Volvo Ocean Race: Anchors out as fleet misses front

Three humpback whales escort the Puma from Cape Town on Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has had the gentlest of introductions to Leg 2 with the early breeze at the start evaporating overnight to leave all six boats virtually becalmed and struggling to make headway against the current close to the African coast.

The opening night of Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race proved to be a frustrating one for the crews with very little progress made. The fleet is firmly stuck between the rocky South African coast and two low-pressure systems, which have resulted in little or no wind at all. At one stage overnight, overall race leader Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP) was forced to anchor to avoid being swept backwards by the powerful current.

In contrast to the first night of the first leg, which saw one mast topple and a hull split, the fleet have had a quiet but tense opening stanza on the second leg to Abu Dhabi.

The weather situation continues to be very unstable and the breeze is set to become even lighter over the next 20 hours. The fleet has missed the first low-pressure system and the second low, which could produce good breeze, will not evolve fully until at least tomorrow afternoon. The painful waiting game will continue at least until then.

The fleet is currently 20 nautical miles (nm) southeast of the Cape of Good Hope and Ian Walker/GBR, skipper of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam says he spent about 10 hours bobbing up and down looking at the notorious Cape of Good Hope overnight.

At the 0700 UTC position report they lay in sixth place, 12 nautical miles behind new leaders Groupama.

'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,' said skipper Ian Walker. 'We managed to get through that in second place but then got caught out too near the shore and we have paid a huge price.

'We have only managed to sail 0.6 nautical miles in the last two hours and have been sitting bobbing up and down looking at the notorious Cape of Good Hope for about 10 hours.'

Walker said his main concern overnight was how to avoid being washed on to the rocks by the ocean swell.

Light winds at the start of Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 2 from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

'We have been pretty good friends with one rock in particular that has been less than half a mile dead down swell from us for 2 hours. We have just managed to pull forward on it despite some adverse current so it is now 1 mile behind – hopefully we won’t head back towards it again like we did an hour ago!'

Another worry for Walker and indeed the rest of the fleet is the prospect of another 48 hours of windless conditions having failed to hook into a breezy weather system as previously expected.

'All our weather strategy is in pieces now as the fleet has failed to catch the low pressure as planned and I suspect we will all sit waiting for a new Westerly wind to pick us up in the next day or two' said Walker.

The leading pair, Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) and Camper (Chris Nicholson) now have approximately 12 knots of wind, while the remaining four have less than 10 knots. The fleet is split 17nm first to last.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, skippered by Ken Read from the USA at the start of leg 2 from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Photo Credit must read: IAN ROMAN/Volvo Ocean Race)

Decisions will need to be made tomorrow whether to go south and seek the new low forming to the southwest, if there is enough wind to do so, or go east in the hope of meeting another low forming to the northeast. Either option carries a risk and there is no clear strategy as yet.

So light were the conditions that overall race leaders Team Telefónica were forced to put down their anchor to avoid being washed backwards.

'The wind has died and we have found a lot of current on the approach to the headland,' explained watch captain Neal McDonald. 'So it is better for us to anchor here rather than go backwards.'

Close light air sailing entering night number one of leg 2, with Sanya just to weather and Telefonica further behind. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

This morning Telefónica lay in sixth place almost 20 nautical miles behind Groupama.

On board second placed Camper/Emirates Team NZ navigator, Will Oxley was pessimistic about the weather forecasts and told his crewmates:

'With the wind like it is right now, we might be having Christmas in Africa yet.'

Team Sanya lay in third place and despite what Mike Sanderson described as a 'frustrating night' he also reminded his crew that 'it is still better then the first night of leg one.'

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Ian Walker helming onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Cape Town, South Africa to Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Credit: Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)
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