Thursday, 19 January 2012

Close racing - closer finish

Dark twist:  Abu Dhabi finish first in stage 1 of Leg 3 
Photo: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race
Leg 3 stage 1 was a mad dash down the coast from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah.

The day before, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had won  the Etihad Airways In-Port Race in front of a record crowd. There’s nothing like winning at home and raising expectations to pile the pressure on.

The stage to Sanya in China is a rerun of the sprint into the stopover just after New Year.

Speed kings
On that occasion we saw a pure drag race, laying out some interesting conclusions about boat speed and modes that separate the fleet in specific conditions and points of sail.

Groupama and Telefonica were crowned the speed kings with Abu Dhabi left solo searching for more speed and a good result.

After two short legs of the bay course, Abu Dhabi was last and Telefonica was leading.

Fickle wind
The wind was light and a little fickle allowing some passing lanes to open up for the trailing pack.

By the next turning mark Abu Dhabi had moved up to second. Local knowledge and some perfect lay line calls from navigator Julian Salter had put them back in the running again.

The next challenge for the front-runners was to try to extend away as the fleet left the bay and raced down the coast for 90nm.

Twist at the end
The breeze built and turned back into the drag race that the fleet had enjoyed on the way up.

This time there would be a little twist at the end that they had not had to deal with before:darkness!

The dark of the night just makes it harder to see the subtleties and pick up the relative angles of other boats and see the wind on the water.

Formation sailing
There was a very short dogleg down wind, running into the finish just off Sharjah.

As the fleet turned onto this leg they compressed and found themselves sailing in formation, parallel to each other before a final gybe into the finish.

That last gybe was going to be 99% of the race. Again navigator Julian Salter on board Abu Dhabi nailed the lay line to win the stage and make it 2 out of 2 for that weekend’s work.

Flawless FleetBroadband
Once again, the superior transmission of the Inmarsat FleetBroadband 500 flawlessly delivered some great media with plenty of live link interviews with the crews from the heart of the race.

Later, Skipper Ian Walker said:"I guess when (Telefónica) gybed and we saw how much we closed them down with about half an hour remaining in the race we thought ‘we are going fast here and it’s possible we can get them’, but gradually we overhauled Telefónica and we became more concerned that PUMA stayed behind us.
"I think what everybody is seeing here is what all the skippers have been saying all along, we have five very good boats and five very good teams and it’s easy to be last.

Piracy threat
“Telefónica, you thought they would win that hands down with the lead they had, but it’s just not that easy because you’ve got very good people behind you and you don’t need to do much wrong for people to come past.”

The fleet will now be shipped down to the start of stage 2 of Leg 3 where they will leave the serious threat of piracy behind and race onto the port of Sanya in China.

Mark Covell

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