In a light sea breeze of around five to six knots, Green Dragon led the fleet across the line in a downwind start as the crews unfurled their big gennakers. Ian Walker and his crew started from the pin end with Ericsson 4 and Puma hot on their heels. In a light 6 knot breeze the fleet begun leg 3 in downwind conditions.
Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) had problems unfurling their gennaker after what looked like a good starting position, and were quickly hundreds of metres back.
Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) made a move well out to the right along with Puma (Ken Read/USA), and Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA), while Green Dragon remained closer to the coast and watched the others surge ahead. As this leading bunch started to curl in towards the shore, making the most of the northwesterly sea breeze, which will fade in the next two hours as daylight fails, it was Puma who led the leading pack.
This 1950 nautical mile leg to Sentosa Island, Singapore is expected to take the fleet around eight days to complete, but first the fleet has to negotiate the southern tip of both India and Sri Lanka. Conditions are expected to be light and fluky for the entire trip and very tricky for the navigators, not only in interpreting the weather, but also in dealing with very congested shipping lanes and lots of fishing fleets. It will be mentally taxing, with the heat and humidity an added endurance factor.
There are no turning marks at the start of the leg and the next mark of the course will be the scoring gate set off Pulau We, near the northern tip of Sumatra. Here the fleet will be faced with an important decision - whether to sail north or south of the rhumb line. Race Meteorologist, Jennifer Lilly, says sailing north of the rhumb line, the fleet is likely to face moderate northeast to east-northeast upwind conditions. But, says Jennifer, if they sail south of the rhumb line, the winds could back to become more westerly and with more favourable downwind angles. However, wind speeds are generally lighter and there tends to be more rainsqualls. How to attack this split breeze could make for some interesting tactics to the scoring gate.
Earlier today, when the gates opened to the Race Village, spectators came in their thousands to see the fleet leave the dock. Some two hours later, the queues to get into the race village were still snaking for hundreds of metres down the road and, when the time came for the sailors to parade through the crowds and down to the pontoons, it made for one of the most spectacular departure ceremonies this event has ever seen.
The Indian people, while unfamiliar with this race and its history, have shown incredible enthusiasm on this first visit to Asia. They pressed deep into the passage walked by the sailors and, with arms waving and voices coarse, mobbed the crews and took pictures of them as they walked one-by-one to their boats.
What should have been a quick 200-metre walk took most crews seven or eight minutes. No one seemed to mind. “Unbelievable,” Bouwe Bekking said to Jonathan Swain as Telefónica Blue escaped the gauntlet. The welcome was not just reserved for the front-runners. For each sailor, be it Team Russia’s Wouter Verbraak, who only arrived in the country in the last 36 hours because of visa issues, or runaway leader Torben Grael, the reception was incredible.
At 1110 GMT today, two miles separated the fleet from first to last and the whole fleet was just four miles off the coast. Closest inshore was Team Russia and furthest offshore was Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP).
The order was:
Puma (Ken Read/USA)
Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA)
Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED)
Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE)
Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP)
Delta Lloyd (Roberto Bermudez/ESP)
Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR)
Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT)
Talking from the dockside pre-start, Ian Walker commented: “There will be gains and losses especially in the transitions from sea breeze to land breeze. There aren’t huge tactical options, but there will be some key decision as to when you tack. This leg, certainly as far as the scoring gate will be a big test of upwind light to medium air speed. I hope we have the legs to stay with the fleet. Tactically there looks to be fewer options initially, so it will be the exact timing and detail of all that we do that will be important. Put simply we have about 320 miles of reaching in very variable winds to the turning mark off Sri Lanka, followed by 1000 miles of upwind sailing to the scoring gate off the Northern tip of Indonesia, followed by 600 miles of light air running through the Malacca Straits. Throw on top of this the fact that we will have huge influences of clouds and thunderstorms throughout due to the nature of where we are in the world plus an array of obstacles in the form of fishing nets and boats, commercial traffic and maybe but hopefully not pirates. Sounds great doesn’t it! Despite all this I am quite looking forward to it. We would all like to thank Cochin for all of the wonderful hospitality we have received and for all the people that have come to see us off, we hope to be back soon!”
More photos on the following pages...