Volvo Ocean Race- A sleighride through the 500nm a day barrier

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

It has been a thrilling night on the racetrack when half the fleet racing in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race broke through the magical 500-nautical mile (nm) barrier. As the high-speed chase to Auckland continues to test the crews to the full, the leg leader board has a new look today.

Overnight, Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) registered a fraction over 500 nm, the third of a trio of boats to clock over 500 nm in the 24-hour period ending 03.40 UTC. In conditions ideally suited to the boat, Cammas extended his lead again and at 1000 UTC today had a buffer of 83.5 nm over Puma Ocean Racing (Ken Read/USA).

'It’s very wet on board,' said Groupama watch captain Thomas Coville. 'We’re sailing 90 degrees from the wind and 90 degrees from the waves. There’s spray and waves on deck all the time. It’s really aggressive for the crew, especially for the driver. We all have burning eyes at the moment from the salt.'

Puma recorded 523 nm, the fastest in the fleet at an average speed of 21.7 knots. This was good enough to shoot the team into a healthy second place at 0700 UTC.

Richard Mason at the helm onboard Team Sanya during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race)
Andres Soriano/Team Sanya/Volvo Ocean Race

'Not bad for close reaching in 20 knots of breeze and an awful sea state,' reported media crewmember (MCM) Amory Ross. 'It feels good to be going fast - psychologically at least. Sailing this way is fun and it’s what everyone thinks about when they sign up to sail around the world.'

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand were victims last night, losing out to Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), when they lost the use of a crucial headsail.

'The rope that holds the jib down at the front end snapped, the jib skied up, the angle gets worse for it, got too tight and it just tore itself in half,' explained skipper Chris Nicholson.

Casey Smith ducks his head in anticipation of the coming torrent, onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

The damaged sail is the all-important J2, the sail that the team should be using right now and its loss has slowed the team considerably.

'On the last three skeds, we have probably dropped six miles on average on each one, we just can’t afford to have many more of them,' Nicholson said.

Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) has now risen to third position, leading Camper by 13 nm, while the crew are racing to repair the damaged J2 and have hoisted a smaller headsail temporarily.

Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing put up a fine performance last night, achieving a 24-hour run of 506.77 nm, although it so far has not been enough to mount an effective challenge for a podium position and they remain in fifth place, 123.8 nm off the lead.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Finally, at 1000 UTC today, Team Sanya trailed the lead by 153.70 nm, although the crew are upbeat and enjoying the sleigh ride south.

'Helmets and safety harnesses are worn and the boat is fully stacked aft,' said MCM Andrés Soriano. 'From the hatch, the helmsman is the only one immediately visible as the other three seek shelter behind him from the stack of sails. It’s a sleigh ride all right, it’s wet and bumpy and always on the edge.'

Thomas Coville onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Erwan Israel and Thomas Coville onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

"Champagne Sailing", with big winds, blue oceans, warm water, and clear skies onboard PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)
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