Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sidestepping Swell and Surfing in The South China Sea - Volvo Ocean Race Update

The Volvo Ocean Race teams are preparing for what they hope will be their final night trying to dodge huge waves in the pitch black as they battle to break free from the clutches of the South China Sea.
Photo: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
In daylight the waves, as high as five metres, are easily spotted and evasive action is possible but at night the helmsmen must rely on feel alone to stay out of trouble and keep the boats intact.

With just 16 nautical miles separating leg leaders CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand from PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG in sixth at 1300 UTC, the entire fleet was feeling the force of the brutal seas left behind by a tropical monsoon.

“You have to have your wits about you, because you can’t go flying off the waves or you’ll end up snapping the boat in half,” said Ian Walker, skipper of second-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

“You’ve just got to be ready every time you come up the face of a wave and try to give the boat a soft landing. That’s not too bad in daylight but in darkness you have to do it just by feel.”

Leg leaders CAMPER were not finding life any easier at the front of the fleet as they clung to a four-mile advantage over Abu Dhabi.

“There are no backs to the waves in those conditions so the landings are severe,” skipper Chris Nicholson said.

Mike Sanderson, skipper of third-placed Team Sanya, added: “Life on board is pretty uncomfortable. It has been a long couple of days upwind in between 15 and 20 knots of wind. It has been very bumpy.”

PUMA skipper Ken Read said the combination of confused sea state, current and headwinds continued to cause miserable conditions for racing.

“We’re still leaping off of waves out here in the South China Sea, a place that quite frankly we can’t get out of fast enough,” Read said. “I think I speak for the entire fleet when I say we are sick of going upwind. That’s all we do in this place so let’s get the heck out of here now.”

Read and his crew had struggled to hide their frustration at having to start the second stage of Leg 4 on Monday almost 40 minutes behind the fleet. But after three days of racing PUMA’s Mar Mostro was back in the mix after making up miles on the leading pack.

“We’ve done a really good job of turning a potential disaster into a positive,” Read added. “We’re right back in touch and who knows, there’s plenty of miles still ahead for things to change round. We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now to be honest. A lot can happen yet. We don’t get points for being 500 miles into a leg – the last time I checked, we get them at the finish.”

With around 100 miles to go to the southern tip of Taiwan, an end to the wretched conditions is in sight – but not before a painful night of little breeze and big, adverse seas hamper progress further.

"The wind is forecast to go so light that, with the waves as big as they are, we could see the boats going backwards,” said Gonzalo Infante, Volvo Ocean Race chief meteorologist.

Infante said it could take another eight hours to reach the western Pacific, where the waves would become more manageable and the teams’ focus could return to speed rather than survival.

Leg 4
22/02/2012 13:03:15 UTC

Volvo Ocean Race Media

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