautical miles west of Team Brunel but in the best gusts of the fleet. Could that be the ploy to propel them first to the westerlies which could give them the crucial advantage in the Southern Ocean sprint to the finish?

“Right now it’s almost as if we’re in a three-way tie for the lead with each boat making bets as to where the breeze is going to be strongest as we make our way around the western edge of the St Helena High,” said Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter, Matt Knighton (USA).

“Vestas is way out west. We gybed westward a couple of times during the day to try and find more wind. Brunel opted to continue on our original southerly route and not gybe west," he added.

“Three boats, spanning 100 miles of ocean, each with a chance of working around the other two to get around the high fastest. We’ve been routing all of our positions and if you were to trust the computer, we’d all be finishing within an hour of each other with Abu Dhabi in the lead.”

Meanwhile, the temperatures are dropping as the tension rises with the thermals being donned for the first time onboard Abu Dhabi while the women of Team SCA were putting on their fleece-layered hats.

The boats are expected to complete the 6,487nm first leg from Alicante to Cape Town around November 5 after setting out on October 11.

Volvo Ocean Race Media

Weekly News Highlights - Episode 3 | Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Across The Equator - Volvo Ocean Race Update

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing won the race to the Equator late on Thursday and were in good shape to make the turning mark of Fernando de Noronha at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as their six rivals were still playing catch-up despite finally escaping the Doldrums.
Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
Navigator Simon Fisher (GBR/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing) has been his fellow Briton Ian Walker’s (skipper) key man for the past week as, first, he steered Azzam cleverly through the Cape Verde Islands ahead of the competition, and then guided them through the windless Doldrums in first place.
Photo: Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race
They now need to sail to Fernando, which is 200 nautical miles off the Brazilian coast, before turning at a 40-degree angle for the Roaring 40s, which will propel them headlong to Cape Town, the Leg 1 destination port, in the first week of November.
Photo: Yann Riou/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race
Fisher and Walker certainly cannot rest on their laurels yet. In the last edition in 2011-12, PUMA had similarly navigated this stage of the race in second place, before they were dismasted and forced to motor miserably to Tristan de Cunha, an archipelago in the South Atlantic, before finally being shipped to South Africa.

Additionally, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have the added concern of second-placed Team Brunel (skipper Bouwe Bekking/NED) hot on their heels. By Friday at 0900 UTC, the Dutch crew were just 14nm behind and Team Vestas Wind (skipper Chris Nicholson/AUS) who were the quickest in the fleet in third spot thanks to stronger winds in their position further to the east.

All seven boats will have crossed the Equator by around 1300 UTC on Friday. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel did so before midnight (2200 and 2300 UTC respectively) and Team Vestas Wind at 0120 UTC.

It is traditionally a key staging post in the race and an experience the members of the crews who have never done it before will always remember.

Each will have to perform a special ‘ceremony’ set up by their crewmates to appease both them and the sea god, Neptune. The initiation has been conducted by seamen the world over for generations.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s onboard reporter Matt Knighton (USA) says he enjoyed it – in a special kind of way – even though he suffered a ‘reverse mohican’ hairstyle to mark the occasion.

“With the Equator trudging towards us with relentless persistence, the threat of my impending punishment and purification inched all the more closer with every sked (position report),” Knighton said.

“Since I was the only one on board who had not crossed the Equator before and was also American, I had a lot to atone for. But suffice to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to be inducted by and I’m proud to be counted among their ranks. And I’m pretty sure my new haircut improves our aerodynamic performance," he added.

With another 10 days or so before their estimated arrival in Cape Town, the race is still wide open with just under half of the 6,487nm completed in the opening leg from Alicante.

Volvo Ocean Race Media

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Maltese Boat Artie Claims Overall Victory - Rolex Middle Sea Race

Thursday has proved another dramatic day in the story of the 2014 Rolex Middle Sea Race. While yesterday (Wednesday) was a day of seamanship and survival as yachts battled storm force winds, it was also a day of arrivals as the same winds pushed competitors to the finish.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
However, it will be Thursday that is remembered most in years to come. In the early hours of this morning, Lee Satariano’s Artie was the first Maltese yacht to finish, a proud moment in itself. A few hours later, with part of the fleet still on the course but unable to better Artie’s time, the J122 was announced as the overall winner.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Lee Satariano’s J122 Artie crossed the finish line at 00:45h, after 4 days, 13 hours, 35 minutes and 05 second at sea. 
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
“I can’t believe it. To win such a prestigious race, one of the most high level offshore races in the world, being a local boat and a local team is a great achievement,” Satariano said.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
The faces of the crews arriving at the Royal Malta Yacht Club since yesterday morning show a mix of exhaustion, happiness, relief and a huge sense of achievement. Outside Marsamxett Harbour, conditions have improved, but the wind is still blowing hard and the sea state is anything but friendly.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
“I have to say last time I saw a sea like this it was during a windy Rolex Sydney Hobart. To have those conditions for over 24 hours is very rare, almost exceptional,” Christian Ripard, co-skipper of Artie said.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Proof of the extraordinarily difficult conditions lies in the number of retirees to date - 48 by 15.00 CEST – and the litany of damage reported by the fleet, even close to the finish.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
“The pin of our keel failed just as we left the Comino channel,” said Diogo Cayolla, skipper of Kuka-Light (SUI) after docking in Malta.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Last night French yacht Teasing Machine lost her mast within 20 miles of the finish.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
By 15.00 CEST on Day 6, 42 boats have managed to finish the race and 32 are still officialy racing. For those still at sea it is all about trying to make it to Malta before time limit at 08.00CEST on Saturday morning. And to do so in one piece.

Regatta News

Deep In The Doldrums - Volvo Ocean Race Update

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel emerged as the clear winners from the great Doldrums lottery to take a firm grip on Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Wednesday.
Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
While the rest of the seven-strong fleet were left some 90 miles plus in their wake, searching for the gusts which would finally propel them back into contention, skippers Ian Walker (GBR-Abu Dhabi) and Bouwe Bekking (NED-Team Brunel) were powering clear towards the island of Fernando.
Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
They still have just over half the 6,487 nautical miles to complete the opening leg between Alicante and Cape Town but the experienced pair already look to have made this a two-boat sprint to the finish come the first week of November.
Photo: Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race
On the other hand, as all the boats have already discovered, fortunes can swiftly change in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Photo: Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race
Around 1000 GMT on Wednesday, Abu Dhabi held a thin, 7.6 nautical mile lead over the Dutch boat with Team Vestas Wind leading the chasing pack 86.4 miles behind with Dongfeng Race Team just behind them.

Team Alvimedica, MAPFRE and Team SCA were some 25 miles further adrift, tussling for the minor positions.

For Team SCA’s British navigator Libby Greenhalgh, it was a particularly frustrating night after the women closed a large gap on the rest of the fleet of around 75 miles by Tuesday only to fall back again once they too hit the Doldrums.

Bekking, the 51-year-old Brunel skipper who is competing in the Race for a record-equalling seventh time, knows all about the frustrations of trying to ‘race’ through the Doldrums when the winds and fates seem stacked against you – or rather are just not there.

He says that the only secret is to keep calm and rely on your strategy. “Believing in your game plan is crucial in this race,” he writes in his latest blog.

“Throwing the dice we hate. We prefer to act on facts and figures. But then I can reflect as well that sometimes ‘luck’ is with you and sometimes against. But in the end it will even out.”

It also helps to have a navigator on board with the towering experience of Andrew Cape (AUS), as Bekking does, or Simon Fisher (GBR) on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

Volvo Ocean Race Media

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wild Conditions Whip Up Rolex Middle Sea Race Fleet

The fifth day of the Rolex Middle Sea Race has proved a day of reckoning for the competing fleet.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
The forecast strong northwesterly wind has arrived and consistently blown over 25 knots with gusts exceeding 40 knots. The effect has been to catapult the previously slow moving yachts towards the finish line in Malta.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Esimit Europa 2 claimed line honours, crossing the finish line at the entrance to Marsamxett Harbour at 22:47.05 CEST on Tuesday night, setting an elapsed time of 82 hours, 42 minutes and 5 seconds. Although failing to better the course record time, Igor Simcic’s team has set a new record of four line honours wins, following successes 2010, 2011 and 2012. Niklas Zennström’s Rán finished second, exactly two hours later.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
After three slow nights at sea, a dramatic change in conditions occurred late last night as the wind started to build progressively from the northwest just a the bulk of the fleet had reached the westernmost point of the course at Favignana. Boat speed accelerated rapidly propelled by storm force winds and a huge following sea.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
GYR Scarlet Oyster reported 48 knots of wind close to Pantelleria just before retiring with broken rudder. Seb Ripard on the Maltese J122 Artie explained how they were coping: “We have wind gusting over 40 knots and 30 feet waves. With the full main and jib top sail, we have been flying along. The game plan has been a mixture of pushing as hard as we can but also protecting the boat, so we have been taking it a bit easier in the big gusts of over 40 knots and then going for it when the wind speed drops a little.”
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
The long awaited northwesterly is pushing the fleet towards the target. The wind angle means yachts are piling downwind towards the southernmost mark of the course at Lampedusa. The following leg to finish in Malta is still favourable in terms of wind angle, but the wind-driven waves are now hitting the yachts beam on.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
By 15.00CEST on Wednesday, exactly 100 hours after the start of the race, five boats have crossed the finish line and 25 have officially retired.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
For the moment, among the yachts to have finished, the Italian yacht Cantankerous holds pole position in the overall standings. With the increasing wind playing in the favour of the boats still at sea, new leaders are expected to emerge. For those still at sea the message is simple: the race is far from over.
Photo: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Regatta News