Telefonica leads the charge out of Lorient
Telefónica smoked their rivals off the start line and led out into open water as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet set out on the final offshore leg from Lorient to Galway with Franck Cammas' Groupama just needing a top-four finish to be ensured of overall victory.
Having dropped to fourth overall following their double rudder breakage on Leg 8 and a fourth place in Saturday’s Bretagne In-Port Race, Telefónica made their intentions clear right from the starting gun of the 550-mile leg from Lorient to Galway, stretching out an early lead around the 6.5 mile inshore course.
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg was the only boat that managed to hang on to Telefónica’s coat tails around the inshore section as the two boats eked out a 60-second advantage over the chasing pack
An aggressive start-line manoeuvre from Camper, saw the Kiwi team penalised and relegated temporarily to the back of the fleet, but slick crew work saw them pull back to third by the time the fleet rounded the final turning mark.
Meanwhile Groupama, with a 25-point buffer at the top of the leaderboard, opted for a more conservative approach at the back of the pack, safe in the knowledge that the next 48 hours hold fast conditions that suit their boat perfectly.
Prior to leaving their home port, Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said he was buoyed by the forecast but still mindful of the capabilities of his team’s rivals. “The conditions are not so bad for our boat for sure, but the routing is very easy, it’s almost straight, and in these conditions all the boats are very fast. If we have one issue on our boat we could lose a lot of miles so it’s a little bit stressful in these conditions.”
Rather than heading straight to Ireland, the fleet must first sail south 25 miles round the island of Belle Ile, which promises to be a quick run in 15-18 knots of westerly wind.
Once round Belle Ile the fleet will get a chance to stretch their legs in southwesterly breeze blowing between 20 and 30 knots – perfect conditions for Volvo Open 70s to hit top speeds.
Although just 550 miles long, the leg will throw up some challenges for the fleet and the first will come this evening in the form of an exclusion zone off the north-west tip of France to avoid the worst of the dense shipping in this area. En route to Ireland in the early hours of tomorrow morning the boats will have to tackle an occluded front and its associated squalls and small storms to negotiate as the wind veers into the west and backs into the southwest again.
The boats are expected to reach the Fastnet Rock by late morning on Monday from where they pass the numerous headlands off the southwest coast Ireland and on up to the Aran Islands, a set of three islands marking the entrance to Galway Bay and its 200m tall cliffs.
Eiragh lighthouse, at the western end of the Aran Islands, must be left to starboard before the fleet turn east and head for the finish line in Galway Bay.
The current ETA for the fleet is 0000 UTC on Tuesday.
Photos below from Ian Roman and Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race