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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Hunt Is On - Volvo Ocean Race Update

The fleet are on the hunt and have their sights firmly set on snatching the lead from Leg 1 leaders Groupama.
Photo: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
After five days of seeing Groupama sailing team extend their lead, Team Telefónica, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG and CAMPER with Emirates New Zealand have finally starting to claw back the lost miles.

The French boat, led by offshore expert Franck Cammas, hasmoked their rivals during the first week of Leg 1 since departing Alicante for Cape Town by chosing the slower but more direct route along the African coastline. Meanwhile Telefónica, PUMA and CAMPER punched west in search of stronger wind and higher speeds.
Photo: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
At its largest the distance between Groupama and the chasing fleet was almost 700 nautical miles. But today PUMA and Telefónica turned south hooking into a weather system they hope will catapult them through the Atlantic while CAMPER is expected to make the turn later today.

Finally able to sail a straight line towards the Leg 1 turning mark at Fernando de Noronha off the Brazilian coast, the teams were today hitting speeds of up to 25 knots. With decent breeze and a favourable angle, they quickly began to nip at Groupama’s heels and at the 1300 UTC position report the gap had been reduced to just 92 nautical miles.
Photo: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
“The French are battling light winds on the African shore, and at this stage my guess is that they are not pleased when they see our speeds in the 20s for the last couple of scheds,” said PUMA skipper Ken Read.

“We actually have a downwind sail on and are going at wide angles and at high speeds. This is the reward for beating our brains out for almost a week. We hope that our choice of unpleasant climate starts coming good for us now.”

Groupama, who have spent the last few days sailing consistent but relatively low speeds, broke away from the African coast last night in search of better breeze. Media crew member Yann Riou, himself an accomplished sailor, said the team felt “powerless” to the gains made by their rivals but reasserted that, with around 5,000 nautical miles still to go, “the race is far from over”.

All four boats must now line up to cross the dreaded Doldrums, a dynamic, moving band of high pressure lying either side of the Equator characterised by light winds but notorious for sudden squalls. Groupama may further pay the price for their easterly route as they could face having to cross the Doldrums at its widest point.

After announcing their retirement from Leg 1 on Friday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were today en route to Lisbon, Portugal, where they will put their Volvo Open 70 yacht Azzam onto a ship bound for Cape Town. Abu Dhabi were forced to pull out of the leg six hours into racing when their 31-metre mast broke into three pieces in violent seas.

Team Sanya’s yacht, another casualty of the testing weather conditions on the first night, was today being trucked to Gibraltar to meet a ship to Cape Town. The boat was holed shortly after Azzam was dismasted, leaving the team no option but to forfeit the leg.

Both teams aim to be back in action for the second In-Port Race on December 10 and the start of Leg 2 to Abu Dhabi on December 11.

Lulu Roseman

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