Team Sanya on Alicante qualifying race of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. - Sander van der Borch/Team Sanya
Whether to take the high road or the low road around Ibiza was the tactical call facing the six Volvo Ocean Race teams on their way back from Palma to Alicante in their final 360 nautical mile qualifying race.
In the lead, Chris Nicholson’s Camper had positioned themselves to the north of the fleet and looked to have chosen the high road around the island.'
The more direct northerly route across the top of the island would save as much as 40 nautical miles but carried the risk of lighter winds. According to the weather forecasts the longer southerly route offered the best chance of sustained breezes.
Race Control Manager Gonzalo Infante, who had been poring over his weather routing software since the boats left from Alicante on Friday afternoon, believed it was a marginal call for the skippers.
'All the predictions indicate there are better breezes in the south but that route is a lot further,' he said. 'The crews will want to hedge their bets until as late as possible.'
When the fleet reached the bay in Palma just after first light, conditions moderated considerably for the six-boat fleet to complete a loop around the bay before heading back towards Alicante.
By 1300 (UTC) the fleet were running out of decision time on their choice of route around Ibiza.
In the lead, Chris Nicholson’s Camper had positioned themselves to the north of the fleet and looked to have chosen the high road around the island.
Further south Abu Dhabi had made considerable gains on the fleet and had moved into second place, with the both the high and low routes still open to them.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing -Volvo Ocean Race. Photo: Nick Dana
Close behind and also still with their options option were Groupama, Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg Propulsion and Telefónica, followed by Team Sanya.
Camper skipper Chris Nicholson explained the challenge that Ibiza presented the fleet.
'This morning through to mid-afternoon we had a four nautical mile lead at moments. But the winds are extremely shifty, moving through as much as 80 degrees, so that makes it difficult trying to get around Ibiza. This race is still anyone’s.
'We’re careful what parts of the race we take anything away from. We had some good running conditions this morning in which we went very well against the competition so we were able to draw a lot of positive conclusions from that. At the moment we’re in first place but that doesn’t really necessary indicate anything.'
This qualifying race is the first time all six boats have lined up against each other and despite facing 25-knot north easterly winds and big seas overnight on the way to Palma, the racing was as tight as anticipated and mistakes were severely punished.
Speaking from on board Azzam, skipper Ian Walker explained how an error had cost Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing badly overnight.
'We made a bit of a tactical blunder in the night. I didn’t stay far enough north and we threw away a lot of miles and dropped from second to fourth behind Groupama.'
Groupama Sailing Team - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. Photo: Yann Riou
Sanya helmsman Richard Mason told how the Chinese team were caught out by a heavy squall which came at them out of the darkness, knocking the boat flat and damaging their headsail.
'We got self-tacked and knocked down,' he said. 'We stopped for about 20 minutes -- it was pretty ugly.'
Volvo Ocean Race website