In the Volvo Ocean Race, Telefónica were back to their commanding best on Sunday to lead the fleet out of Lorient on the final offshore leg to Galway, Ireland, as Groupama made a patient start to their bid for the top four place that would guarantee overall victory.
In a sign of what lies ahead, the fleet raced at speeds upwards of 20 knots around the 6.5 nautical mile inshore course in Lorient’s Port Foll, with Telefónica followed by Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Groupama sailing team and Team Sanya.
Camper made a terrible start and were forced to perform a penalty turn in the opening seconds of the race after infringing on Telefónica during the start sequence.
While the red boat did penance, the fleet broke away with blistering pace in the westerly wind that was gusting between 15 and 22 knots.
Puma pushed Telefónica hard and looked threatening but were ultimately unable to catch Iker Martínez's team.
Groupama have a 25-point lead over nearest rivals Puma and will make certain of overall victory if they finish in the top four.
'There will be some hard hours for everyone,’’ Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said.
'For us it’s about sailing simply and not taking too much risk during the night. Then for the finish it will be a little bit lighter, and we have to be fast on this part after Fastnet Rock.'
It won’t be smooth sailing for the teams. 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 south-westerly breeze blowing between 20 and 30 knots – perfect conditions for Volvo Open 70s to hit top speeds.
Although just 550 nautical 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.
The teams will most likely pass the zone to the south, having to dodge shipping traffic in big winds and total darkness.
A cold front between France and Ireland could make things even more interesting with squalls and small storms to negotiate.
Several metres of swell blown across the continental shelf by a powerful low pressure system in the North Atlantic will be yet another challenge for the teams.
By late morning on Monday the fleet should be rounding Fastnet Rock, the most southerly tip of Ireland.
From there it’s a straight run up to the Aran Islands, a set of three islands marking the entrance to Galway bay that boast 200-metre tall cliffs, making the most of the strong currents that accelerate round the many headlands.
Eiragh lighthouse, at the western end of the Aran Islands, must be left to starboard before the fleet turns east and head for the finish line in Galway Bay.
The current ETA for the fleet is 0000 UTC on Tuesday.
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