James Boyd Photography / www.thedailysail.com

Camper leads out of Alicante

Numerous sail handling problems as Volvo Ocean Race set underway in brisk conditions

Saturday November 5th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

Chris Nicholson's Emirates Team New Zealand crew led the fleet out of Alicante at the start of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race today, living up to thedailysail's form guide.

With the forecast indicating 20-25 knots, but gusting to over 35, today's initial lap of the Bay of Alicante was set to be a lively one.

This morning the sizable race village in Alicante was heaving with spectators, fans and well-wishers turning out to see this special moment where after the ears of preparation D-Day had arrived for the six teams taking part. Flags were waived, balloons let off, cheering and at times singing, as the skippers and crew paraded down to their yachts to say their final farewells to loved ones and children. The fleet underwent a blessing and finally before they could cast off, there was a royal visit from Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.

In addition to the crews contesting leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race a number of VIPs were on board the boats for the initial two laps of the Bay of Alicante. On board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for example, Ian Walker's crew was led by French football star Zinedine Zidane, who along with the other guests was unceremoniously dumped in the water at the end of the laps.

With the strong westerly wind blowing off the land, there were some giant sustained gusts up into the 30s on the race course making for challenging sailing conditions. As the gun went the Volvo 70 crews unfurled their A2s for the opening downwind leg and it was once again Ian Walker and the crew on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing which made the best start with Camper and Puma also away well, up to weather. As the boats flew down the race course, so Camper edged into the lead flying her A2 with its unique double clew (hardly a 'quad', more a way of getting two sizes of sail out of one). Telefonica, hoping to redeem themselves after their disastrous in-port race last weekend, powered down to the mark, overhauling Puma in the process.

The first mark rounding proved dramatic for some. Boats seemed to be suffering all manner of problems with their sail handling. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing lost her second place when they had trouble furling their A2 and ended up rounding last. Then at the start of the second leg, Puma appeared to have a lock issue while attempting to drop their furled A2, but managed to hang on to their third place as they sorted this out. However there was some surprise when Groupama carried out a 720deg penalty turn after rounding the mark. This turned out to be for a collision they had had with Puma about 1 min 30 before the start. 

On the second leg upwind back to the start, Telefonica managed to eat into Camper's lead flying a bigger upwind headsail, while the Abu Dhabi crew were able to overhaul Team Sanya and the penalty turning Groupama to get back up to fourth place, which they held going into the next leg, despite snagging their A2 furler as they tried to unfurl the sail.

On the next downwind leg, Camper was able to extend over Telefonica,  more powered up compared to the Spanish boat that was flying a fractional kite. They extended still further when Telefonica got their kite sheet wrapped around a daggerboard during a gybe, allowing Puma to slip past them. Team Sanya was also on the charge and all was going well until they had a problem dropping their kite and were held up getting it squared away which dropped them back to last place.

Back to the start once again and at the final mark, from where the fleet would be able to set sail on leg one proper, Camper led from Puma by 1 minute 34 seconds, with Telefonica a further 34 seconds behind, then Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing a further 37 seconds back, Groupama just over a minute later and finally Team Sanya, three minutes 42 seconds astern of Franck Cammas' team.

Exiting the Bay of Alicante, the wind has picked up and all of the VO70s were engulfed in spray as the teams prepared for a wet first night at sea in 20-25 knots of wind from the WNW, fetching on starboard.

At the first sched Telefonica have managed to pull into first place ahead of Puma, Groupama and Abu Dhabi, with Camper strangely down to fifth.


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