Volvo Ocean Race - Newsletter - Leg 4 to Auckland 6 March 2012
Craig Satterthwaite helming at sunset onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Welcome to Sail-World.com's Volvo Ocean Race Newsletter for 6 March 2012
The six boat Volvo Ocean race fleet are nearing Auckland - with a finish predicted for Sunday, local time - three days later than scheduled, and allowing the crews just a four day break before the Pro-Am Race on Friday week.
On current positions Groupama (Franck Cammas) should have the leg in the bag, and only needs to close ahead of the westerly group of three yachts, before the French crew can settle into the tactical game of staying between the man and the mark (being the finish line in Auckland).
The celebrations in Auckland should be something else again, with the race returning to the City of Sails for the first time in ten years.
On the the current prognosis, the fleet will finish on a weekend, with the weather data last night showing a finish in the early hours of Sunday morning - being an excuse for the party animals to start celebrating on Saturday night and continue through to the early, and not so early, hours of Sunday morning.
Add to that the fact that Saturday is St Patrick's Day - always a big celebration in New Zealand - where you only have to wish you were Irish - and you've got a licence to celebrate.
This morning, the latest prognosis shows a later finish - probably early to mid Sunday afternoon. Maybe that will test even the drinking classes, but will be great for the families of Auckland, who will no doubt crowd the many vantage points around the City.
And then there is the traditional waterborne welcome as the fast launches and others come out from all down the Northland coast to trail the fleet home.
Quite what will happen on the water remains to be seen. New Zealand is notorious for having fickle weather, and is currently experiencing one of the worst summers in living memory. For international readers, the country was hit by a weather bomb last weekend, with winds gusting to 85kts in the Cook Strait, and 70kts on the west coast of Auckland.
Wade Morgan splices a new jib 'up/down' line onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand. Nick Dana/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing
Those conditions would have sorely tested the Volvo racers - which is why many are somewhat bemused by the frequent position reports as to who is leading and by how much. Those with slightly longer memories will remember a lead change within sight of the finish line in Auckland, as a wind change hit the 1989/90 Whitbread Race.
Even those with shorter memories will remember what happened at the start of this Leg, with Puma starting 39 minutes astern, watching the fleet sail off in a stronger breeze, and then she took a track well to the north. The boats taking a more southerly route looked good for a long time - as the US flagged entry slipped back to be 280nm off the lead - but then Puma caught a breeze, pulled in half of the deficit in almost 12 hours, and then reeled in the rest over the next three days.
Now she is back in second place - a spot on which few would have laid short odds a week or so ago.
What will happen in Auckland? Who knows, as the fleet look set to have to sail to windward all the way in, and with the routing software putting out some interesting options.
We'll just have to hurry up and wait.
Richard Gladwell Editor@Large
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