Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Only one word to describe leg 2 - and it begins with the letter 'f'

To sum up leg two of the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race is easy. I can do it in one word. This word is not always used in a positive tense, but doesn’t necessarily mean the experience was a bad one. 

the feeling of being upset or annoyed, esp. because of inability to change or achieve something: I sometimes feel like screaming with frustration.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin frustratio(n-), from frustrare ‘disappoint’.

Sorry to be negative but this was the word that most of the sailors I spoke to used to convey their feelings - even those who’d had a good run.

Flying start
The leg got off to a flying start with the best that Cape Town could offer: beautiful light with the magnificent backdrop of Table Mountain and a building breeze. You couldn’t ask for more. 

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was fast out of the blocks, racing hard after all their mishaps and keen to be setting the pace towards their home port. 

Late that night the wind dropped away to almost nothing, leaving the fleet drifting along the South African coast. It was Team Telefonica who realised first that the strong Agulhas current was pushing them backwards. They quickly stopped the rot by actually putting the anchor down. Frustration!

Cold front
After three days of this stop-start routine the teams finally got going again, only to be held back by a slow-moving coldfront that stretched almost 100 miles either side of them. 

Like a sweeping arm across a chess table, the fleet was pushed back and prevented from breaking through. Ken Reid from Puma commented that he had never sailed in more confused and frustrating conditions. 

Finally, two teams lost their patience. Groupama took off to the south and Team Sanya split to the north. Sanya looked like they were sailing back to Cape Town such was the dramatic change of course. 

Dive south
Groupama’s media crew member, Yann Riou, noted that after a week of sailing and this dramatic dive south Groupama was now further from their destination than when they started on the line in Cape Town. 

Yet you sometimes have to take one step back to make two forward. And in sailing occasionally you need to take four steps back to take five forward. The good news was that after a few days their strategy paid off: they managed to sail around the front and across the face of the fleet to take the lead. 

The other boat that had taken a flyer was Team Sanya. Their luck was short-lived. The move had worked for them too.  They were looking famous in more wind, a better angle to the mark and even a bit more sun. But just as they were setting up for a sail change and a tack, the bowman noticed a broken shroud. 

Bitter blow
Frustratingly, they were out. The damage forced them to suspend racing and head for the island of Madagascar. This was a bitter blow, as the team had hit a submerged object at the start of leg one, which had forced them to retire. 

The rest of the teams were feeling a bit better as they had a French rabbit to chase. Going into the dreaded Doldrums the fleet had compressed, with Groupama still leading and Abu Dhabi bring up the rear. That next week of sailing was so full of lead changes, twists and turns, you would be frustrated with me if I tried to explain the complicated maneouvres.  

Racing hard, Christmas Day came and went with very little mention. However, Farther Christmas did find the time to stop off on his busy schedule. It was very considerate of him only to leave light and compact presents for the teams, because every ounce counts against speed. 

Call home
And, happily, all the teams enjoyed the luxury of being able to call home to loved-ones on such a special day, using their IsatPhone Pro.

The last dash to the undisclosed location was just as frustrating for all but one boat. Camper had led Telefonica for days when the Spanish cruelly stole the lead with only eight miles to go to the finish Line. 

Team Telefonica won by just one minute and 57 seconds. That’s an amazing margin after sailing 5,430 nautical miles from Cape Town.

Risk of piracy
The rest of the fleet finished the leg in similar cat-and-mouse stile, changing places all the way into the undisclosed safe haven port. Telefónica took first place, followed by Camper, Puma, Groupama and, bringing up the rear,  a frustrated Abu Dhabi in fifth. 

To reduce the risk of piracy, race organizers had implemented a stealth zone in which the positions of the yachts were withheld for the latter part of the leg to mask the identity of the safe haven port. 

The five boats were then carefully loaded on to a merchant ship – a risky manoeuvre that had never been done in the race before. They were then transported to a point off the Sharjah coastline in the northern United Arab Emirates, from where the leg was completed with a day-long sprint to Abu Dhabi. The points for the leg were split 80 and 20 per cent for parts one and two.

Suspend racing
Team Sanya, the sixth boat in the fleet, was forced to suspend racing while they had new rigging sent to Madagascar. They eventually sailed to the finish line to claim some points for that leg and position themselves ready for leg three. Frustration!

For the rest of the fleet now unloaded and race-ready again, it was time for the mad dash to Abu Dhabi. The desert Shamal wind was blowing and the 98 nm course was set. 

Unfortunately, for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing the one team that really needed a good leg into their homeport was squeezed out of the first mark and played catch-up for the rest of the day. 

Best speed
It was Groupama and Telefonica who showed the best speed, with the French finally clinching the win over the Spanish. Camper took third, with Puma and Abu Dhabi trailing

So with the combined scores of both part one and two of leg two the overall leaderboard sits like this: 

1. Team Telefonica - 66 points
2. Camper with Emirates Team NZ - 58 points
3. Groupama Sailing Team - 42 points
4. Puma Ocean Racing by BERG - 28 points
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing -19 points
6. Team Sanya - 4 points

For many teams this has been the hardest leg and some of the hardest racing they have ever experienced. I know I used the word frustration to describe the leg, but if you asked the leader, Team Telefonica, to comment they would say that frustration is just a stepping-stone to jubilation.

Mark Covell

1 comment:

  1. Whew... I thought you were going to use another word that started with 'f'.

    Craig Leweck