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Volvo Ocean Race: Abu Dhabi’s need for speed

28/05/2012
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At 1900 GMT, Ian Walker and his men on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam were still leading Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Miami in the United States to Lisbon in Portugal, but it is a nervous time for the Emirati team as the fleet dig into their margin, which grows smaller with every position report. As Walker himself predicted earlier, the fleet is compressing and now is no time for complacency.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG (Ken Read/USA) in second, are reeling in Abu Dhabi hour by hour as the chasing pack rides the front, clicking off the miles to the finish later this week. Tonight at 1900 GMT, PUMA had gained another seven miles in past three hours and had closed to within 56.10 nautical miles (nm) by averaging a boat speed of 22.9 knots, nearly two knots faster than Azzam and the fastest in the six-boat fleet.

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand (Chris Nicholson/AUS) were clinging onto third place, gaining four miles on the leader and lying 22 nm astern of PUMA. But only seven miles astern of PUMA were Mike Sanderson and Team Sanya, hungry for a podium finish and only sailing .4 of a nautical mile slower than PUMA.

In turn, Sanya is being pushed by Groupama (Franck Cammas/FRA), two miles astern, and overall leaders, Iker Martínez and Telefónica are six miles behind the French as the racing hots up across the fleet.

The next 1,000 miles will be a drag race straight towards the finish, but before victory is theirs, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has to traverse a light air ridge for about 12 hours. Abu Dhabi’s need for speed is to enable them to reach the light air patch 100 or so miles from the finish in Lisbon in first place.

“My gut feeling is that the whole fleet will be within an hour of each other,” explained skipper Ian Walker in a live video call from the boat earlier today. “I think the whole race is likely to close right up and possibly start again in the light winds off Lisbon. I just hope that we can get out first, because during the last 200 miles into Lisbon we are probably going to need a 10 or 20 mile cushion to our lead,” he said.

Out on the race track it’s fast sailing, but not fire hose conditions. The water is a warm 19 degrees and the wind is aft of the beam. According to Walker, it should be a fast, but not too intimidating 1000 nm to sail.

“One thing is for certain, it is going to be a very tight finish from first to last place in Lisbon. The weather gods have scripted that,” Walker said.