Volvo Ocean Race: On the wind to Sanya

Telefonica still hanging on to the lead as the Volvo 70s negotiate the South China Sea

Tuesday January 31st 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and high res GRIB from PredictWind

Positions at 1004:

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Telefonica Iker Martinez 02 45.720n 106 46.400e 11.8 61 940.72  
2 Groupama Franck Cammas 02 43.650n 106 43.800e 11.4 72 943.2 2.48
3 Puma Ken Read 02 39.280n 106 42.770e 11.8 79 947.68 6.96
4 Camper Chris Nicholson 02 11.300n 106 39.300e 10.4 7 975.84 35.12
5 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 02 05.870n 106 37.020e 11.5 336 981.58 40.86
6 Sanya Mike Sanderson 01 09.330n 103 47.900e 7.3 91 1076.87 136.15

With a sigh of relief the five leading VO70s yesterday exited Malacca Strait and its assorted hazards of shipping, fishing and squid boats, current and calms and intense heat, passed the entrance to Singapore harbour (where they stopped three years ago) with the lead trio edging out into the South China Sea mid-afternoon followed early evening by Camper and Abu Dhabi, who have been stuck together like glue for the last 72 hours.

Telefonica's MCM Diego Fructuoso described passing Singapore: "The last few miles were pretty complicated, as there was quite a narrow channel that we had to go through upwind, during the night, with lots of very large ships and also with the occasional small boat, which we actually fear more than the large ones, because they rarely have lights or use AIS (the system we use to detect other vessels). We had to use the most powerful spotlight that we have to light up the small boats. Our boat is very fast and a blow at those speeds can be very dangerous."

Into open water for the first time since Friday, the boats have since been on the breeze as they attempt to head northeast to get around two mandatory marks of the course that must be left to port to get around the obscure Anambas Islands to the east of Malaysia. After heading out to the east, at 0200 this morning Groupama and Puma were the first to tack north, followed soon after by leader Telefonica. Camper joined the northbound group at 0640 with Abu Dhabi tacking around half an hour later.

Surprisingly - although perhaps not, since all three are Juan K designs - among the lead trio the relative positions haven't changed at all. However behind them Camper and Abu Dhabi have been swapping positions - Abu Dhabi sneaked ahead of Camper as they exited Malacca Strait late morning yesterday and led the Kiwi crewed boat past Singapore and out into the South China Sea, but once into open water Camper appeared to be sailing higher and at 0300 this morning she had regained her lead.

With the three frontrunners now more or less past the Anambas Islands, the next mark they have to leave to port is off is just under 600 miles away off the Vietnamese coast, before they turn due north for the final run towards the finish in Sanya, some 940 miles away from Telefonica's present position.

At present the boats are sailing into a light to moderate northeasterly that the forecast shows to be building as they head north. At present the boats are trying to get east enough so that when they tack north, they can lay the mark off the Vietnamese coast. For those who competed in the race three years ago it will not be far from their minds that it was this section of the course that was most devasting on the fleet, although this time, heading for Sanya, the most southern part of China, they don't have to sail nearly so far north. Even so, tomorrow afternoon as they cross the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand, the frontrunners could find themselves starboard tacking north into 25 knot winds, although the Volvo forecast are suggesting it will be substantially more than this as the boats approach the Vietnamese coast - with gale force winds and a 5m surge from the northeasterly monsoon. You can check out more on the South China Sea wave heights here.

Camper's MCM Hamish Hooper summed up their tactical options: "There are two ways to get to Sanya: The more easterly route, which will take you through the Spratly Islands (of which there are over 750 of them) and has been described to me as having ‘unseen danger everywhere’ in its relatively unchartered waters but potentially more favourable current. Or the other option - just go north straight to the Vietnam coast to work the geographical breezes that curve around there. The down side of this option is you are battling quite big current and the good old fishing nets, which research tells me in some places off the Vietnam coast can be up to 16 miles in length… that’s quite a detour- or quite a tangle."

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