Monday, 23 January 2012

Slow, fast, slow - go all the boats to China

Groupama Sailing Team’s Franck Cammas at the start
Photo: Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race
And they are off! All six teams are now heading south to China averaging about 10 knots in hot humid conditions.

They have left the safe haven of the now disclosed location - Male - the capital of the Maldives.

Part 2 of leg 3 of the race started between a makeshift flag on the shore and a radio tower across a channel just off the city’s port.

Strangest month
The last month has been a frustrating stop start-mix of short racing and long loading, but the teams are now very happy to be out in the ocean with many days and miles of exciting sailing before them.

“I have to admit that this has been one of the strangest months of my life. Never mind my sailing career,” said Ken Read, skipper of PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG.

“Not in a million years did we ever think that our sailing yacht would be on a ship not once, but three separate times during this race, so far.

Hardest legs
“We never thought we would have approximately a month in between ocean sailing legs. And now we are off.”

As much as they are happy to be sailing again, this is one of the hardest legs of the race.

Upwind for 1,000 miles in hot humid conditions through the Indian Ocean, then navigate one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world in the notorious Malacca Strait.

Vital tool
Giant merchant vessels in their hundreds are the more obvious risk in the Strait – although small fishing boats, nets, pots and floating debris are also likely to be troublesome.

The Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) on board each boat, that are used to identify any on-water traffic, will be a vital tool for the teams.

Once past Singapore, they will turn north-east into the South China Sea for the final stage of Leg 3.

Five-metre waves
Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante explained that the South China Sea is shallow, and when combined with the long fetch (the length of water over which a given wind has blown) a nightmarish sea state is created.

“They are likely to be beating for one week in conditions that are very hard on the boat,’’ he said.

“The waves could reach four to five metres, and could be very steep.’’

Close field
The course is tipped to take the teams around two weeks to complete, with a finish in Sanya, China, in early February.

The fleet will stretch and then compress, almost restarting many times - so it will be a case of - it’s not over till it’s over.

As I pen this blog, I can see only 10 nautical miles between them all.

The standings are:
1. Puma Ocean Racing by BERG
2. Camper with Emirates Team NZ
3. Groupama Sailing Team
4. Team Telefonica
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
6. Team Sanya

Mark Covell

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