Camper and Telefonica neck and neck
As the limelight of the first 24 hours of the Volvo Ocean Race have been taken up by the dismasting of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and the near-sinking of Team Sanya, so last night at around 2000 GMT the Chris Nicholson-skippered Camper led the remaining four boats racing past Gibraltar and out of the Mediterranean. This ended some fairly hideous upwind conditions that saw Groupama put in a long tack across to the Moroccan coast as the three other put in shorter tacks along the south of Spain on the approach to the Strait. At Gibraltar the Emirates Team New Zealand crew on Camper led from Telefonica, Groupama and then Puma on the transom of the third placed French boat.
Out into the Atlantic and conditions have changed considerably, the boats immediately feeling the effects of an area of high pressure that has formed over Madeira. With this the wind has mercifully veered into the north and lightened to around 10 knots, allowing the teams to pop open their big gear. At the 0700 sched this morning they are 100 miles down the race track from Gibraltar with Camper and Telefonica now essentially neck and neck, but Camper closer to the great circle to leeward. The four boaat all making around 9-10 knots.
Camper’s navigator Will Oxley described the change in conditions as going “from the sublime to the ridiculous – 38 knots to five knots.”
“The next challenge for the fleet is the big area or light winds ahead and how best to negotiate through these to hook into the favourable trade winds and remain in the lead,” he added.
Now that conditions have eased, the crews will be able to get some rest and clear up the inevitable mess down below. Ken Read’s team on board Puma’s Mar Mostro says below decks on the black boat is something of an obstacle course of food bags, personal kit, sails and people. Finding anything has been nearly impossible.
Weatherwise the high over Madeira seems localised and the GRIB files are showing a good band on northeasterly trades, provided the boats hug the African coast. This seems to be the only tactic option available - if they try to get any westing at this point they will get stuck in high pressure or find themselves once again on the wind. It seems likely that the conditions will force the boats to sail between the Canaries (around 470 miles up the course) and the African coast. This is no great problem, save for a few obstacles like unlit fishing boats and their nets, but it is also closest to the great circle route south. However they will need to get a move on for come Wednesday the door behind them will close as the high extends across the Canaries.