Frustrated by light winds and adverse currents on the opening night of Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, the six-boat fleet will soon face the critical choice between a southerly or easterly route around the tip of Africa.
Bowman Daryl Wislang on the bow, with leaders Groupama in the distance CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. - Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race© Click Here to view large photo
The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is heading for an undisclosed destination off the African coast, before being loaded aboard a secure ship, taken through to the Persian Gulf before being relaunched for a 24 hour sprint to Abu Dhabi. The move is necessary to avoid Somali pirates who operate out into the midway point of the Indian Ocean seizing over 1000 people in the past 12 months.
After making a high-speed exit from Cape Town, led by Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the fleet ground to a halt on the first night after missing the chance to pick up an easterly moving cold front.
'We made a great exit from Table Bay and built a nice lead before getting swallowed up by the fleet as we sat in no wind further up the coast,' Walker said.
This mistake dropped Abu Dhabi to fifth place this morning, almost 12 miles behind the new leader Groupama sailing team, skippered by Franck Cammas.
Groupama media crew member Yann Riou joked that the French crew’s light wind experience on the first leg was now paying dividends.
'We worked a lot on light winds during Leg 1! Actually, there was no wind in Cape Town Bay and we managed to get ahead of our competitors and lead at the Cape of Good Hope by several lengths. What more could we ask?' he said.
In a more serious tone Riou added: 'Yet, looking at the very variable conditions ahead, this leadership looks temporary.'
Having missed the initial low pressure system, the fleet is likely to be trapped in a light wind zone for the next 24 hours until the formation of another cold front to their south west.
Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says the weather scenario will make life very difficult for the navigators as they try to work out whether to head south in search of the front, or turn east in the hope of wind closer to the tip of Africa.
'Although the fleet may want to head south, the light winds they are experiencing means that they may not actually be able to do that,' Infante said.
'The situation is trickier than ever for the navigators now. '
Around mid morning today the fleet picked up a 12 knot south westerly breeze and began to make steady progress along the African coast. However, Infante believes this fresh wind may be short lived.
'The area between two low pressure systems always has very little breeze and the fleet will have to wait for maybe another 24 hours before they can be more certain of solid winds,' he said.
Groupama were first into the new breeze, followed by Chris Nicholson’s CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand and these two took full advantage of their opportunity to pull away from the fleet.
Nicholson said the previous night had been a risky situation. 'The danger in sailing in such light winds is that you get left in a hole and the other boats get wind and leave,' he said. 'Fortunately that did not happen to us this time.'
With the breeze expected to die tonight, the next 24 hours will see some key decisions being made by the navigators.
'I think if everyone answered honestly they would all prefer to be heading south,' he said. 'We haven’t made that call yet by any means though.'
At 1300 UTC Groupama and CAMPER remained locked in their tussle for the lead with less than half a nautical mile separating them. Less than four nautical miles back Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG had eased past Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya to take third place.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing lay in fifth, nearly 12 nautical miles behind the leader, with Iker Martínez’s Team Telefónica a further six nautical miles adrift in sixth place.
Leaders Groupama just around a mile away from CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. - Hamish Hooper/Camper ETNZ/Volvo Ocean Race© Click Here to view large photo