Off again

Leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race gets underway from Cape Town

Saturday November 15th 2008, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: United Kingdom
Under the gaze of a huge spectator fleet, and a clutch of helicopters buzzing in the sky, the 4,450 nautical mile leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race from Cape Town to Cochin in India got underway today at 1120GMT (1320 local time) in beautiful, classic Cape Town conditions.

Andreas Hanakamp, skipper of Team Russia summed up the atmosphere among the crews on the dock this morning when he said, “You can never come to this place for long enough, but let’s set the horses loose. We are here to race, so let’s race.”

As the eight crews gathered onboard, saying their goodbyes and spending a few precious minutes with their families, under the blazing South African sunshine the fleet was blessed by the Reverend Rowan Smith.

After a short postponement to allow the wind to stabilise, the gun echoed out across Table Bay signalling the start of leg two, which, for the first time in the history of the race, will finish in Cochin, India in December.

Puma (Ken Read/USA) scorched off the start line, leading the fleet from Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA). With her huge red masthead gennaker set and going like a freight train, Puma blazed the trail, with water pouring over the deck and a small number four jib working as a staysail set underneath the gennaker. Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) was in third position, and Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp/AUT) was up with the pack, while Delta Lloyd with new skipper, Roberto Bermudez/ESP made a disappointing start.

Unfurling their big headsail first, Green Dragon benefitted from good speed in her position down to leeward of the fleet, while some of the other teams struggled to manage these huge, unwieldy sails.

Torben Grael’s Ericsson 4, flying a more conservative fractional gennaker, was sucked up under Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) in the big chop, whipped up by the wind and the armada of spectator boats. Puma, however, made the right choice of sail and almost laid the first mark before the crew furled the sail shortly before rounding the first of three marks on the triangular course set in Table Bay.

Puma continued to streak away, in 15 – 20 knots of wind, opening up a healthy lead, while Torben Grael took Ericsson 4 outside a large container ship sailing hot and fast with slightly eased sheets. Puma judged the lay-line perfectly, sailing just four boat lengths on port tack before rounding the mark. Green Dragon lost a lot of ground going into the shore early, as Puma, flying just a mainsail and heavy air jib, made a perfect hairpin turn at the mark, eased their sheets and shot off like an express train.

There was a big gap to third place, which was snatched from Green Dragon by Bouwe Bekking and Telefónica Blue, who made a big gain. A great manoeuvre by Team Russia allowed them to jump ahead of Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP) at the mark, but then a terrific battle followed as Telefónica Black took revenge and passed them to windward. In the approach to the mark, Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander/SWE) ripped the leach of their headsail when they tacked, catching on the radar dome and wiping it off the mast.

But, instead of leaving the fleet standing as promised, halfway down the final leg, Puma came to almost a complete standstill as the wind dropped and the fleet compressed, surfing up behind in typical Cape Town fluky conditions.

Code Zeros were hastily unfurled as wind dropped to almost nothing and it was a frustrating time for the crews who were very aware that whoever found the breeze first would make a huge gain. This race has been won and lost in this bay before, and to be first out of Cape Town can make all the difference.

The race became a drifting match, with the fleet desperate to find any breeze at all. Puma ran into problems trying to unfurl their Code Zero, needing three men on the bow to fix the problem and, in the end, dropping the sail to the deck.

Delta Lloyd, to leeward of the fleet, looked well placed for the new breeze, and might well have picked the right path through the glassy calm. Ericsson 4 led Puma and Green Dragon, but were not safe at all. Puma was furthest offshore, but Telefónica Blue was rock-hopping along the shore, hoping to sneak round the fleet, but the forecast is for strong south-westerly breeze offshore, which means creeping along the coast may not pay off.

The first point scoring opportunity on this leg will be when the fleet crosses from west to east - the line of longitude 58 degrees E, anywhere south of the latitude 20 degrees S.

Overall Leaderboard
1. Ericsson 4: 14 points
2. PUMA: 13 points
3. Green Dragon: 11 points
4. Telefónica Blue: 10 points
5. Telefónica Black: 7 points
6. Ericsson 3: 5 points*
7. Delta Lloyd: 4 points*
8. Team Russia: 4 points *

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