Volvo Ocean Race second leg started at 1300 UTC this afternoon, Sunday 11th December, off Cape Town for a sprint of around 4,500 miles across the Indian Ocean. However, before entering this feared ocean, the six VO-70s will have to round the Cape of Good Hope and then that of the Agulhas!
Groupama 4 got off to a good start to windward of the fleet, however Abu Dhabi was fast at the middle of the start line and took control on the first downwind leg which began in the very light airs caused by the effects of land. However, the breeze gradually picked up to reach nearly fifteen knots and the six boats really accelerated under gennaker and full mainsail. Behind the Emirati crew, Franck Cammas and his men were second to round the first mark of this preliminary course, out of a total of four. Unfortunately, the furling of the immense downwind sail wasn't completed fully and the skipper of Groupama 4 saw himself forced to stall the boat's progress to dump the sail.
Dropping two places in what ultimately proved to be a quick manoeuvre, the French boat was continuing on her way in the wake of the Emiratis, the New Zealanders and the Americans, whilst Sanya and Telefonica were already trailing. Basically, the hierarchy and the separation between the boats didn't alter much during this course which favours tacks with just slightly eased sheets. At the end of this tour around the bay of Cape Town which Abu Dhabi completed in 39'26, Groupama 4 was fourth 2'28 astern, behind Camper (1'32 astern of the leader) and Puma (2'00 astern of the leader), whilst Sanya and Telefonica were over a minute shy of the French boat.
In a southerly wind, the six boats are on a beat now to hunt down the Cape of Good Hope and then that of the Agulhas, which marks the entrance into the Indian Ocean, around 120 miles out of Cape Town. Wisely, Franck Cammas and his crew tacked inshore immediately after rounding the final course mark in a bid to hunt down a favourable breeze: a few minutes later they crossed in front of the Americans on Puma! As such they moved up into third place, just a few boat lengths astern of Abu Dhabi and Camper after an hour of racing...
This preliminary tour was but an introduction though prior to what is scheduled to be a lively afternoon and above all a lively old night! Indeed, around twenty knots of southerly breeze is joining forces with a long westerly swell and at the approach of the Cape of Good Hope, the sea will become very rough to heavy due to the current from the Agulhas. This oceanographic phenomenon is due to the arrival of warm water from Madagascar and this current can exceed three knots on the surface! Furthermore, it comes up against a current of cold water coming from the Atlantic and the seas become extremely chaotic right the way down the tip of South Africa.
As was the case during the start of the first leg in Alicante, the first night at sea for this second oceanic course promises to be very tricky. In addition, a low has formed offshore of Port Elizabeth and the six VO-70s will have to deal with some very shifty winds down the African coast: the breeze will progressively clock round to the south-west and then West, easing to less than ten knots... After a boisterous introduction to proceedings which will last until the early hours of tomorrow, the crews will have a lot of work on deck adapting the sail area. They'll also be sailing into the Agulhas current which can switch from a few tenths of a knots to three knots depending on where they are. As such the navigators will have to keep an eye on the water temperature whilst the helmsmen struggle to get their hulls to slice through the short, messy chop.
Tuesday will be the most complicated day though as the minimum associated with the depression will disintegrate to give way to a transition zone with variable, light winds, before returning to a steady easterly flow (and hence on the nose) generated by a vast zone of high pressure to the South of Madagascar. As a result there will be a lot of upwind sailing on the cards as far as the large African island, in over twenty knots of breeze. Once again the rigs will be under considerable pressure... Of note finally is that, as planned, Laurent Pagès is replacing Erwan Israël as helmsman-trimmer aboard Groupama 4.
To deal with the risk of piracy off the coast of Somalia, Race Director Jack Lloyd has published this press release revealing a cut in the transmission of positions during this second leg.
'With the risk of piracy being of increasing concern in the Indian Ocean, race management has opted to apply an anti-piracy plan to the system for tracking the boats on the cartography during the next leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. In this way, the six crews will be tracked on the cartography until they reach a secret point in the Indian Ocean, at which point they will switch to `furtive' mode. Designed to ensure the sailors' safety, race director Jack Lloyd, hasn't revealed at what point the system for tracking the boats on the cartography will switch to `stealth' mode, where solely the distance from the leader will be revealed. Normal service will be resumed on the cartography after just a few days. The six Volvo Open 70s will have to make for an initial secret port where they will be loaded onto a ship protected by armed guards, transported to a second secret port and then take a second race start bound for Abu Dhabi. Only at this point will all the information as regards the positions of the six crews be accessible once again.' Groupama Sailing Team website