Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 second leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi kicked off this afternoon. It was a confident start for Camper today as they set sail.
The short inshore race kicked off under very light conditions in Table Bay at 1500 local time (GMT +2). The six boat fleet drifted over the line, but the breeze soon filled in and the battle for lead was on. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had the best start as they soon hooked into the stronger conditions and powered ahead at the first mark to take the lead. Skipper Chris Nicholson, took control holding off the chasing pack as Camper moved into second at the top mark. A closely fought battle between Camper, Puma and Groupama ensued over the four mark inshore course before the fleet passed the final mark in Table Bay and headed out into the ocean. Abu Dhabi led the fleet south, but Camper were close behind just 92 seconds to their stern.
With over 5,000 miles ahead, the navigators now face a problematic leg where the weather situation appears to be anything but clear. The fleet should have a fairly straightforward night ahead as they dive south towards the Cape of Good Hope, but once past the Cape complex routing decisions will need to be made. Skipper Chris Nicholson commented, 'Yeah, I think it will be when we round the Cape, obviously there are a couple of decisions to be made even when you are on the coast here leading up to that – certainly once we are around the Cape and get a little bit more weather in, you can have more of a degree of certainty, but you would have to call it a 50/50 at the moment'.
The two main options remain; to head south; or take a more easterly route. For the southern option, the boats dive south to be at the correct latitude to be ‘picked up’ by a cold front travelling from west to east in the Southern Ocean. The easterly option might see the boats sail a more direct route with less miles sail as they can head east then north east, but they will have to balance this with the temptation of heading south and hooking into the roaring forties, named after the strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 49 degrees. History has often seen the fleet favour the more southerly option, but whichever route Camper and the other crews choose they all face the infamous Agulhas Current. Running down the east coast of Africa at up to 5 kts in parts, it can cause mountainous seas and boat-breaking conditions.
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Current forecasts predict some big waves and strong winds over the first 24 hours, after which the fleet will experience easing conditions on the route south. Speaking from the dock, skipper Nicholson commented, 'In the past it has been normal heading out of Cape Town so we’re ok with that. I haven’t seen anything in the forecast that’s too concerning yet. In terms of the decisions ahead we’ve talked through so many different scenarios, but we are now waiting for the next weather to come in so that we can try and paint a clearer picture. We’re just going to have to keep a very close eye on the competitors as we always do but you may well be having to go there as a group because I think everyone is equally as concerned about not dropping away from the group'.
Leg two sees an unusual element due to the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean, the boats will be shipped from an undisclosed Safe Haven Port through the worst affected area before completing the leg with a sprint into Abu Dhabi.
Listen to a dockside interview with bowman Mike Pammenter here
Listen to a dockside interview with skipper Chris Nicholson here Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand website