Volvo Ocean Race: First night battering

Cunning footwork sees Telefonica take the lead as Abi Dhabi resume racing, straight into a gale

Monday March 19th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Volvo Ocean Race charts courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and GRIB (European model) from PredictWind

Positions at 1002 UTC:

Pos Boat Column1 Lat Lon Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 Telefonica Iker Martinez 37 48.070s 177 01.100w 23 128 6058.1 0.0
2 Camper Chris Nicholson 37 43.520s 177 21.380w 23.1 129 6070.9 14.6
3 Groupama Franck Cammas 37 30.480s 177 30.320w 20.9 122 6085.7 28.8
4 Puma Ken Read 37 29.380s 177 29.600w 19.4 124 6086.3 29.2
5 Sanya Mike Sanderson 37 35.370s 178 06.400w 16 118 6097.6 45.4
6 Abu Dhabi Ian Walker 36 20.820s 177 55.520e 9.3 68 6665.5 607.3

The opening hours of Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race have been tough with gale force headwinds battering the crews and their steeds.

The first night has proved to be a punishing one for the crew. As Camper's Hamish Hooper reports below, five time round the world veteran Stu Bannatyne “stumbled below for the first time after hours on deck, eyes bloodshot, his voice hoarse with exhaustion, looking like he had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.”

Yesterday after the impressive start from Auckland, the boats rounded New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula around five hours into the race and continued northeast. With the wind from the east at this point they had to stay on starboard tack to clear New Zealand's East Cape, if they were to tack south. In fact all of the boats held on this course with Telefonica the first to blink - tacking off to the southeast at 1300 yesterday for an hour and a half before tacking back.

With the wind backing slightly so all the five boats had tacked to the southeast by 1800 yesterday evening and have held this course since. Telefonica's early hitch left them to the south of the fleet and sailing slightly higher so the rest of the fleet have fallen in behind her. First point to the Spanish...

Since tacking on to port and heading southeast, the wind has slowly backed into the northeast and as a result the speeds have surged above 20 knots.

The big conditions have taken their toll. On board Groupama 4 they broke the swivel for their J4 headsail, causing them to lose miles while the crew regained control of the flogging sail and dragged it below.

Meanwhile after returning to Auckland five hours into the leg to fix the bulkhead supporting the stay for their J4, Abu Dhabu Ocean Racing left the dock at midday local time (2300 UTC last night) after a 12 hour stopover, shorter than they had expected. Unfortunately their departure coincided with a depression shifting over the Hauraki Gulf bringing with it 50+ knot winds. As a result the team led by Ian Walker was forced to find shelter while exiting the Hauraki Gulf, before they resumed racing at 0725 UTC.

“To set off when we are already a day behind the fleet and put ourselves out of the race would be foolish, yet to heave to and wait is the most frustrating thing on earth,” said Walker. See his latest blog here.

Weather-wise the situation is complex at the moment with a front from a substantial Southern Ocean depression way off to the southeast combined with the depression over the Hauraki Gulf creating gale force southeasterlies to the south of the where the boats are currently. However conditions are expected to abate tonight as the Southern Ocean depression continues east taking the front with itand the high currently to the east of the boats merges with another area of high pressure at present to the south of New Zealand. After the punishing start to the race it looks like tomorrow could be a relatively light day as the crews wait for the high to shift northeast allowing the westerlies to fill in and the Southern Ocean rollercoaster ride to begin.

Hamish Hooper reports from Camper

As predicted that was, a particularly torrid night. At times it was blowing 43 knots and the guys on deck were trying to tame the beast under such chaotic conditions.w

In the bunk about an inch below the carbon fibre deck I could hear the guys yelling as loud as they could at each other, but to no avail.

With no wind noise below deck I could hear what each of them were saying, but they couldn’t hear a word each other was saying.

A call repeatedly from Nico to Animal only a couple of metres away, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!!!!”

It sounded like a good old fashioned husband and wife yelling match, but they were just trying to tell each other something - perhaps more accurately a hard of hearing 85 year old husband and wife.

But seriously, sailing and controlling the boat in these sorts of conditions shows true seamanship. It is mighty impressive, man against the elements.

This morning Stu Bannatyne came below deck for the first time since we left Auckland, blood shot eyes, hoarse voice a picture of exhaustion, in fact he looked like he had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. After his two hours off watch sleep, he didn’t look much better but was raring to get back on deck.

Regrettably I feel like I have been on an all night drinking binge with George Best. Crook as. The banging crashing wild conditions have bought a few of us down, so life right now life consists of short spurts of action before racing back to the bunk to get horizontal again before the sickness takes too much of a hold again. It’s not that much fun.

Still, things could be worse, like for Abu Dhabi, who we think are back in Auckland now. We aren’t sure what happened, but we watched for close to an hour as they went along with only their main up, before disappearing over the horizon at dusk. Hopefully all of the crew are OK onboard and they can re-join the race shortly.

It seems that every time we sail in the vicinity of the East Cape of New Zealand we get a good smashing over. I am sure that we have been through all of this before in our training last year has counted for something in our position in the fleet right now.

So far so good, hopefully we can maintain position and get down into some good breeze first that will fire us safely towards Cape Horn.

Last night in my world of pain in my bunk, I heard Chuny mention a particularly comforting thought, “From now on, we are sailing towards the finish, we have passed the furthest point from the start so every mile takes us closer to Galway.”

I very much liked this thought.

Will Oxley our trusty navigator just told me we crossed the International Date Line into yesterday… I hope we don’t have to go through what we did yesterday again now…

Stu Bannatyne: “Without a shadow of a doubt that was the hardest opening night of a Volvo leg I have ever done.”


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